The first thing that strikes me about this book is its design. It is a hard back with a faded red mock hessian feel to it, purposely creating an illusion of age and importance. Immediately this provides a feeling of congratulatory ownership. I feel good about owning this book because it feels worthy of me. I immediately recall a memory of browsing through a second hand bookshop in Charing Cross and finding a wonderful second hand penguin edition of The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse. Aged perfectly in all the right places, it elicits that warm feeling of a humanity and knowledge read and passed on down through many lives and many hands. And so it seems that before even reading a word I have already been pulled in to The Language of Things by the thing itself; the book as an object.
This is of course no coincidence. Sudjic (currently the Director at the Design Museum in London) writes about today?s vision of design linked to branding and used to create feelings of need and want in order to make us buy. Design is in danger of becoming a mere plaything of consumerism he says, pulled this way and that in order to convince us existentially empty consumers that this or that product will add some meaning to our lives. He contrasts this with his understanding of design as it once was, linked to objects that lasted, were lived with and passed down to future generations.
Sudjic sees us as drowning in a world of mass produced objects for which we have no use except to fill the void that western capitalism, and its bastard son consumerism, have opened up in us.
“Like geese force fed grain until their livers explode, we are a generation born to consume. Geese panic at the approach of the man with a metal funnel ready to be rammed forcibly down their throats, while we fight for a turn at the trough that provides us with the never-ending deluge of objects that constitute our world.”
Are designers of mass produced objects just putting the lipstick on the gorilla? Or is this the time for them to stand up and be counted by designing products that last, live and can be left for the next generation? Here there seems to be a choice for every newly trained designer emerging from their cocoon-like training into the big bad world – either be a force for good in the world, or be a force for nothing. Which will it be?