A good designer is no artist. Otherwise, he might have signed up with a gallery and become a fine artist. Instead, a good designer needs to be able to create a product, always within a given framework: What is the purpose of the design? How much is the customer willing to spend? How much will it cost to manufacture? Caught in this conflict, the designer invariably has to remain realistic – and innovative at the same time. It is all about hitting the right balance: Sometimes it pays to rush ahead, on other occasions, it requires acceptance that some things might not be possible. Once you focus on the essentials, the result tends to be a good product.
Over the past twenty years, the designer’s role has undergone a marked change. Back then, trends were almost always determined by cartel agreement and major stylistic currents worked out among the big players. Later on, people relied on trend scouts scanning the clubs and streets for the latest flavors in order to turn these into collections, ready for sale to the masses. As soon as something proved to work in a small urban cosmos, commercial copycats would be hot on their heels to market variations of those micro trends on a global scale. Today, this approach no longer works. Instead, most companies attempt to create their own brand world and an identity of their own. People are supposed to recognize the product resp. brand at a glance. To this end, brands focus on what suits their own product, with emphasis on the transported message.
Naturally and invariably, things will occasionally go wrong. At the same time, low runners are of key importance to brands: Some people will embrace these flops and thus become brand ambassadors themselves. Many brands employ this tactic when launching a new product as different and polarizing concepts help to drum up attention. Often enough, mass acceptance is more important than media opinion.
Although globalization suffuses all aspects of our lives, it would be wrong to assume that people all around the world evince the same preferences. Especially when it comes to creative expression, interpretations can vary wildly. The Asian realm, for example, promotes a lot more color and contrast as part of an almost comic-like approach to product design. Historically speaking, European thinking tends to be a bit more “serious”. Nevertheless, this does not mean that a product created in Germany will not appeal to Japanese or Chinese consumers. The only question that counts: “What do people want over there?” The answer might turn out to be: Something different, from a different continent, is exactly what they are looking for. Simply something exotic. To this end, Asia might look to Europe for inspiration while Europeans seek out Asian design. After all, many centuries ago Asian styles reached European shores via the Silk Road and in Baroque times Asian porcelain was considered a popular collectible.
Against this background, I – as a designer – do not perceive globalization as a threat, but rather embrace the scope and space it provides. Assuming that it fosters higher acceptance for the other – the exotic – it helps to expand our playing field.
Text by Ralf Krausse
All photos, incl. the header image, by smart, BoConcept