Bad design, good art or neither?

Enlighten me. I clicked through hundreds of pictures of the “Milan Design Week”, and I’m left scratching my head. From the photos, it seems to me there is a pretty small percentage of objects that I can picture someone actually BUYING and more importantly USING. There are a ton of objects that look like art projects gone wrong.

That couch that looks like Dr. Suess designed it during a brain hemorrhage? Put it in that corner over there. Perfect!

A room full of paper weights that look like found objects? AWESOME! Its 2010! Paper weights are in HUGE demand!

How about some “landfill chic” coat racks? For the dumpster diver in all of us.

A glass ring funnel that collects and saves your tears? I’m sorry, I just threw up in my mouth. :blush:

I know its healthy to explore lots of ideas and keep an open mind, but as we ravage through the world’s resources with reckless abandon, ask yourself if a task lamp that looks like blob of spaghetti is worth anyone’s time.

Some of this stuff looks great in an art gallery, but what about all the other elements of design? Market research, manufacturing solutions, assembly, product life cycle, etc. Hell, how about form following function?

Am I missing the point? Am I being too jaded? I’m off to a vacation without the computer, (joy) but I would be interested in reading other opinions on the subject when I get back.

I feel the same way. However, I am jaded:)

Interesting points cdaisy.

I think there`s room for both “design specimens”.
I often refer to these as “magazine design” & “real world design”.

I spend my days designing for the real world (considering the function, the user, the target markets, the feasiblility, the costs, the production, the factorys stubborn owner, the product managers unrealistic deadlines, the marketing, the sales team, the quality control…etc).
So, when I see these “magazine designs” in a magazine or online—I find it kind of—refreshing.
Sometimes it`s nice to see creativity minus the real world constraints.

Enjoy your vacation.

I think the reason you get soo much, dare I say ‘gimmicky’ stuff, is because it’s so easy to do, and people can instantly relate to it, whereas innovative/problem solving/functional design is harder/takes longer to create, and is not always easy to explain in one image, so there’s going to be less of it around.

What annoys me the most is when someone does something along the lines of taking an object ( a hat, bin, jar, cheese grater) puts a light bulb in it and then shows it at some show and all of a sudden it’s front page news. I don’t understand why everyone thinks it’s so amazing:
‘they took a bin and drilled a hole in it and put a light bulb in it!’
‘No way, it’s a good job I’m sat down’
‘I know, the genius of it, we’ve never seen it before, what else have they done?’
‘You won’t believe this, they’ve taken a cylinder block from a car and made… a wine rack!’

I think the problem is there’s very little quality control. I’m not denying the beautiful simplicity and quality of the output of Droog etc, but its the glut of substandard spin offs that this has created, often mis-labelled under the heading of green design. Then magazines who have to fill pages with the latest stuff advertise it, people think they could do the same and the cycle persists.

I think all those ironic accents/tchotchke’s probably just command more press coverage. I hoping that’s the case anyway.

The Milan show is inconceivably gigantic; and the vast amount of ironic, one-liner stuff you see posted is really only a teeny weeny little bit of the show. It actually turns out to be pretty refreshing when you walk for hours and hours seeing the same stuff, over and over. White leather minimal couch here, plastic chair there, glossy white kitchen cabinets, it’s beautiful but repetitive. After a couple days, the “artsy” stuff is all you’re taking pictures of anymore.

My impression of a lot of this stuff is that it caters to the interior designers, decorators, and buyers. Thus having a novel, one-off, never-been-seen-before way to do a lightbulb can lead to a sale or commission. The bottom line numbers in this industry don’t make any rational sense to me either. See that pile of spaghetti that has a lightbulb in it? Yeah that’ll be $5000 please. We all use the same word “design” but this is pretty far away from what most of us do for a living.

I often find it pretty refreshing too, but I think product tank is on to something with quality control. There will be some things that are really creative and well done and blow me away, and others that, to me, show no design abilities at all, just the ability to put random crap together. Often, the things I’m less impressed by just seem like unfinished thoughts. For example, there’s all those ordinary objects with lightbulbs - maybe they were beginning to have interesting ideas about objects being surprising through light or questioning what forms lamps could take; but just putting a lightbulb in a cheese grater seems like step one, not the finished piece. In contrast are the Wonderlamps (Milan Design Week 2010: <br>Core77 interviews Nynke Tynagel of Studio Job) that were covered recently, which were finished, cohesive, good looking work that was more surprising and interesting than most gimmicky stuff. And that aluminum foil chair? I’m totally on board with the idea of infinite, ever-changing form - cool idea to explore. But right now the chair just looks like aluminum foil, not the finished result of exploring an abstract idea and turning it into a designed object.

But having said that, this show didn’t seem as filled with unfinished gimmicks as others have. And overall I’m glad this stuff is out there, I just wish some was more finished. Also, I hope all of you have seen the Nuni & Nooni art dealer skits from SNL a few years back. I love the toast chair, totally in line with this discussion.

Hmmm—am I the only one that doesn`t mind seeing some of this “design-art” every now & then?

