Are you guilty of design consumerism?

Are you guilty of design consumerism?

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Last week, on my other website (Logo Designer Blog), an article written by Chris Spooner was published and it was called 5 recent rebrands that caused the most upset and it really kicked up a stir amongst the community.

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Many people vented their opinions of each of the 5 logos showcased however there were two comments that really stood out for me as it brought up a few questions and provoked thoughts I had never really thought about.

Daphne had this to say about the 5 logos:

“Don’t like any of them [the 5 logos posted]. Feels exactly like what we’re studying in class now: where the design does not adhere to the need of the consumer, rather it’s creating a style for the consumer to follow; one that will soon become a style used by all, making it obsolete:”

Kaalis had an interesting reply…

“I don’t want a world where design is created by the consumer, I prefer one where designers create trends, create evolution, changes. Designers need to educate the consumer visually. If all designers followed what consumers (and clients) wanted, design history would have been a lot more boring. That’s why I love and support Ollin’s work, it’s innovating and fresh. It doesn’t listen to what consumers want, it educates the consumer, surprises him, makes him think, react, share opinions – good & bad ones. We designers need to support these kind of designers… we’re not a bunch a lazy guys doing drawings, we develop concepts, strategies and give estethical answers. We’re not slaves of the consumers or our client. We decide, but at our own risk:”

So this made me a think… should a designer be adhering to the needs / wants of consumers & clients? Should designers be innovating & creating a style for consumers to follow? Where can and should we draw the line between the two? Should designers follow design trends for the needs & wants of consumers or should we be trying harder to educate the client? Should we be designing for social change?

Well, this topic has been up in the air for some time now .. in fact one of the most re known designers of our time, Milton Glaser (the designer behind the I Love New York logo), coined the term “Designism” which raises a similar question of “whether design can and should   do good?”

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“Designism is a movement that attempts (sometimes well, sometimes not) to connect design to politics. A less “loaded” definition would be “a movement that attempts to change the world through design.”

This Designism movement has been crafted via a number of lectures put together by the Art Directors Club although it doesn’t seem to be that popular, however, it has only been a movement 3 years in the making.

Designism - Photos courtesty of Sasha Mombartz

Be A Good Citizen – Milton Glaser

Furthering on this topic of Designism, in the book How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer by Debbie Millman, (a great book I’ve recently finished) Milton Glaser had this to say:

“Being a designer is also about being a good citizen. What does it mean to be a good citizen? It means caring about what’s going on and taking a role. Designers have the unique opportunity to have a different role than an average person who doesn’t have access to production and manufacturing in the same way a designer does. So there is more opportunity and more responsibility.

The reality of being in the world and caring about that world is ultimately in our own self-interest. When you create a competitive and acrimonious environment, you suffer. If you play that game, then you have to pay the consequences on a personal level.”

Who cares?

Although not all are all in the same boat, Adrian Hanft of the blog Be A Design Group had these critiques about Designism after listening to one of the Designism lectures:

•  It’s too liberal. A political movement should include multiple political opinions. Most people who attended the forum were liberal.
•  Speak in a civil tone change doesn’t come about by dropping the “F” bomb and saying you’re pissed.
•  It’s insulting to other designers by implying that political design is more important than other forms of design.

Adrian also asks “hasn’t design always been about making the world a better place?”

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You can read Adrian’s full crique here and read other’s opinions here: SpeakUp, Unbeige, Core 77, and many more.

So, who is the victim of design consumerism?

In my opinion, regardless of how designers instigate change, we simply can’t do nothing. What’s your opinion?

32 thoughts on “Are you guilty of design consumerism?”

  1. There is no doubt that these rebranding campaigns are terrible. And I can see the argument that we, as designers, need to educate people in what is good design.

    But aren’t we getting a bit full of ourselves? Designism is a political movement?


    Stop doing that. Just because everything is a cause these days doesn’t mean have to be, too. Yes design is important to us, and people often look over subliminal design elements that attract them to certain products and things in general. But we are not an oppressed people, and design is not an oppressed element of culture. Some people are just bad at it.

    My argument is a lot more polarizing than I actually believe. I am willing to be persuaded, as I am mostly playing Devil’s advocate… but as I see where you’re coming from, can you see what I’m saying, too?

  2. I think Apple is a good case in point. They often overstep the line between what they want to do and what the consumer wants them to do.

    But they consistently excel at what they do.

    By letting innovation and inspiration guide the way, rather than mass demand, you can create things that are beyond the imagination of the average consumer. I guess what I’m saying is that designing for consumers (ie. The Masses) is a bit like design by committee, and that’s never a good thing.

    On the designerism front, I think we’re here to communicate a message – what that message is, isn’t up to us. It’s up to the client.

