03 March 2021

Designism, part 2 *updated 11-03

Mystery item
 I present to visitors of this weblog a mystery item in various configurations that appeared first to me on a wechat stream and a modicum of time to ponder its purpose while scrolling down.

position number 2

It's evident that it is posable and yet it's really unclear whether posability is a useful feature and how it affects utility

Maximized openness

One can readily presume that it's made of plywood due to its structure but does that make it a wooden object or along with the mechanism, simply wood adjacent? 


For those who've not simply guessed what it is, here it is with a pretty model to convince you

So comfy cushions aside

 warning: pinching hazard

Position number 2.5

Back support optional

Dos à dos

that it's a chair. No, really. Typically images that get reposted on wechat aren't linked with the original source, which in part explains why I see so many examples of designism there. The motive for reposting is simply the 'wow' factor in search of thumbs-up and heart icons. I downloaded these images to do an internet search in order to relieve my curiosity as to how the positioning mechanism worked that prevented this piece of furniture from accidentally becoming a human egg slicer. 

Having found the original source, I searched the website and learned that the human egg slicer was properly called the Exocet Chair (patent pending) and offered for purchase in, at least, 5 different veneers, one of which is Mozambique. There is no mention of the number of positions it can be 'locked' into but it is being offered as a limited edition, presumably still in any color, but nothing about the number that Exocet Chairs is limited to.  So is it like an exclusive club which anybody may join until it's full?

Fortunately for me a website that promotes designers (more than 140,000 of them!) interviewed the Exocet Chair's designer, Stéphane Leathead, the leader of Designarium, (yes, that's really the name but with an inverted A). I would not call designer.org (directly to their webmaster's face) a puff generator, but some of the interviewer's questions are: 

    "What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?


    How do you feed your creativity? 


    When do you feel the most creative?"Sin

Since a few postings ago, I've had more time to ponder the admittedly nebulous notion of designism and I have thus come up with a list of 4 features to formally distinguish this aesthetic trend. It can easily be seen how these categories overlap to some degree in definition and in root causes.

1) Emphasis on novelty:

This is the 'wow' factor that seems to be what generates virality on social media. The rise of digitized image sharing via social media is certainly a factor of the greater spread of designism, but I would argue that it predates the internet with its appearance in many magazines, e.g. Architectural Digest. (Who also remembers sunken bathtubs?) A trend that has likely magnified the growing appearance of designism is the lengthening of manufacturing supply chains, or rather the concentration of manufacturing farther away from urban and academic environments where designers live and work, and the steady dropping of woodworking and other handskills from the general school curriculum and, in particular,  from the curriculum of designers most of whom conceive their patentable consumer goods exclusively with software programs on computer screens

2) Plastic and Industrial aesthetics:

Plastics in so many ways have improved human existence (while their excess use has led to environmental degradation on a planetary scale but honest recycling is only 20 years away) and have allowed for manufacturing processes that would not have otherwise been possible. With this in mind, plastics are often used to fool consumers with the illusion that an item is made from solid wood, or of true veneers. And even as consumers might balk at wood grained vinyl siding or similarly deceitful formica, they have come to internalize the aesthetics of plastic manufacturing that industrialists profit from and highlight as key to maintaining their position in the marketplace: predictable uniformity, overall smoothness, and presumptive disposability. There is also a priority given to patenting a design and creating a copyrightable brand since the 'free' market tends to reward IP more than skills or trades

3) Impracticality

Here is one aspect that might be readily conflated with conspicuous consumption, but in the case of designism, that of a durable good. The first example that I ever became aware of was when as a young boy I was invited into a house that had white shag carpeting that nobody was allowed to walk lest the carpeting get dirty or matted. So, in fact,  the roots of designism precede the internet. I see often with items that are oversized for the 'wow factor' and then occupy more floorspace than similarly functioning items. It has also become common in the art world. Other examples are the 'live edge' that cannot be used as a bearing surface or is needlessly hard to clean. I refer again to the chairs in Ikea, which I have highlighted previously, with their remanufactured rough sawn surfaces, which leads me to the last distinguishing aspect of designism

4) Appeal to artificial rusticity and authentic seeming handicraft

Designism certainly is not the first example of industry's attempts to mass produce items with the appearance of handmade goods. To some degree this is a function which we want industry to serve, to produce more items at lower prices so that more individuals can enjoy them. This is all well and good until the average consumer is so far removed from real handicrafts that industry can strategically fool consumers with more deceitful plastics and in examples that I have already referred to as Real! wood. The epitome of this is the recent trend of "river tables", liters of two part epoxy resin rendered rustic with some offcuts that get encased in even more plastic.  The fact that these tables are promoted as DIY projects conflates handicraft with relocating the plasticized manufacturing process to a home garage

At least most of this table can serve as a flat surface


Just wow, man
 In other more personal news, I did a demonstration of making milk paint in Shanghai to Chen Yonggang, whom I have mentioned working with before, and his partner in a joint venture, a designer who tells me she is inspired by Middle Eastern furniture, in a woodshop the owner of which is a Taiwanese national who studied woodworking in Japan for a decade.  As a couple, he and his wife, teach both in their woodshop and take their curriculum directly to some Shanghai schools that appreciate what they can offer their students.

Shanghai woodworking 木忘初心

Sulfur red pigment



There was some suggestions that I might be able to work with them, reestablishing my operation in Shnaghai with their cooperation but then they are also in the process of looking for a new location to operate from. I can only wait and hope for now.

Terrazzo incorporating recycled glass

Shanghai architectural legacy 建国东路打浦桥街道


Happy Lantern Festival! 

Modernist rusticity

Update: Many customers need just a little more proof that a table is really made from a tree substance: Real! Wood. I found this one on facebook where among the many praises for the table was one suggestion that the hollow is perfect for kids to climb through. Because children have been denied for too long the opportunity to climb under more conventionally made tables.  I spent some time, trying to find the original source of the image or the maker, but page after page of pinterest compilations came up first interspersed with weblogs highlighting the table as a new, bold design for a modern kitchen. 

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