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Adrian Shaughnessy

The Designer as Buffoon



"Elite designer" Van den Puup from Ikea's UK advertising campaign.

I recently attended a publisher's party. In a room above a smart London restaurant I spent a pleasant couple of hours drinking lukewarm Chardonnay and chatting about books and book reviews with a bunch of literary types — publishers, editors, writers, journalists and book-world movers and shakers. I am a keen reader and try to keep up with the latest reviews and publishing-world news. During a conversation with a reasonably well-known English novelist I was asked if I "reviewed much fiction?" I said: no, I'm a graphic designer. I might just as well have tipped my drink over her. She recoiled in mild disgust, made an excuse and vanished into the canapés-guzzling throng.

What was this — simple literary snobbery or confirmation of the pariah status of designers? My guess is that it was an example of the low esteem in which designers are held by the educated — and the not so educated. This phenomenon can be seen in two big-budget, prime-time advertising campaigns currently showing on British television. Both Ford and Ikea are promoting their respective products by offering us pumped-up caricatures of designers and inviting us to guffaw at them.

Ford use a fictitious fashion designer to endorse the Ford Focus, an inexpensive and surprisingly well designed mass-market car. In a sharp bit of casting, our designer-hero is ruggedly handsome with a stubble-etched face and a shaved head. He semaphores his designerlyness by wearing flouncy shirts and exuding a faint whiff of camp. His "otherness" is further accentuated by a bumbling, sycophantic "straight man" — a sort of butler-cum-business manager — who fails repeatedly to meet our hero's exacting standards. In a series of unlikely vignettes the designer is revealed as a finicky fusspot obsessed with the look of everyday objects, whose behaviour verges on the unhinged.

Ikea offer us an even more ludicrous figure. There is no subtle casting here. Ikea's man is the designer from hell. He is some sort of European design fascist; a buffoon who appears to live in the house and garden you might imagine Elton John owns. He wears a beret and looks as if he is about to explode in a fit of designer pique. He even has a name and a manifesto: this is Van den Puup, and he represents "Elite Designers Against Ikea". His role is to make Ikea look sensible, practical and democratic, a feat he achieves by espousing elitism and behaving hysterically.

What do these unflattering portraits tell us about the current status of designers? The message is ambivalent. By using designers as central motifs in their campaigns, these two global brands appear to want it both ways. They want us to laugh at the designers — we can't possibly like or admire these preening monsters — yet they also want something that these two men have: they want to extract the cool quotient of design and inject it into their own products. And it's worth remembering that there are no accidents in the world of international advertising. Global brands and their advertising agencies don't do guesswork. The decision to place designers — and design — at the centre of two top-flight TV commercials is undoubtedly the product of vast amounts of "strategic thinking" and consumer marketing research.

In a further twist, the depiction of both characters carries an undercurrent of sexual stereotyping. Both designers appear to be pandering to residual anti-gay prejudice. But yet again, there is ambivalence at work here. In Britain, over recent decades, the effeminate gay man has been a staple of TV comedy shows and sitcoms; but today, the notion of the gay man as a paradigm of stylishness and superior taste has become embedded in popular culture. Modern sitcoms occasionally have gay characters who are allowed to behave with an enviable élan; TV makeover shows have gay men instructing clumsy heterosexual men on how to dress, cook and decorate. In the popular imagination, gayness and designer fastidiousness are likely to be two sides of the same coin.

Ford and Ikea want to harness (or, as Orwellian brand-speak would have it, "own") the undoubted coolness of both design and gayness. Yet at the same time, they want to distance themselves from the fundamental reality of both. In other words, they want a bit of design fascism, but not too much; the merest hint of design-lite will do. They achieve this by offering us ludicrous caricatures of designers, while calculating that just enough design stardust will simultaneously adhere to their products to make the connection worthwhile. So why not use a real designer? A "real" designer wouldn't have the dramatic impact of an overblown caricature; the audience would be turned off by the seriousness of the real thing.

You might think that to have design occupying a central position in mass-culture advertising is good for the image of design. Both advertisers might just as easily have chosen some other attribute of their products — affordability, practicality or green credentials — with which to promote themselves. And there may well be some cumulative benefit to design through its use as a component in advertising.Yet my guess is that when Ford and Ikea move on to other campaigns, and other messages, they will leave behind a global-village folk memory that depicts designers as preening egomaniacs drowning in their own hauteur.