  3. Where do design trends come from? because I thought it was designers who created them (by looking at other’s work and taking something that some other designer will like and use as well. and then consummers see it repeatedly and ask for designers to use it, but originally it’s been designers who started it… or what? it’s like fashion trends, the consummer wears them because they are told it’s what they have to wear that year.

  4. Designers create solutions for the need of others.
    Artists create solutions for their own internal need.

    If designers designed for themselves all the time, they wouldn’t be doing their job.
    If you think you are a designer and think you need to change the world with your ideas, maybe you need to rethink your position, you are an artist – be proud of it.

  5. Stepdad,
    I suppose that is a point of what Adrian was trying to say, hasn’t design always been about making the world a better place? But in saying that, I still believe that part of the role of being a designer is educating the client… we are the designer after all.

    Designism sounds odd to a lot of people judging by the comments left on the articles I’ve linked. I don’t think that executives would begin hiring designers based on political motives alone however if this ‘movement’ does begin to take off, it may just be a contributing factor.

    Another good point, and one that many of the great designers bring up, in particular Peter Saville. In the book How to think like a great graphic designer (linked in article), Saville talks on the topic of how many aspired students and designers start doing design because of what they see in pop culture design, ie. record sleeves, fashion and the ‘new’, ie. they love these sorts of designs so they want to do the same, however, when doing so they fail to see the underlying principles of what design is actually all about, which often leads to people not understanding their role as designer, which in part is what I can see coming from this ‘Designism’ movement – a better understanding. What do you think?

    Definitely, which is one of the main reasons I posted this article… which makes me wonder what your opinions are on the 5 recent rebrands? Does it make you happy to see these types of designs, or are they too far “a step out of the box”?

    Apple is quite an example, a very innovative company indeed, however in most cases they are their own client, so this example wouldn’t be applicable to all areas, especially because it’s their choice to what the message they want to convey. On the other hand, when you have a client or committee, like you suggested, you have a message that you have to communicate & that is most probably given to you by the client. The key is finding the right balance between the two. What’s your opinion?

    Trends can come from anywhere, though it’s not always designers who create them which is the whole topic of this article – design consumerism… who is the victim? Also in regards to your fashion statement, I would have to disagree, consumers still have a choice in my opinion.

    Also, I would like to quote Jeff Fisher, in regards to trends:

    “When a graphics industry expert proclaims something a current ‘design trend’ it is a ‘breaking news’ message to designers everywhere that the specific ‘trend’ should be avoided from that moment on – rather than followed by a thundering flock of design sheep.”


    Designers create solutions for the need of others.
    Artists create solutions for their own internal need.

    I suppose that designers do design for others (excusing self produced projects) however when should a designer be designing for the consumer or for social change? Also, I wasn’t entirely sure of what you meant by your last sentence, were you implying that artists try to change the world, not designers? Or if not, can you please clarify, thanks!

  6. Jacob, Thanks for the link to my post about Designism. The “movement” of designism seems even more silly as I look back on what I originally wrote. Too attach politics to “design” is just ridiculous. There isn’t anything biased about design. It doesn’t belong to the rich or the poor. It isn’t conservative or liberal. If it is, or if you think it is, then there is something very flawed about your understanding of design. That’s not to say that it can’t change the world. It can and does in the same way that good plumbing can. We do our job and apply our knowledge to improve communication. That’s design, and it is a worthy occupation without injecting some lofty social cause into it. If a plumber were to give a speach about how good plumbing should be more of a social movement that can change the world (in a rant laced with F bombs criticizing other plumbers) they would be laughed out of business. But if a designer preaches this same garbage they are applauded and quoted in high profile publications. Designism is pretty funny and pathetic when you think about it like that.

  7. Designism sounds odd to me. So are we trying to breed a division between designers of different ideals. Change is different in the eyes of each individual so if all graphic designers begin infusing this type of influence it will create problems. Not everyone in the world is a global warming alarmist liberal or a fear-mongering neo-con. The result of this would be a division of designers. Executives would begin hiring designers with political motives in mind rather than basing it on a portfolio.

    I don’t like the division, yet I do think we can start revolutions in graphic design. I’m just not sure that is a good thing.

    As an aside, I hate Pepsi’s blind Obama worshiping redesign, it’s pathetic.

  8. I didn’t get into design because I wanted to be a good citizen or an agent for revolution and social change. I did it because I’m passionate about design.

    To make a change and to be a good citizen I got involved in politics, and worked as a campaign manager, and sat on municipal committees.

    My political career and design career don’t often meet, and that’s the way I like it.

