The availability of everything and how it affects design

Most of you know I don’t buy product lightly. I tend to not buy much, buy the best I can, and hold onto it as long as I can. That said, a lot of the “compromise” product I bought in my first few years out of college are finally starting to give way even with the TLC I treat them with… and Ikea table just doesn’t hold up for 10 years (It’s been 8 with this one and it has moved from Connecticut to Oregon and then back to Boston… a few minor repairs were needed, but I think it’s days are numbered!)

Anyway, a lot has changed since 1999 when I bought a lot of this stuff. It used to take weeks or months to track down the coolest stereo possible I could get on my budget. Or trekking to all kinds of obscure stores to get some unique kitchenware. The hunt was fun while simultaneously exhausting, and sometimes just exasperating when you couldn’t find the right thing.

Not so today. You can go to the most obscure design shop online, and frequently you can just go to Amazon (+ reviews = bonus). The thrill of the search is gone, and there is a risk in buying online (sometimes I get the product and it just isn’t as nice in person, so then I need to send it back which is a pain), but I end up with a much wider array of good design to choose from.

Everything is available, even vintage is just so easy to find.

So is this the democratization of product and the support of good companies/products/services that capitalism has promised since the days of Adam Smith, or is it just another way to get the cheapest, crappiest commodities? … or is it both? Will this mean good design will be more accessible and thus more widely accepted (via high consumer ratings and well know websites), or will it be that much easier to ignore or just lost in the huge amount of crap out there when consumer don’t have an opportunity to feel it, touch it, use it before buying?

Below are some of the replacement items I’ve been getting:
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I find that for me, the more expensive the item, the more I would prefer to touch and see it in person before buying. If its under $100 or so, online is the way to go. It saves me the time and money required with driving, parking, shopping etc. Plus I can usually find a bigger selection online.


Cool Blu Dot couch by the way. Love the name. :wink:

Yo, I think that phone was done by Waterman’s group. He has really turned their line into something. Nice find.

I think the internet, like all powerful tools, is a two edged sword. The same person who can waste their life away in a p0rn addiction can also learn about science, history, or any subject immediately after they have a spark of curiousity. It is just as easy to spread misinformation as it is to spread truth.

That said, I’m an optimist and think it is generally for the better. The internet has just exaggerated the divide between crap and good design. They are both more available than ever before, and the stark contrast makes it that much easier to appreciate good design. In particular, I think user rating systems are strongly supporting the user advocacy that designers seek. Granted, some systems and reviews are better than others, but on the whole I think it’s been a step forward.

Really interesting topic.

I got engaged over the summer and actually ended getting the ring online. Can you believe that!? It started with a ton of research online, then trips to many stores, then back online to actually order the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought with out ever having seen even a photo of the actual thing. It didn’t even actually exist, the stone was in Europe, the setting and assembly were done in Washington state I think. Anyways, I can’t imagine not looking deeply into both avenues for something so precious and valuable. I think for me it came down to knowing what I was getting. There’s a lot of variability in jewelry, so being able to learn online, then go see real stuff in store, then do a more educated search was invaluable.

I love doing shopping research online. My fiance would call me obsessive, but why not use the tools. I think people have come to accept that there is broad knowledge base (ie Amazon reviews, etc) and are relieved that they can be informed if they do decide to go into a real store to purchase something, or stay online and click Add to cart. It supports good design to have lots of people reacting to products and letting the ones succeed.

Can believe it - I did the same thing. The selection, choices, and price made it better than any retailer or wholesaler. They sell mostly to men (who give their gifts to women). I wonder if the online Amazon-type shopper experience is more skewed towards male use. Women tend to like to browse more whereas men like the tools. I believe they are trying to expand their appeal across these divisions:

http://www.windowshop.com/

Sometimes, I feel like being in a store, you can find things that you didn’t know you wanted, or need. I like those serendipitous purchases and occasionally i’ll have them online, but rarely.

Most of the time, I guess i kind of shop like a designer, in that I’ll go look for something that has the characteristics I need, even if I don’t know who actually makes it, or what the product is. ie, Over the weekend, I was hunting online for a waterproof, black boot, preferably pull on, that could easily handle deep city slush, but wasn’t too trail looking, that was also anonymous enough that I could wear it 5 days a week if I wanted. Looked at a dozen or so brand sites, and zappos, and amazon, and didn’t really see anything. I could have spent a whole weekend walking around Manhattan, but didn’t need to. But maybe if I had, I would have just found something.