How galling this must be for designers from the "design-as-business-tool" school. They work tirelessly to promote design as the ultimate edge-giving device for the corporate world, and yet this is what big business thinks about designers. It is no less galling for those of us who view design as primarily an aesthetic and cultural activity. No one benefits when designers are treated as figures of derision. Yet perhaps we deserve to be lampooned? Perhaps we are guilty of such excessive self-absorption that we haven't noticed that we are despised by those who can help us most? Perhaps our unspoken determination to be regarded as artists has resulted in our elevation to global laughing stock? Ironically, it used to be the case that if advertisers needed to conjure up an instant laughing stock, they would use a pouting, beret-wearing artist. Today, artists are heroes. Jackson Pollock, once a byword for absurdity ("my five-year-old could do that!") is now canonised by Hollywood and admired as a 20th-century creative powerhouse. You wouldn't make fun of him in a TV commercial; much better to make use of a designer — a far easier barn door to hit.

Adrian Shaughnessy is an art director, writer and consultant based in London. He contributes to Eye, Design Week, Creative Review, Grafik and the AIGA's Voice website, and is editor of the Sampler series of books about music graphics. He is creative director of This is Real Art.

Posted in: Advertising, Branding, Product Design, TV + Radio

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Adrian Shaughnessy Adrian Shaughnessy is a graphic designer and writer based in London. He is a senior tutor in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art and a founding partner in Unit Editions a publishing company producing books on design and visual culture. Scratching the Surface, a collection of his journalism, has recently been published.

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Comments [29]
Seriously you missed Laurence Llewelyn Bowen, LKinda Barker, the changing rooms uprising, those two Gay scottish guys flouncing about over TV creating ever more ghastly rooms for people to tear down. These are designers who fit these stereo types its no wonder that the public see us all this way.

I've met hostility to my career from my family, all miners, former social circles who all assumed it ment I was gay, and would be wearing frilly shirts in a month.

As for Pollock give me the air time and I'll poke all the fun I can.
cardboardcutout
04.26.05
12:06

How strange that Ikea makes fun of designers in its ads when they obviously spend a lot of time and money on the design of their products. I have an older Ikea catalogue that features the designers for specific products, as in, "meet so and so, she designed the Mulkky [sic] chair". The new products—even small things like wall brackets—have the name of the designer in the catalogue and on the packaging. Obviously, Ikea likes designers.
Ford probably doesn't because design=change.
Leslie
04.26.05
12:11

Excellent post, Adrian, especially in noting that designers often get the wary eye and cold shoulder from BOTH the cogniscetti and the "guy on the street."

It got me thinking: Should one of the two know better?

I've shopped in Ikea, and seen the people who shop there, mingled with the target audience for the "Puup" campaign. Young single professionals in their first apartment after graduation, and that curious breed of people who make it a point to mention they shop at Target rather than Walmart. Looking through the "Elite Designers Against Ikea" site, it struck me how much like a fat, bud-swilling forklift-driver van den Puup actually looks. A regular guy at the bar dressed up in his conception of what an effete designer might look like.

The average person, struggling through the demands of life, work and family, is not a terribly curious creature. And lots of us live in an easier, unthinking world of cleaved absolutes, where US is good earthy hard-working folk, and THEM is silly, effete, and 'citified' nutjobs (perhaps brimming with moral degredation). Like artiste designers. While the megalomaniacal-hissy caricature is occasionally not far off, it still smacks of blanket stereotyping, born more of ignorance and long-standing popular conception than any real awareness of the reality on the street.

But so be it. The world is full of cheap laughs. People shouldn't know better, but people who make it their business to know better should know better, right?

Like people who subscribe to a self-image of critical-reflection, penetrating intellect, ever-expanding knowledge and perspective. Who live and work in the world of ideas. Like people you'd meet at a publisher's party.

I'm fascinated that there IS so much gut distrust of designers among thinkers. From discussions with non-designers, I think perhaps this stems from two things.

1. an awareness of the persuasive power inherent to visual communications...it appeals not to the rational ('enlightened') side of humanity, but persuades through evoking and manipulating emotion...its messages are presented not through rational argument, but more or less through the techniques of persuasion and propaganda.