  9. Excellent post Jacob. It really gets you thinking of our role in society as designers. I really connected to Kaalis’ reply to the ‘5 recent rebrands that caused the most upset’ post. Our job as designers IS to create meaning to our design that visually connects with the consumer. On a certain level it is important somehow relate design to the consumer, but design should be more than JUST that. If we were living in a society where we were only conforming our design to comply with the consumer, it wouldn’t make the consumer think. I believe it is important for the consumer to be able to question our design and see a deeper meaning than just the product at hand. All of the logo redesigns in that post, good or bad brew up some sort of a different meanings. We live in a society that is unraveling and changing daily. So, if everything around us is changing, why shouldn’t design change with it? It makes me happy to see designers taking a step out of the box and going against design norms and trends in hopes of creating a new trends and forcing society to view something old in a new and different perspective. We are creatives, so we might as well be and think creatively.

  10. If a “good” design is so widely disliked by many people, then maybe it’s time to rethink good design.

    A truly good design, I think, will be liked by designers and non-designers alike.

    As some comments have already pointed out, there is a difference between art and design. My comments are about design only, art is a whole other beast.

  11. Consumers have a choice regarding to fashion, they can buy or not the clothes, but they don’t set the trends. I saw on TV like a documentary or something where a group of people sat at a table and set the colors that should be used in fashion the next season.

  12. Jacob,

    Surprisingly, it does make me happy to see these types of designs. We never know how the public will react to anything until we publicize it. Clearly, the designers who redesigned these logos felt very passionate about them. It is important to take risks in design. It is important to create pieces of art that you feel strongly about even if others don’t, and if you fail you try again. Many people feel like all of the logos featured in that post failed horribly, yet they have us talking don’t they? They have us learning from their mistakes so we don’t make them ourselves. Designers should learn from one another, and if we are all following the same trends and never allow new ones to evolve we will never have that chance to learn and grow. I hope all designers take these redesigns as a learning experience and grow from them.

  13. I’ve thought about this a lot as well and I think the key is to understand the difference between Design and Advertising or marketing.

    Design without a purpose or without tring to satisfy consumer need is simply art. On the flip side, Design tailored completely to what the client or consumer may want is generally BAD art. 🙂

    The key is to find a balance between the wants and needs of the consumer, client, or whoever you are doing design work for and the principles and strategies of marketing and design that you know will work.

  14. Logo’s are becoming way too kid like these days and seem to be copying each quite a bit too. Everything looks like candy and candy looking logos just don’t hold up to stability in my mind.

  15. @Mrs. Onion
    I’m having trouble grasping what exactly encompasses “kid like” .. I can’t seem to find the “kid like” term in any of my university textbooks.
    It’s amazing how much people like candy.

    @Jacob Cass
    I misrepresented artists and designers.
    Both can influence change in the world.
    The source for change comes from two entirely different manifestations: 1. from the singular self (the artist) 2. from the plural selves (the public, with the designer as the researcher and interpreter).

    In capitalist consumerism, I would say more often than not, that designing for the consumer, inherently by nature, is driven primarily by the company first, and by the consumer second. After all, why would any company invest in branding themselves in the first place unless they were benefiting from some sort of return on a product or service they were offering?

    Designing for social change is an entirely different beast.
    The above 5 logos are highly questionable examples of positive social change, they are capitalist consumer driven – even the Olympic Games logo with its good intentions, is still driving advertising that largely supplements a world-wide vacation destination for 2010 in London.

  16. Kormendy,
    Please talk more about your ideas of social change and what it has to do with logo design. I just don’t get it. What in the world does a logo for Pepsi have to do with social change? You seem to be bashing capitalism. Maybe that’s what you and the Designism movement really means by social change. Is it socialism that you are after? If that’s the case then maybe the designism thing starts to make sense. Designism is short for “design + socialism.” They should have just said that in the first place. That makes sense. There is a group of socialist designers that feel guilty about using design to promote capitalism and a consumer based society. They can’t outwardly support socialism, so instead they invent a word that means the same thing (designism) that lets them bash consumer design without the negative effects of outwardly supporting socialism. Holy crap, I just cracked the code…

  17. @Adrian3

    I didn’t bash capitalism, I just briefly (very briefly) talked about where the need for logo change arose. I was also briefly addressing Jacob’s question to me regarding designing for consumerism or social change.

    Keep trying to crack those codes …

  18. Kormendy, Sorry, I didn’t mean to call you out specifically. My comment was directed towards the Designism people and anyone that can try to explain it to me. So, is there anything to the correlation I am making between Designism and socialism or am I heading down a dead end?

  19. Adrian,
    No worries about the link, always good to share other peoples opinions and I can agree that applying our knowledge for better communication is part of job as designers, however maybe this ’cause’ is merely raising awareness of this fact?