I don’t see how an increase in overall awareness of design can be a bad thing, apart from more things being thrown out as they fail. It means an increased market as tastes and trends change, maybe better opportunities for new and existing designers. It does not mean design will get better overall, just more expressiveness will be put into products that previously came in a box case.

The one downside is it will be harder and harder to make something vaguely original, and anyone who’s google imaged any idea will see just how many times over “it’s all been done before” already.

Now, people who really care about their possessions and interior decoration/design will still go in and poke and prod things, touch all the surfaces and pull it apart, because all of this is important to them, while people who aren’t so fussy/rich/aestheticly inclined can still appreciate things to their taste.

I think that the internet is a great thing for design as it makes design more accessible for everyone, although yes, there is also a lot of crap around. What I think will be an interesting problem to solve in the future, an Amazon is trying with Windowshop, is how do you sell products to a consumer who prefers to touch, feel, hold and try out their product before buying?

I got engaged over the summer and actually ended getting the ring online. Can you believe that!? It started with a ton of research online, then trips to many stores, then back online to actually order the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought with out ever having seen even a photo of the actual thing. It didn’t even actually exist, the stone was in Europe, the setting and assembly were done in Washington state I think. Anyways, I can’t imagine not looking deeply into both avenues for something so precious and valuable. I think for me it came down to knowing what I was getting. There’s a lot of variability in jewelry, so being able to learn online, then go see real stuff in store, then do a more educated search was invaluable.

For something that valuable most people like to check out the ‘real thing’ but many then go and buy it online, myself included, and I guess this will eventually lead to the small local stores being put out of business because they can’t compete with the online price. Where will the consumer look for the ‘real thing’ then? Many of the larger stores operate online stores as well, but can even they compete with online only stores? And is there a risk that because of this people will be at risk of buying more crappy products because they don’t have the chance to check them out before buying?

It will be interesting to see how consumer patterns change in the next ten years…

Availabilty is a wonderful thing and a terrible thing.

When I was a kid in the 80’s the only way I could find out about the bands I liked was to read music magazines (too expensive, best ones from UK/ US came out months late, newsagent didn’t like you thumbing through his stock and not buying it)- in the small town I lived in very rarely you’d hear something good on the radio or on TV and if you did by chance you would cherish that forever. Armed with this sort of knowledge I’d order an album from the one decent shop in town, wait 4 weeks then get the precious music. Same goes for mail order. Write a letter, wait weeks, get a catalogue, devour it, send off an international money order, wait weeks, get one single just for the B-side. It was a lot of effort but how did I chersh those songs.

Now you can look up everything single thing ever written about ever band, and download instantly their complete back catalogue. Wonderful- but it also means this ‘instant’ music has also zero value to me because it cost me practically nothing to acquire. I want to value things more. Cheap ‘things’ aren’t valued as those that require effort, so when I purchase things I try to make sure that they will be valued.

I used to work in a bicycle shop where a certain type of person would regularly baulk at paying anything over $200 for a bike. I would try to explain that you get what you pay for, and from this I worked out the following: “if you buy something that does the job, you forget how much it cost, if you buy something that doesn’t do the job you’ll always regret how much you spent.”. This is how I try to value ‘things’ to make sure that what I come up with is worthwhile and what I purchase is worthwhile.

** Start rambling…

Sort of on the side, I’m thinking of a response to the main question asked.

A side effect that I think I have seen from shopping on the internet is that I now (think) I expect better service from a local shop, as supporting local shops does enter my mind to when I’m looking for something. Maybe this expectation is miss placed.

I usually can find lower prices, better return policies online and in most cases mailing back an item is easier than going back to a store to return. So I have found myself hoping that at a local store will offer better person to person service, some added knowledge to make up the difference. As others previous said, when I go to buy something of ‘real’ value to me price is not as much of a factor. I don’t think I had this expectation of service before the net really got going.

Unfortunately I have been let down by local shop owners more often than I like, and although I have a higher expectation (now) I’m certainly not expecting to be handled with kit gloves. But more and more I’ve had better chats with online-live help folks when at an online site than at a local store, far better wrong order/item resolution, and I’m not followed around as if I’m going to shop lift.

Related to this, the net has allowed me to find more ‘local’ (build in house, wherever that is) designers and companies, which goes back to wanting to support local folks. I am proud to pay extra for the bikes, snowboard, among other ‘locally made’ items I have. Unfortunately I also know from the web, that they are not getting rich from my purchase (but doing what they love). Employees of a very successful local bike builder were able to have their first paid vacation day since they were founded (10 years after they were founded).