And people should rightly be wary of a discipline that is able to snip the neurons to critical thought and jab straight into the 'fight or flight' lizard-brain of emotional reaction. Design is inherently manipulative in a way that few other desciplines are.

2. The persuasive power inherent to visual communications is put almost exclusively into the service of the market, and is used in churning out and selling things for companies. This is all well and good and worthy and rah-rah us, but as far as relevance to the greater world of ideas and the vast potential of design, it's pretty boring and severely limited.

I personally find it pretty baffling when I attempt to defend design as an important intellectual/cultural enterprise against these two arguments. If anyone has a perspective, or has dueled and won a point for design at publisher's parties, etc, I'd love to hear how. WE'RE NOT BAFFOONS, but it nags at me...does our discipline, and its endeavours, deserve a measure of distrust?


.


Dan Warner
04.26.05
01:40

In IKEA's case, the point is clear. They are a design minded company, and they do "like designers"

They're not lampooning designers in general as much as they are design elitism. They are clearly opposed to overdesigned, overpriced and semi-functional products.
steve
04.26.05
01:56

[quote]They are clearly opposed to overdesigned, overpriced and semi-functional products.[/quote]

Yes, Ikea is against bad design—but the ad is lampooning a designer not a bad design. How many people will make the distinction between good and bad designers when this ad exploits a stereotype that seems to resonate with the public at large that designers are out of touch snobs. I feel they missed the mark with this campaign. As a contrast, the Target ads clearly emphasise that good design is part of their brand in both the design of their ads and the products themselves.
Leslie
04.26.05
02:18

A couple of years ago. I attended a show entitled Constructed Realities at the Orlando Museum of Art. At the show I bumped into an acquaintence named Farley, a "fine artist" who actually makes his living in a non-design area of the aerospace industry, and spends his artistic capital painting knock-offs of familiar photos of Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin to hang over cafe tables. Farley was accompanied by a female friend, who, when I casually asked who did the graphic design for the exhibit's posters, immediately engaged me into a civil but asinine argument about what was "art" and how graphic design wasn't "art." Farley and the woman were both snobbishly dismissive of anything that wasn't on a canvas. When I asked her what kind of work she did, the woman said, "I do graphic design for my job — I do my real art at night." I might be the first to agree that most graphic art is a craft, not a "fine art," but then, I'd would say that Farley's colorless paintings (in every sense of the phrase) of sexy women resembling third-rate Patrick Nagel prints weren't necessarily "fine art" either. At one point, Farley even waved a postcard promoting his work in my face, and said triumphantly, "No one told me how this should look." This was obvious, because it reeked of amateurism. Even though I was an "evil art director", Farley still shoved a dozen of the hideous postcards into my hand to distribute among my friends.

I tried to get my head around the idea that Farley somehow didn't consider his own work commercial art, even though every fiber of its creation shouted BUY ME. I didn't stay for very much of the show — it had started out so poorly that I wanted to escape as quickly as I could. Oddly enough, in the elevator on the way out, I overheard another young couple talking about graphic art versus fine art. The well-dressed woman sneered and said to her agreeably-nodding boyfriend, "'Graphic arts' -- just another name for a bunch of lackeys selling soap."

Certain professions, at least the ones with the ability and desire to show the realities of their business in a public way, are always portraying themselves as buffoons, nakedly evil, or at the very least venal to the point of absurdity. Think of how Hollywood portrays itself and others: Swimming With Sharks, The Player, Barton Fink, The Big Picture, My Favorite Year, etc. Advertising is awash with egotists or self-deluded fools or both (How to Get Ahead in Advertising, What Women Want, the venerable Bewitched).

I used to think these skewed portrayals existed because there is such a hunger to let the outside world know how insanely difficult and soul-deadening our profession can be at times, that we overstep our bounds and come off looking psychotic -- it's a cry for help.

Do we really hate ourselves that much?


Loyd
04.26.05
04:45

Target is a 40-year old company that realized a few years ago that the D-word can attract a more upscale demographic. If they're so devoted to design, what the happened to their Philipe Starck line? It didn't SELL and they dropped it like a hot potato.