I’m with you - I don’t mind seeing it every now and then. What I mind is picking up a “DESIGN” magazine and only seeing this kind of stuff, plus Zaha Hadid’s latest computer-generated building.

I think its primary function is to provoke a reaction… hopefully a PR reaction… and it works as evidence by this thread.

If I flew all the way to Milan through an ash cloud, I would not want to see a bunch of IKEA, I’d want to see some crazy sh!t. Who wants to go to a car show full of Toyota Camrys?

the big players have been showing good stuff this year.
I think it is important to remember that furniture and accessory design is much closer to fashion than say straight up ID, such as consumer electronics or cars.
The pace at which designer and studios put out work is staggering and attention generation is key. Also the lead time is most often shorter than say a mobil phone.

Marcel Wanders this year is a good example. He presented rather questionable work for his own label Moooi, the Moster series comes to mind, but then pulled out some amazing chairs for Magis, the Cyborg series.
Designer are being pushed and lead by distributers and producers to design objects that fit within their concept. To charge the designers with all the responsibility is not fair. There is a lot of overlap of designer that have worked with both Establish & Sons as well as Skitch this year. While both use the same designers, the former is in my mind superior to the latter in the work they showed.

In terms of the spaghetti lamp or whatever… it’s fun. Not more, not less. I doubt that anybody will call it a design revolution if I sew a lampshade out of coffee filters, but it might be charming and clever. If it amuses people, it did its job.

I agree with this but I also struggle every year when I see the Milan stuff up on the home page. I don’t get why this stuff is so great. I would beg to say that less than 10% of what is shown people other that collectors would put n their houses. I want to see some crazy sh!t, but I want to see some crazy sh!t that fits with modern trends or pushes just out side modern trends.

This reminds me that I had a chance to go to NYC Fashion design week one year. I was never really a fashion guy, but just by looking at what these models were coming out on the runway it was cool to see how the designers were pushing the trends of the times. The designs fit the times, but they stretched it a bit. This should be the same with furniture. I feel a bit of this stuff takes it too far and ventured into the art side.

That’s fair Justin. It should be crazy BUT relevant… a tough trick to pull off. I’ve definitely been at a car show and though “wow, thats neat but who cares?” Relevance is everything.

There’s something to be said about ‘relevance’

what is relevant?
What do you compare it to? The today world or the one of tomorrow. Dreams or reality? What is reality? The dreams of yesterday?

I can also puke on some of the arty-fart-design-objects of all those design weeks/shows (the majority) . But I must also add that some of those works (the very minority) did change my way of thinking. Or I try to :wink: And that to me is what it’s all about. finding (your) gem in a pile of ‘shit’. I admire their creative work, extra hours and the out-of-the-boundary-thinking, even if a lot of them fail in the exercise… (BTW failing is the best learning method ever!)

I also hate bad designers who become great artist. My country offers some fine examples: Arne Quinze ( and Panamarenko(
Have a look at there work but you might wanna have a puking bag within arms reach.

Anyhow… I love the creative exercise of doing something weird. Be it a small target group, turning the world upside down ,reflecting behavior or just being plain weird. Beats the other commercial shit that is flooding our lives.

-I do say shit alot lately-



I also hate bad designers who become great artist. My country offers some fine examples: Arne Quinze (>> ) and Panamarenko(>> ).
Have a look at there work but you might wanna have a puking bag within arms reach.

I don’t really understand your comment.
From what I have seen on their website, they appear to artists, touching on design. To be calling their work “puke” provoking, is not really a balanced and mature criticism of their rather sincere work. Just because designers/artist see the world of design the way you do, doesn’t mean the are sickening or don’t have something to contribute.

I think it is important to consider intention here.
If a designer present work that is intended to be mass produced for a specific target group, it better be resolved and production ready and we have seen lots and lots of that in Milan. Great stuff from great designers.
But a lot of what is being shown in Milan, and what is being mentioned here, doesn’t even have that intention. Maarten Baas who shot to fame a couple of years ago is in that weird middle space right in between concept art and design and he appears to be very uneasy with his positioning.

allow me to rephrase myself. I get frustrated seeing the above mentioned works. To me they are both bad designers…the panamarenko products don’t work. He has build an airplane, submarine, car and none of them work. So they call it art. Escapism. Dadaism…
Arne Quinze used to be a designer until everbody started complaining that his products did break really easily and fast. So he decided to become an artist and reuse the same idea over and over (clusterfuck of wooden planks painted in orange)…and making a ton of money doing it <<< which probably feeds my frustration :wink:



I recently redesigned a kitchen timer (1 hour mechanical timer) to be a little over the top as far as art/sculpture.

This is related to the topic, because a lot of the feedback I’ve been getting is that it’s an art piece that happens to include a timer.

it’s very functional, simple to use and all that, but I want to know what you all think.

My argument is that the mechanical timer is near defunct, and needed an over-the-top refresh.

Here are some images on my coroflot: 1 Hour Timer by Ryan Shields at

This is fabulous (Dezeen link)

I agree it is great as an art piece, but is it design? No. It is an art installation.