Title: Comment Plains and pyramids
Plains and pyramids
The history of design during the last 50 years has been not unlike a pyramid, a high point of achievement at the beginning whose narrow base has gradually spread outwards across the plain of human activity. This is an oversimplification, of course, because at different times and in different countries new pyramids have been built which in turn have spread. The tops are not necessarily lower today; theyare merely less obvious against the expanding mass spread out below.
The accuracy of this analogy is evident in the reports from 15 countries contained in this special issue of design from overseas. Evidence is provided not only by the products themselves (a tiny proportion, incidentally, of all the material submitted to us), but in the news of increasing support for better design from governments and industry in many parts of the world. This is a powerful rebuttal to those who complain of the lack of excitement in midcentury design, who miss the shocked reaction of a public faced for the first time with a Mies chair, a Wagenfeld lighting fitting or a Corbusier house.
If design is to mean anything at all, it must operate at the level of ordinary people. Democratic ideals no longer tolerate the validity of castles for the rich and hovels for the rest, even though the ideals are a long way ahead of reality. Modern production engineering is capable of supplying everybody with something in between. And while this may be less spectacular it is not unreasonable to assume that, for all but the erstwhile owners of castles, it is a much more satisfactory proposition.
This awareness of social purpose among both the professionals and the propagandists of nearly all countries is a dominant factor in their working philosophy. In one way or another, they are becoming increasingly concerned with spreading the bases of the pyramids, rather than with trying to build them higher, with bringing to wider sections of industry, and trade a better understanding of how good design can benefit the community at large. This is entirely to be applauded, for we should not delude ourselves about the enormous area that still has to be covered.
The machinery for doing so is ponderous and the results often frustrating. Consumers must learn to discriminate yet, among the dozen or so permanent design centres in various parts of the world, attendances are sometimes astonishingly low - as little as 150 a day in Toronto, for example. More designers must be trained, yet in some countries educational facilities are pitifully inadequate - even in Italy there is still no school where industrial designers can be educated. Manufacturers and retailers must be persuaded of the need for properly thought out design policies, yet among all the national and international design conferences that took place last year, the feeling persisted that it was those in most need who were least represented among the delegates. And in the underdeveloped nations, the problems are a thousand times worse, even though the potential benefits are correspondingly greater.
The need for spreading will thus remain the over-riding consideration in the 'sixties for al I those who believe that the human environment matters and that it must be controlled by design. This is not to deny that new pyramids must be built, for there will always be a need for experiment and innovation. Without it, the underlying mass would decay. But those who deplore an apparent levelling off of design standards, who complain that it has all been done before, should not forget that there is this other side to the picture.