It's all about the name with Target. Is Rachel Ashwell's Simply Shabby Chic fot Target good design. No, but it sells.

IKEA, on the other hand has been designing and retailing ALL of its own products for 50+ years. Little known (and hard to substantiate) fact - IKEA claims to be the #1 purchaser of design services in the world (industrial, graphic, interior, etc.)
steve
04.26.05
04:52

Perhaps the denigration of the Graphic Designer is a good thing.
I would be perfectly happy to see scared off the casual CorelDraw user/Marketing person who thinks "hey, that looks pretty easy" and hangs out a shingle proclaiming themselves to be a Graphic Designer. For too many years our industry has been polluted by amateurs who invariably attract more attention than the professionals, most notably through the bad design work they produce. This phenomenon also manifests itself in the type of clients who, for example, wish to flex their creative "muscle" on that annual report with a cavalier "yeah, I've got PhotoShop at home on my PC"
Luckily for me, I don't care what anybody thinks of me - except my wife. I especially don't care what Artists, Writers or Publishers think of me because, in the real world, these job descriptions usually translate into Student, Free Street Press Band Reviewer or Web Monkey (not that there is anything wrong with these occupation per se). I do care, however, that graphic design has become career choice No.1 for people who don't know what career they want to pursue. (at least this is the case in Australia). Surely our profession offers more than that in terms of challenges and opportunities.
The point I am trying to make is that without all the hype and misconception which currently surrounds our industry, we might be able to just get on with the job. If that means putting up with a few cocktail party jibes from some self-aggrandising blowhard, that's fine with me.

By the way Dan Warner, be baffled no more! All the ammo you need to defend design as an important intellectual/cultural enterprise against those arguments is in the brilliant hands of Stefan Sagmeister. An inspirational thinker and design mind, in the way only a regular guy can be.
Chris Foster Kane
04.26.05
07:34

I assume that this post must be some sort of subtle in-joke. Is the author not aware of the almost godlike status in which designers (the merits of the judgment aside) such as Gehry, Koolhaas, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren are held? They are major, esteemed culture figures and they make a lot of money, too.
David Sucher
04.26.05
10:01

Even "high designers" can also be bad for the public. I've heard several people say how annoying Dyson is when he expounds on his vacuum cleaners in the TV commercials.

Not only does he sound to some like a obsessive compulsive snob: they also think his design skills could be put to better use. Like medical devices, or a "no-clog water purifier" for third world countries.
Nathan
04.27.05
12:17

Hmmm... am I the only one here who found the IKEA campaign -- or at least the stuff on the "Van Den Puup" website -- pretty funny? (The mission statement in particular cracked me up.)

Yeah, sure, it pushes the stereotype of the sissy designer -- of which, as folks have pointed out here, actual examples do exist in abundance.

Does that hurt us all as designers somehow? Well, maybe.

But I'm sure most of us are secure enough with our lives -- professional and otherwise -- that we need not get beaten down by this light-hearted and relatively insignificant portrayal. (Or, for that matter, the upturned noses at a cocktail party.)

I mean, consider the context of this. If we can't laugh at a caricature of ourselves, then maybe we have a lot more in common with these self-important buffoons than we think.

And -- professional respect and greater pay aside -- it's not exactly like this designer stereotype is all that oppressive, even if it does ride more insidious currents (i.e., homophobia, classism, etc.).

Maybe after every other genuinely damaging, demeaning and socially regressive stereotype is eradicated -- Arabic/Muslim = terrorist; Latino = illegal immigrant; etc. -- I'll put some thought into how designers are ridiculed in the popular mind.

And before we go on about how our collective character is being mocked and exploited in order to sell pieces of furniture, let's not forget that IKEA actually identifies the designer of most of its items in its packaging and exhibition materials -- or, at the very least, has some sort of designer-sounding name attached to it. (My "IGGE" shower curtain, for instance, was apparently designed by Cilla Lindberg -- though I don't know if Lindberg is an actual person, as a Google search just turned up IKEA stuff.) As Adrian points out, IKEA is playing both sides of the designer card.

Of course, I could be wrong -- perhaps this flippant representation is of some concern to the profession.

But in the greater scheme of things, given the many, many urgent and dire problems in this world which a designer can focus their energy on, I'm not very interested in concerning myself with this relatively abstract and trivial one.