*** Rambling stopping

-Peter

That is what we get for living in Boston :wink:

Here’s where I stand on this topic. I’m all for shopping online, in terms of research, etc. But if I can buy it locally for close to the same price, I’m buying it locally. I work at a bike shop and I’ve had the following happen to me personally: A customer comes in, spends an hour asking very detailed questions about specific products we have in the shop, and some that are special orders. Compatibility questions, etc. And as I’ve pulled up everything on his order I ask how he’d like to pay and he turns and says “Well thanks for the help, but I’m going to go buy everything online.” If I didn’t want assault charges against me, I’d have jumped over the counter and punched him repeatedly in the kidneys.

As for engagement rings, I want to know who’s making it. I went to a shop where I met the goldsmith/jewelry designer, worked out a design together and bought my own stone. My wife still gets compliments on how beautiful the ring and wedding band are. I don’t think I’d have found those designs anywhere online or had the same amount of control.

Having all this stuff available at your finger tips is great, but if we don’t support local businesses all we’ll have soon are warehouses full of stuff and no where to physically see what you’re actually buying. Blu Dot does a great job of having the option of web, catalog, and brick and mortar stores (in addition to providing designs to both Target and Crate&Barrel). I’ve listened to the founders speak at the Walker Art Center on how they got up and running, so I know they are a good, quality brand. I’d say anyone with something in the permanent collection at a major art museum is probably not going to let you down too often.

Online shopping isn’t going away any time soon. I just hope we don’t lose too many small businesses in the process.

[quote=“NURB”]
Here’s where I stand on this topic. I’m all for shopping online, in terms of research, etc. But if I can buy it locally for close to the same price, I’m buying it locally. I work at a bike shop and I’ve had the following happen to me personally: A customer comes in, spends an hour asking very detailed questions about specific products we have in the shop, and some that are special orders. Compatibility questions, etc. And as I’ve pulled up everything on his order I ask how he’d like to pay and he turns and says “Well thanks for the help, but I’m going to go buy everything online.” If I didn’t want assault charges against me, I’d have jumped over the counter and punched him repeatedly in the kidneys.
[/quote]

That’s funny, because one of the few categories I will spend more on at a local store vs online, is bike stuff. For some reason, the local bike shop just feels better to buy from. I try to go hit up the small hardware stores too, vs Home Depot when I can.

About the jewelers, I did think about finding a local jeweler to make something, but then came to the sudden realization that I had no idea how find a good, trustworthy jeweler out of the hundreds in NYC…and that was that.

We are one in the same. My jeweler’s name is Serge. He is from Brazil and is never in Chicago in the winter.

I also spend way too much money on bikes. I try to use the LBS, but in some cases, I can’t. I wanted a particular frame, he wasn’t an authorized seller, I had to go online.

What I don’t understand is why people don’t go to the local business and discuss what they have learned online. It can’t hurt to ask for a price match or something close (don’t forget about shipping costs and service). Local shop owners should be well aware how much their goods cost online. They only need to be competitive, they don’t have to have the lowest price.

As for the OP, the easily availability of everything has opened new areas which I was completely ignorant. In a design forum, I would like to think we all say that is only a good thing. I can’t think of one case where less knowledge is better than more knowledge. For example, there was an Italian bicycle derailleur company called Vittoria that closed during or shortly after WW2. A guy in Italy bought up all of their remaining stock. Every year, he gets a few of the derailleurs chromed (the remaining stock was in raw metal) and sells them. Without the internet, I would have never been able to own one, let alone the remainder of an Italian bike from the 1930s. I also probably would have never known about prewar racing in Italy and the type of bikes they used.

My jeweler’s name is Dave. He’s on Wabash Ave year round. I bought the engagement ring online - decent sized stone, relatively simple setting. Bought the wedding bands, which were a bit more elaborate, from Dave, plus being a nice guy, confirmed the specs of the stone, the integrity of the setting, and overall quality. Complex, customized, or niche work will always favor the long tail local craftsman. However, standardized commodity-type products & services will be swallowed by the short head.

This is an interesting topic. I always like a little more to a design conversation, than “wow, that’s nice looking”. Certainly the availability of products and the new tools of distribution, production and marketing have an effect on us.

Yo, I know your philosophies and mine are somewhat similar in terms of buying product very selectively, but I’ve personally experienced the opposite is true from you mention in you OP.