    Also see the comment to you and Michael at the bottom of this comment.


    if we are all following the same trends and never allow new ones to evolve we will never have that chance to learn and grow. I hope all designers take these redesigns as a learning experience and grow from them.

    Thought it was worth mentioning again. Thanks Antonea.

    Preston Lee,
    It reminds me of this poll that I saw a while back:

    Is graphic design art?

    62% (9752 people say yes and 38% or 5893 say no). Personally I believe, no graphic design is not art.

    Good is a very subjective term so it is hard to measure… it really comes down to if the intended message was communicated or not.

    A fashion movie that comes to mind is “The Devil Wears Prada”. This movie was quite eye opening, although I am not entirely sure how true to life the move is. It is all about setting trends in the fashion industry. Consumers, I believe, do have a say in trends, they won’t buy clothes they don’t like.

    Mrs. Onion,
    Eye candy?

    Michael & Adrian,
    This was a topic that many of the designers mentioned in the book ‘How to think like a graphic designer’ – how nearly 99% of all design is done for financial gain.

    Adrian, you also bring up some interesting points, certainly not leading down a dead end – I think it raises even more questions and hopefully some more feedback from those on the Designism side of the fence.

  20. For the most part, it is the job of the designer to draw in the consumer. If designers went around creating intelligent designs that appealed to them alone and, in turn, made the client or consumer hesitant; I believe we’d be missing the mark in our duty.

    I think it a good saying that we should design to sell, design to invent, and design to achieve consumer satisfaction.

    In other words, we want to sell a product so it must continue to be appealing. To be appealing we can’t always be creating new trends. There are times we must design based around the client. A designer should never oust the client after hearing their feedback, say for a web design, concerning the design phase and bring a web design that is completely out of Scope and way off the AI. The client would then say “Um, I didn’t ask for any of that, what happened to the meeting minutes and notes we discussed, the look and the feel that I had asked for? (Rough example)

    Secondly, we can design to invent new standards, trends while channeling the attention to past clientele as well as “wooing” prospective consumers. I think Wacom did a great job concerning this particular aspect. Most everyone I have talked to in the professional design sector that uses any for of tablet seemed to be in their late 30’s. From my point of view, with this new design they may grab the attention of an even younger generation than previously witnessed.

    Lastly, we always want to achieve consumer satisfaction. Now, please keep in mind, this is not always the case and you can’t please everyone, that’s a given. However, one should keep in mind the pretense, when designing, that consumer satisfaction plays a major role in the purchasing of a product. A client isn’t just going to hire a design firm because they have great trendy designs, but what any major client is going to look for in a design firm is their character, their virtue, their readiness and ability to create a design that lets the consumer know “we are here to meet your needs”

    I use Wacom as an example, I love the new brand and because of it I am going to further pursue them in an attempt to see the greater uses of a tablet in my work. Again, please keep in mind that this isn’t always the case with every design. You can have a perfectly good product with a poor design. I am sure if you were to look up stats or even did a survey you’d see that better design entails much more clientele.

    Anyways, just my thoughts. Thanks for the article bro!


  21. I often never get re-brands at first and only grow to love them over time. Even with my own company when we rebranded I wasn’t 100% sure at the start and only growed to love it over time. I tend to go with the designer’s opinion as they should know best

  22. Skysoffly,
    Drawing in the consumer may be one role of the designer, but certainly not the only one. Designing to sell is partly what this whole capitalist consumerist society is all about. Setting trends and inventing new standards is an offset of this reality, which is often achieved through innovation based around designers foresight and consumers needs and wants – but of course this is made up of so much more. For example, branding… but that is a whole other beast.

    On that note, I am currently reading Wally Olin’s Brand Handbook and it is quite a read. Branding is so deceivingly complex.

  23. Yeah, I totally agree with you. I just wanted to bring in one aspect that many seemed to be “scared” of, know what I mean?

  24. It depends. Whatever perspective you have, you are right so it is a matter of view-points. There is no right or wrong only design that more or less people like and dislike.

    To think outside the box you first have to know the box (= rules). And to be honest: a Designer is – at best – only a part time philosopher. So what do you want to be? A full-time Designer or half-time Designer?

    Even Photoshop doesn’t mean Designers are no human beings anymore. 😉

  25. I have seen and worked throught the system design for cleint needs. it is really boring and it will not relase the actual creativity of the designer. Some the client’s wnat to imitate some designs or they want it in their way .we are designers really need to educate our clients. we have to show them what is right and wrong. some of the cleints don’t want to get awya from their bad idea that is really panic.
    these topics are wonder full . u have done a great job.

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