In any case -- really interesting and well-written post, Adrian. Nice job.
Jon Resh
04.27.05
03:46

Mad props to J. Resh. Further, how many "we designers don't get the respect we deserve" conversations do we need? By continuously talking about that, don't we just prove these "prissy" accusations correct?

So, my parents only marginally understand what I do; the general public thinks of designers as stylists (at best); Ikea made some ads mocking the idea of fussy designers. Ok? Do I go back to one of my exclusive fussy designers' clubs and complain about it or do I talk to people about what I do? Maybe I could also live my life, content that I really really like what I do, that I (probably) make a living wage, that I get to think and talk about and do cool shit that I like - for a living.

And, while I would wager that the Ford and Ikea examples are some sort of design-by-committee sort of thing, the people who wrote this copy, directed these photo shoots, set the text, designed the site, etc. are complicit in it. This isn't just "Ikea" or "Ford." It's our peers and collaborators, too. These things didn't just write and make themselves.

I agree wholeheartedly about the sexual stereotyping and degradation, though. That's just not cool. But, see above - there are designers helping to make those stereotypes happen. And that's something that deserves to be talked about. The designers of these things are getting off easy. If we have problems with that shit, with our fellow designers helping to express anti-gay (or anti-black, anti-poor, anti-woman, the list goes on) sentiments, we need to sort that out. Maybe there's some common forum where we could do that. Where, though? Oh God, where?!

As designers, we have things good. Real good. And if sometimes, some stuff comes on the TV that doesn't make us look so great, I'm not going to let that get me down. I'm not even going to sweat it. I mean, it's not like people are throwing eggs at us on the street. I want the people (oh, and clients, too, I suppose) in my life to understand what I do and why, but once I can do that, being a designer is nice, real nice. I'm not going to focus on what people think of designers, I'm going to do my damndest to focus on designing.
Daniel
04.27.05
05:09

Thanks Jon Resh and Daniel you restored my faith that the industry is not scared to laugh at its self and not wither like a pansy the moment someone takes a cheap shot.
cardboardcutout
04.27.05
05:43

Here in the US, as mentioned by another comment, we have Target stores. Target has been promoting the "designer" such as Starck, Graves, and others. Click here to see their TV ad about design.
(Click on the TV link on the bottom of the Target page to view it.)
I would suspect that Target spends equal or more than Ikea on design services. Minneapolis, where Target is headquartered, is a big design city, in part because Target Corporation or firms they subcontract to basically uses every graphic design firm in the city for at least one project probably once a year. That's an educated guess though.
J. Coates
04.27.05
09:30

The problem I have with the Ikea campaign is the mediocre execution. It would have been more interesting—and funnier—if it was less farsical... or more for that matter.

I simply don't understand why designers feel the need to run around like Sally Field screaming, "you like me! you really like me!". I enjoy what I do; I get paid reasonably well for what I do; and after 20-odd years I'm even getting pretty good at it. If some short-sighted twit doesn't approve, that's just stiff bickies.

Steve, as far as I know, Target is a business, not a philanthropical patron of the arts.
Andrew
04.27.05
09:57

While I agree that IKEA's excution may be off, I think they're thinking is spot-on. The opposite of "elitist design" is the IKEA-model of design. They operate under this conception that good design should be available as many people as possible. Target has borrowed more than a few pages from the IKEA book. This is a fact.

On another note, Target may rule the roost in Minneapolis, but IKEA has Stockholm and Copenhagen. They're international. And I wasn't just saying that they were the #1 purchaser of GRAPHIC design services. It's graphics, photographers, interior designers, and most importantly industrial designers. Those 10,000 self-designed products have to come from somewhere.
Steve
04.27.05
11:50

To jump in on the Target fray...

Target is a corporate Discount Retailer. Period. Anytime consumers confuse them with IKEA, their marketing has done it's job.

They calculate every move in regards to their own appearance and the bottom line. They are constantly mining sub-cultures for the next new thing. But aren't we all?

If their inexpensive merchandise doesn't sell, it's dropped next season. I suspect that IKEA's more expensive products actually last longer than Target's disposable fashions.