My thinking goes like this-

Back in the days of catalog shopping, pre-web people were exposed to a very limited amount of all products out there. Unless you shopped the world, subscribed to countless industry specific magazines you probably only ever saw x% of everything “available” (by available I mean existing for purchase somehow).

If, at that time, you were looking for the best toaster you could get, you probably went to Sears, went to Kmart, went to maybe a higher end appliance shop, and that was it. You’ve seen all the choices and made your decision. You bought the best you could find.

Now, sure the internet brings with it a lot more exposure, but with it a lot more choice. It’s almost endless. Maybe because I’m just OCD, but if I were looking for a toaster today, sure I’d check the local shops, but also online. But where do you start and when do you know you’ve seen everything to be able to make a choice? Sure, you can see a lot more, but I find that actually makes it worse because of the feeling of the vastness of the web and not knowing if you are in the right spot. It would be like Chirstopher Columbus sailing across the ocean looking for land with nothing in sight for months, then 20 miles out from wherever he landed, decided he still couldn’t see land so turned around and went home.

Maybe I’m just over-picky or extra compulsive in my choices… I know I was originally looking for a sofa before I got mine, and looked for over a year. In the meantime, I decided I’d rather have nothing than compromise and sat on the floor.

To add to all this, the “availability” of things today I find is often misleading. Half the cool new products you see online are only concepts and nothing more than the smoke of a rendering. I don’t know how often I’ve seen something cool on notcot.org, clicked the links thinking “hey, that’s a cool ______” then end un at Yanko or someones portfolio. disappointing.

Either that, or many times, I’ll find something available in a web-shop, (though I very rarely even consider buying something without feeling it), go to buy it (say a speciality book, or a small design object), only to find out shipping costs more than the thing does. The worst I once saw, was a super cool limited edition art book that Free, but shipping was $60! I probably would have at least considered it if it was $60 but free shipping, but that’s another conversation.

Anyhow, net, I’m not sure all this changes much. Yes, it exposes people to more stuff, but both good and bad stuff. But there is also a case of overload and how difficult it is to get the word out for something that truly is good. Another conversation perhaps, but just look at how many different international design awards there are. Which one is really picking the best of the best, or is it so fragmented that each is only picking the best of whoever entered?

R

Yo: What I’m hearing in your initial post smacks of elitism. It sounds like you place a much higher value on rare good design than popular good design.

I think the increasing availability of products on an international level is a great thing. I know a lot of people that buy phones in HK or Japan, and use them in the US. I order car parts all the time from the US where they have a greater availability of quality tuner parts than in Canada. Sometimes, I buy CDs and records from the UK. What this should lead to is local shops dropping crap product for the highest quality and most desirable products available. The reality is quite different. The popular Flip camera has been available in the US for two years before Canadian stores picked it up. It’s really lazy. The other reality is that the online shopping a la Amazon has changes margins. A local store has to increase their margin to replace lower volume of sales while the high volume online retailer will squeeze the manufacturer. I don’t know if the last sentence has happened, but I see it coming.

Really? is it elitism or seeking something new/different. Elitism is about things that not everyone can get. Sure, finding a new X from Iceland could be seen as elitist, but if it’s just the search that makes the difference (ie. not the price but the effort put into finding the thing), I don’t consider that elitist. In any case, if you distill it all down, isn’t that what design is all about? Creating something that people want, that the competitors don’t have any adding some aspirational “need” to go out and buy it?

I believe that at it’s core design should be democratic. Good design for all, we all win. But, because of the very nature of competitive markets, human psychology, etc. we all end up trying to “beat the joneses” (be it a fellow consumer or business competitor). What I think the real change that needs to happen is an increase of the long tail effect. That is, the masses can still buy junk at Target, but those that really know what they want, exactly what they want and are willing to search and do work for it can get it. Perhaps RP tech, new ways of VC, etc. and the like can make it happen, though by no means I’m thinking that everyone becomes a designers, rather everyone becomes and enabler.

R

if I had a dime for everytime 914 pulled the elitism card, I’d be retired! Seriously!

If you go back and read the original post, I’m not saying that at all. This is the question in sound bite form for easy digestion:

now that everything is available everywhere does it
a) help good design (get noticed, get vloume, etc)
b) does it hurt good design (get lost in the larger sea of product)
c) no change (dame percentage of products and people buying them)

there is no real answer, we can merely muse possabilities. But it was a thought I wa toting with and would love to know what you all think.