What does Europe have that we don't?

It seems europe is pretty far ahead of us in design. (I am thinking mainly of sustainable design but I am sure their lead spreads to many areas). Why and in what ways are we behind? What can we take from them? And why haven’t we taken it yet?

They get well-designed goods because more consumers must be demanding it.


Also. more companies have discovered that they can leverage design to increase brand awareness and sales. Unfortunately they also use it to charge small fortunes for simple products.

Most US brands leverage value. More for less, two for one, buy one get one half off. This tends to lead to price wars that lead to the dumbing down of products.

More US companies are catching on, the smart ones are combining value with design: i.e. Target.

My take on the situation.

The sustainable end i beleive comes more from increased public awareness/demand.

It is hard to have sustainable product that demands 5 t-shirts for $8 at Walmart. Of course there is Walmart in Germany now so we’ll see what happens.


I’m 99% sure its the accents.

You ever hear Jonathan Ives speak? How could he not be a good designer with that soft-spoken British twang?

agreed americans will buy any crap on the market but when a well designed product does come out people flock (ie: ipod) therefor I have got to believe the market is there

In response to YO:
I know companies are the ones footing the bill for design and to a large part dictate the asthetic they want but can we blame companies for the lack of good design in the US? It seems at some point for every product a designer sat before a computer and said I can make this cd player look like it just came out of a wind tunnel or I can make it beautiful.

You are right. We cannot sherk responability here. The only reason for ugly product is lazyness really.

I am just pointing out that a look inside the corporate cultures that produce bad design will allways reveal a beuracracy of management that doesn’t understand what it can do for them.

I saw it on the consulting side. Same design team on every project, but if the client doesn’t want make good design, it isn’t going to happen. When working with companies that got it, or where open minded enough to listen to the firm they where paying for consultation, it happened… and it seems that in Europe there are more companies like that.

The talent is pretty international these days. I know a lot of Americans working in Europe, and I know a lot of Europeans working in the US. There are good and bad designers everywhere.

I think at it’s core the problem is that designers don’t get to make the final call on design. Glorified, well paid salesmen often do. Wish it wasn’t so.

Designers often are not equiped with the people skills to really convince those types of people.

Apple, with or without Ives would do great product, because Steve Jobs gets it. Dell won’t, even though they work with some great design firms, because Michael Dell is not in that mindset. And he sells way more black boxes unfortunately.

Well, not sure how it is at other america corporations represented here…but the marketing dept that I work with is simply put, a bitch.

They want the market impact that european start-ups typically have, but they don’t want the risk and do not know how to evaluate the market in a qualitative way…everything they do is based off of the low-cost market advantage. In contrast, I see many european companies using product differentiation as the tool to maintain market share.

What does this mean…the US designs get “dumbed down” to meet an unrealistic price point (meeting marketings quantitative goals of profit margin)…european companies I feel have a stronger grasp on balancing quantitative and qualitative information (balancing price with perceived product value).

Done with my rant on why US marketing departments suck, maybe they should be required to take some design classes in their studies…I know in design we had to take marketing classes. Course, they would probably fail a studio class.

I think the comment about Target is an interesting one as they are indeed trying to bring more design into their stores to leverage it for higher prices. I think they have made some serious mistakes however and still haven’t been able to escape the “value” aspect of things.

I worked at a Target when I was in design school and remembered when they started carrying Phillippe Stark and Tod Oldham products. Stark had some interesting looking products but you could tell that they had been filtered through some half-rate Chinese factory to keep costs down. The result was products that looked nice in the grey and yellow box but felt like free happy meal toys when you got them out. The Tod Oldham stuff was even worse, he used some of the ugliest materials and the craftsmanship was beyond sad. Those things hit the clearance racks so fast that we had to clear out seasonal items just to make room.

Target stuck most things into one of three categories:

  1. Bargain Basement (standard plastic Walmart fair)
  2. Novelty (things that use design as a gimmick to get noticed)
  3. Quality (things that are built better than average but cost more than many Americans are willing to spend, at Target a lot of these products were from Philips)

I think way too many American products are getting shoved through the novelty chute as a way to reach the middle ground and the US design industry is going to suffer as a result. Europeans continue to take risks and push out nicer and cleaner designs while we dig through the trash bins of past generations looking for something to revive. If I never hear the work Retro again it will be too soon.