Like any other business, they are patrons of the arts, when it suits them best. I offer this example:
The city codes of Minneapolis don't allow for the decoration of buildings beyond architectural features; i.e. no permanent signs or business logos on building exteriors. To get around this, they commissioned sculptor Howard Ben Tre to "decorate" (design?) their city block because the forms he uses are so close to their own circular logo. They get by the guidelines, but able to avoid criticism because they're "funding the arts." Pure corporate doublespeak.

Again, there is the ambiguity of what is desgin and what is art. If the artists and designers are being (conf)used, then who is to blame? Are we being pimped?

Lastly, they are leaders in their class (Discount Retail) for the proportion of their budget spent on design (for business) & public Arts sponsorship. A was noted earlier, they've used about every design firm in Minneapolis at least once. (Which is also part of their business strategy: use unknown companies because Target can bake them an offer they can't refuse.) I'd like to compare the figures of Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Costco, Kmart, Dollar Stores, etc. to see actual contributions by percentages.
Curious, what percent of one's profits must be used to buy art in order to become a "philanthropical patron" of the Arts? I can't think of a single company that buys as much art on a regular basis. But then again, I haven't looked for any.

And, they are in no way affilliated with the poorly-copied Australian Target stores.
Benxamin
04.27.05
12:12

This post reminds me of Rick's comments about architects a while back. I really wonder if this perceived lack of respect really exists, or if we're overly sensitive. To generalize, do all graphic designers shoot out the same respect to other fields as we want for ourselves?

I'm not familiar with the ford campaign so it doesn't mean much to me. However in a moment of weakness a couple months ago I was listening to Virgin radio and heard an audio clip of Van Den Puup. I couldn't believe what I had heard. A quick google search lead me to that elite designers site. I really thought it was funny and would never have made the connection that IKEA is conspiring to disrespect the entire design industry. I took the manifesto and sent it to the GDC listserv. What was interesting is that some people thought it was for real until it was pointed out that it was indeed not to be taken seriously. What I wonder is how we got to the point were someone could take something so absurd, place it in a different context and people could even possible see it as reality. If that perception is out there, maybe need to ask how that came to be.

Michael Surtees
04.27.05
04:49

True, true. Designers are a sensitive bunch. Any group of creatives with a passion for something the world at large knows or cares not a whit about, is going to be slightly evangelical and slightly fervent - and slightly defensive, on occasion - in 'proselytizing' for the cause. Mark Twain once noted that the one thing no one will admit to not having is a sense of humor. To me Van Der Puup is a funny (and familiar) character/caricature precisely because he has no sense of humor/humility/grace/perspective about himself, what he does, what he has dedicated his life to, etc. Throw in a whif of elitism, and you've got the perfect puritanical, messianic jerk. (And, come on, we've all met one or two of those in the course of our careers).

Michael Surttees makes a good point in asking 'do all graphic designers shoot out the same respect to other fields as we want for ourselves?' (I would say yes, we are respectful of other fields to the extent that we are aware of what is going on in other fields. I would also say that, to generalize as an entire group (with some shining exceptions), designers don't respect other fields, because we so rarely bother being aware of what is going on in them. Maybe this is because the designer's sense of relevance is handed down from business culture, not from a liberal-arts-type thirst for knowledge? I dunno.

But I'm not so bothered by silly stereoypes in the popular perception of designers - or even flat-out ignorance among elites as to what exactly designers do - and CAN do - on behalf of a cause or project or client.
I much more bothered with those people who have a pretty solid sense of what designers do, and still harbor a mild wariness/distrust of the profession - at least in terms of a worthwhile/humanistic pursuit. This is where my sense of humor gets lost...
Dan Warner
04.27.05
07:15

Reading this article, I couldn't help thinking that we 'designers' are actually a bit arrogant. It is this property that is lampooned, I think. And they might even be right!

We need to be a bit arrogant, let's call it 'self-confident', to get our product made. But this is no reason for us to get into the spotlight I'd say. Most product development is still done by a team and largely evaluated objectively.

Isn't product development ('design' hits 457.000.000 results in Google) more about the result: The product?
Jacco Lammers
04.28.05
07:14

I was gutted, having purchased a rabbit fur beret only two weeks before the campaign launched. I also wear quite thick black specs and loud clothing.

