The renaissance of design

Iab said in another thread, " Your clients decide if your work was a success and hire you again, or don’t. You decide nothing."

I was thinking of that while listening to “Midnight Train to Georgia”. I’m sure Buddah Records (the company that released it) was just looking for money, but the song is great. People still sing it and listen to it 50 years later and probably will keep listening for another 50 or more because it’s art.

I think that’s what good design is. The bare minimum of what we do is service a business. When design is done well, it becomes something more.

Herman-Miller hired the Eameses to make a chair that would turn a profit with the Eiffel chair. However, tonight I was at a local community centre and they had a few Eiffels mixed in with some other chairs. Of all the furniture that people can buy and sit on, why is the Eiffel so popular? Because it’s great design that goes beyond just meeting a client’s business need.

All this brings me to the renaissance. People have always painted and sculpted, but there was only one renaissance. If I was making a list of truly great design, I might start with the Eames furniture (and others) in the '50s and continue adding things at a good pace up until about 1990. Then I think my list would tail off and probably end with the iPhone4 from 2010.

I think this is why design creates passion. It’s certainly why I got into it. It’s why I keep working in design, because I know that I have the ability to create great design. Having said that, if I was 18 today, I think I’d go into animation, programming or something else. I think we’re in an era of less opportunity for great design (although, I don’t know why).

I’m curious to know how others feel. Is the “renaissance” of design past or am I missing the great designs of today?


I never said there were not secondary benefits to design as you described. IDSA has awards to recognize those benefits. My point is if you like your job, clients and bosses judge based on monetary performance. Awards are nice, but they don’t buy baby a new pair of shoes.

As for your hypothesis in the OP, nothing comes to mind that disagrees with it. At least there has been very little that has been revolutionary, pretty much incremental evolutionary stuff out there. I have my Dick Tracy wristwatch, but I’m still waiting on that flying car.

Now whether I would consider mid-century modern as the renaissance of design is entirely different. I don’t think so, at least not for me. While I don’t care for much of what was created, the materials/scale was not human-friendly, I’d pick Bauhaus as the inflection point. It embraced the industrial revolution that started 100 years prior and brought us kicking and screaming into a modern age.

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Actually, I guess we could pick any of the main movements as being the highpoint, or at least, a high point: art nouveau, arts and crafts, modernism, mid-century, post-modernism.

It’s weird, I go to lighting stores sometimes and I try to identify what I’m looking at and it’s hard. It is a style, but seemingly without any content. Maybe that’s just a sign of the times…


Best line I have heard in a long time.

Having said that, if I was 18 today, I think I’d go into animation, programming or something else. I think we’re in an era of less opportunity for great design (although, I don’t know why)

The drive for profit generation above all else leaves little extra time, energy, and resources for any of those “secondary” benefits (as iab calls them).

I just remembered how I made a style guide of recent lighting (well 2017) that I called, “timeless twinkle”. Twinkle because of all the shiny fake jewels and chrome. Timeless because it’s outside of any design movement.

I’m quite sure the drive for profit is just as intense today as it was back when designers like Ramond Lowey and Dieter Rams were doing their thing in the twentieth century. I’m also quite sure that they were unaware of what mid-century modern meant when they were operating in the 50s and 60s.

These movements and trends take time. Writers and publishers lag behind decades to define what went on in an industry in order to label and codify it in the bookstores and manifesto levels of communications. The internet is not helping this codification phase either.

With so much manufacturing based in the far east now, it can be argued that the western progression of design styles has been put on hold temporarily due to this relocation of synergies. Categories like ‘lighting’ that have to do with the ‘middle-class’ lifestyle infrastructure growth of western culture is now well past its maturity date. Design has moved onto other aspects of cultural development with the aid of technology and communications. The ideas of: Buckminster Fuller (resource mobility and ephemeralization) and modern monetary theories by M Friedman and JM Keynes have become reality and are in our rear view mirror now.

We all know what modern design style is. We know what postmodern design style is. The metamodern movement that is currently being wrestled and experimented with in literature and film is struggling with reconciling the conflicting energies of modern and the postmodern movements. It is just beginning its trajectory of definition by writers, flim makers, architects and city planners. As capital whirls around the globe at light speed, nailing down a trend or a movement becomes evermore elusive as we can now measure how things ‘become’ in real-time all over the planet all at once. The labor pains of design’s rebirth today are quite painful to many, and it is fair to say that its water broke simultaneously along with the covid pandemic. Full dilation is next.

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I’ve walked around Nancy FR looking at Arte Nouveau exteriors, furniture, artworks… it was impractical at scale so perhaps partakes more of craft or style than design for the masses, but I wonder if it seeded the idea of a consummate, complete take on a designed environment.

The pace of product development and life cycles, globalization and market dynamics are pushing design into the ‘fast fashion’ space. Cars included. “fashion is made to become unfashionable.” So sadly, FWIW, I’m not optimistic of a solid design movement happening any time soon. Not in the consumer space anyway…


I was watching Rick Beato compare The Beatles and Taylor Swift’s music and I thought of this thread again. Just some random thoughts for now, but let’s see if it takes us anywhere.

The Beatles made elaborate and diverse music that required creativity and high technical skill. Today, Swift is producing immaculately made music that still requires less technical skill*, but that is basically, going over a well trodden path. In a similar way, the renaissance artists were making elaborate and diverse artwork that required creativity and high technical skill. Thinking of painters/visual artists, I think the field hasn’t moved far from Mark Rothko (big square paintings) and Andy Warhol (prints). They required creativity, but not as much technical skill.

I’m not 100% sure what the right analogy in terms of today’s design would be. We are using incredible technical knowledge, but often making boss-extrude objects.


I thought this theory from Ted Gioia was interesting. He talks about how the 1700s were led by rationalists and the 1800s by romantics and huminists. He thinkings we might be going through a similar change now. We are in the rationalist world run by tech and algorithms and people are ready for a revolt.

Interview with Ted Gioia

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I didn’t watch the video but I question the idea we are in a rational time now.

Have you watched the news? Seen the nonsense on social media? Everything is bullshit, fake, fabricated and Gen Z is all about copycat knock offs, lazy hacks and cheap quick fixes. Far from rational to me.

Rational in that society is top-down and the decision makers are trying to rationally control society through big data, AI, constant surveillance, etc.