[quote=“yo”]Also. more companies have discovered that they can leverage design to increase brand awareness and sales. Unfortunately they also use it to charge small fortunes for simple products.

I don´t agree, take the wages, they are much higher in the US than in Europe, as a rule. I think it has to do with taste, european public is more educated in that sense, and look at the shoe design thead (favourite shoes?) american designers love too much the nike super high speed dinamic fashion, which is regarded as more dodgy in Europe. And that extends to plastic products, and to furniture (blobby karim i-want-to-change-the-world rashid)

Lol.You mean super low speed cosmatic fashion.

You can call it “x” if you will

well, they have the Eiffel Tower, we could take that…

That was 115 years ago, USA had neo VIctorian, cool man!

Target is going the IKEA way, or dipping its toes in there.
IKEA is huge in Kuwait as well as China. Stylishly designed,
low cost interior stuff. I like Target’s new risk as seen on their website
too. http://target.com/designforall/home.jhtml


Personally I think it has to do with the comments on the value made earlier. It’s not just american companies that like the quick 2 for 1 thing it’s the american public. At some time there was more parody across the globe but the US has done very well to leverage whatever leadership it had to get things cheap for it’s public. the problem with that is that people now care more about cheap than good. it’s why quality is so high priced because the baseline is so low that to create quality takes effort…or even if it doesn’t you can say it does and tack on a huge price markup.

Europeans also have less of a dispoable mentality. If you’ve been to Germany you know that you can’t go anywhere without recycling something. Here it doesn’t matter cause you can just throw it away. Because of this a lot of americans don’t even know what to look for anymore when searching for quality.

That is my opinion of course and my $0.2

I think people that truly believe Europe is far ahead of the US (or the world?) in design haven’t seen enough of it.

First, let’s divide things up: Aesthetics, Ergonomic products, products that excel in everything. In some of these categories European companies excel, in some US, in some we are all tied.

Aesthetics: No US company will ever run a company like Alessi. Alessi makes their money on restaurant kitchens if I recall right. They make the little art pieces because they feel a social duty to do so. No US company puts social duty before making cash, therefore, Americans can’t compete in purely aesthetic products in most categories (fashion is a big exception here).

Ergonomic products: It seems to be that experts exist everywhere for ergonomics. Certainly the Oxo products gain the US points here. Scandinavians have some great universal design products too. I call it a tie.

Products that break all the rules, aesthetic, ergonomic, experience: Think of the big products of the last 10-15 years. Oxo, iPod, Aeron chair, Dremel tool, Crest Neat Squeeze, Microsoft ergo keyboard… As I’m thinking of my highlights I can’t think of one Euro design. It may be hard to find a yank that will walk out on a limb, but when you find one (Jobs, Sam Farber), they will walk way out. Yanks win here.

So who wins overall? Personally, I think that last category is the most difficult to play in, so I would say the US designers. However, I don’t want to take credit away, aesthetically, the Euros are always 5 years ahead…that deserves credit too. In the end, make your own choice.

IMO, the most obvious thing that Europe has that the USA doesn’t is consumers that are willing to pay for good design versus whatever is the cheapest thing on the shelf at WalMart. :confused:

The Big Box stores do not care about design and they are not in positions to hire designers. They simply buy another company’s products and demand such insanely low prices that the design step is often removed to save costs and/or increase profits.

Another fundamental difference is the size of the major players in the USA. In the furniture industry, the biggest companies have so much beauracracy and redundantcy that they cannot properly gauge markets, demands, or trends to accomodate fresh and contemporary (not neccessarily contemporary/modern style) design even if they wanted to. The simply cannot react or change directions at the speed of smaller companies which are more common in Europe. What you end up with is the same old ideas reconstituted and repackaged - i.e. “retro” or “neo” whatever.

There is also plenty of niche retail in the US, and like I said there is now Walmart in Germany.

It’s just all amplified in the US.

They make the little art pieces because they feel a social duty to do so

what a stupid statement.