The first time 'it' happened I was sitting outside a pub when a bus pulled up carrying a huge image of someone who looks like me! People in the street instantly made the connection - pointing backwards and forwards from the bus to me. I toughed it out rather than remove my cap, but it's happened again and again, and i am starting to go out less. Attending stand-up comedy gigs, for example, is not an option with my current look. I am being marginalised... "Look, it's that bloke from IKEA..." scream the wags.

This Van der Puup bloke must be quite powerful though, to have managed to get his campaign actually INSIDE IKEA as well as on TV and buses. There's another place I can no longer visit - which is bad because i've also run out of tea lights...



tim malbon
04.28.05
08:36

I think the big story of these new campaigns has been missed. While our professional insecurity makes us fret over the tragic possibility (likelihood?) that the rest of the "real world" thinks we're a bunch of weirdos, I have to propose that the ad campaigns are not about design and our (designers') respectability, per se - they're about populism vs. elitism. Viewers are not laughing at Van den Puup's manic obsession with austerity as a design concept, or even his relevance in the world - they're laughing at his absurd suggestion that well-designed products must cost an arm and a leg.

Okay, they're laughing at Van den Puup for a lot of reasons, as well they should; the ads are damn funny. The prissy furniture designer, rushing to wash his hands after touching an Ikea ad in a magazine, is one of the funniest gags I've seen in a while. The fact that they're lampooning what I can honestly call even my own leanings toward precise kerning is excellent.

Nevertheless, the thrust of the ads (and the Ford campaign as well, it seems) is that the idea of aesthetic "quality" being some sort of exclusive domain for the elite is ridiculously outmoded in this age of unprecedented populism. Any clear-thinking person who's ever been to the Moss showroom in Manhattan can sympathize. I mean, honestly.

Ikea's fundamental belief (besides remaining profitable) is that everyone should be able to benefit from the inspiring explosion in furniture (and houseware) design that has come along with the 20th century modernist revolution and all that followed it. The exploits of the Bauhaus school and many others who came afterward, the risks and experiments of those brilliant thinkers that have resulted in such wonderful creations over the last hundred years, should not be so exalted and elevated that nobody actually gets to enjoy the fruits, save the extremely wealthy. Regular people should still get to have nice stuff, and the changes Target - and, to a lesser degree, Kmart - have brought to our aesthetic experience of everyday should be commended. (The commodification of style and resulting short-term disposability of so many products is another issue we as a society may yet have to reckon with.)

As designers, we're a different kind of people in many ways, and that's okay, because we like what we do. But "different" is only that - there's no value judgment attached. Let's act like it, and let middle-managers and laborers everywhere have some style, too.
Don
04.28.05
08:33

We are a pretty funny lot. Graphic designers, commercial artists, information architects, folks who play with pictures on computers. You've got to admit there are a ton of silly designers out there. We are pretty much the pimps of capitalism, hocking the wares of whoever shows us the money. Sure there are exceptions to that rule, but we're full of great material. Make more fun of designers! Are our egos that fragile?
jered bogli
04.29.05
12:22

A very nice post by Adrian, and I couldn't help agree with what everyone has said in here. But I have a question:

What about those minds behind the campaign itself? Aren't they designers themselves? Whilst there really are differences between a design house and an advertising agency, on a certain level they both work the same way (remember IKEA is such a BIG client to all such services). And as a graphic design student I am on the same course with advertisers in my college. Personally I find it's kind of like the 'graphic designer - advertiser - (visual) fine artist' triangle of relationship nowadays, the boundaries are actually getting blurrier by the day. All of the 3 work hard to achieve 'visual wit', recognition and of course, to earn a living. All of the 3 are about communicating a message in visual terms. And indeed it isn't any news that fine artists are taking up design jobs as freelance work (rings a bell with Farley and his female friend in Loyd's comment? No offence here to respectable fine artists).

An infamous example - the work of Julian Opie. It has since day one been 'graphic'. What about the cover he did for Blur? Was that to be considered as graphic design or fine art? You tell me.

It is true that the fine artist must look for a way to sell their work. Nowadays, when art is not only a religious affair anymore, artists can't beg clergymen for their crucial life support. Their work has to have a wide commercial appeal & value - Saatchi and the YBA's. Now it brings us back to the triangle again.

By the end of the day, those people who took the joke on 'elite designers' are, somehow, workers in the same industry as we work in - at least the D&AD ties it altogether. It might take us into the argument where product designers and architects might not consider graphic design and advertising as 'real' design, but I think that has always been a pointless argument anyway, to argue what 'real' design is by the field of design and not by quality. And didn't Rem Koolhaas himself, provided all his greatness in the architectural field, deliver a flawed graphic job reducing flags to stripes of colours in a proposal to the EU?

Honest, I've met design snobs just like Van der Puup whilst working as a sales in Habitat, a couple coming to inquire about a dining table and asking me for the contact of the designer so that they could tell him how badly the table was designed. If you were such a design snob why bother looking at furniture in Habitat? It's now owned by IKEA anyway. I'm not saying the designs are bad, it's just that they should look somewhere else, just as I wouldn't compare that £300 armchair to the Van der (no pun intended) Rohe Barcelona chair. Maybe this is why I actually find the IKEA campaign spot-on.
Edmund
05.01.05
03:44

Is IKEA really spoofing consumers who prefer to spend thousands on DWR furniture than the more affordable IKEA furniture?
Leslie
05.01.05
05:52

I think any self-respecting designer who works hard at what they do will laugh at the TVC's and then forget about them. Or alternatively you can start your collection of haute couture berets and live the dream!
Mark.S
05.03.05
07:57

I just went to the elite designers website and I think it is hilarious. What's really funny (or scary) is the number of people who don't seem to realize that this organization has been fabricated by IKEA itself. People have posted messages vehemently defending IKEA, or claiming that the ads drove them to IKEA for the first time. I think this makes a very successful campaign, and enjoy seeing people "caught" by reverse psychology. Like or hate IKEA, this was a creative angle to use, and I don't feel that my reputation as a designer has been harmed in any way.
Kristin
05.04.05
07:38

A little bit of a tangent but since Target got mentioned a fair bit above for their supportive/exploitative relationship to big-D design, I thought it was worth bringing up. Apologies if this is old news.

Target inserted a brochure announcing their new pharmacy pill bottle design in last weeks paper. I'm sure that the result can be debated, but I think its pretty nice. There is a New York Metro article about it online. At the very least they came up with a thoughtful solution to a less than glamourous problem. I am encouraged to see some money being spent on design that could truly help a lot of people rather than just skinning a crap product. Obviously they did this primarily as a business decision, but it's nice to see that those sometimes turn out to be good for everyone (well, Target customers).
Alex
05.07.05
11:53

jajajaja... It's true it's true! Design world is all about elitism!! I see how this super cool guy seems to be offended by the ads... but honestly, look at his company and look at his text: he depicts an elitist party with intellectual writers and all that shit... jajaja, what a designer!. But to be honest, it's not just him, it's the shit we all do... elitism per se.
The funny thing about elitism is that it is a dead end road... the better you become in this elitist design world the less money you get, the less fame you get... the higher you get the smaller the audience, does it make any sense?
About the offensive cliché, yeah, it's true. Go to the dior website and then go to the "stars" section. There's an interview with John Galliano... common, look at the "man" and hear his ridiculous laugh... jijijiji and his disgusting plastic surgery. Is it not a living cliché? I enjoy his creations but... common!... anyway, what I mean is that elitism seems to be our objective and we should think about our real position in the world of content creation, entertainment, information support, fashion or whatever field we design for.
Ask real people, the people who use our designs, the people who watch our movies, our content. Do they know who the fuck Bruce Mau is? of course not.
We're like college economy teachers. They teach economy but they're not millionaires, so what the hell are they going to teach me?... we design but the real audience doesn't understand what we do... we should thing about this because IT IS OBVIOUSLY OUR FAULT.
We deserve the ads and we should learn the lesson: DESIGN FOR THE PEOPLE.
If the audience can get it, we did it wrong. I, the intellectual designer, never admitted it, but this is how it works. We work for the audience... we should stop treating the audience like retards. Although, nothing is going to change, Walter Groupis is and will be god and we will ignore the audience for many many years... poor fool designers.
(Excuse me for the poor English, I speak like Van den Puup, isn't it funny?)
Thisisgrey
06.07.05
05:23



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