Murray Moss | Essays

Design Hates a Depression

Fernando and Humberto Campana, Corallo Armchair, 2004

This past Sunday's The New York Times "Week in Review" section featured an article by Michael Cannell titled "Design Loves a Depression" which has already received some wide (and in some cases approving) circulation within design circles and beyond. In it, he claims that with the current economic downturn, the design professions have received a well-deserved comeuppance. "The pain of layoffs notwithstanding," says Mr. Cannell, "the design world could stand to come down a notch or two — and might actually find a new sense of relevance in the process. That was the case during the Great Depression, when an early wave of modernism flourished in the United States, partly because it efficiently addressed the middle-class need for a pared-down life without servants and other Victorian trappings."

Design loves a depression? I can assure you that design, along with painting, sculpture, photography, music, dance, fashion, the culinary arts, architecture, and theatre, loves a depression no more than it loves a war, a flood, or a plague. Michael Cannell's article is regressive and mean-spirited, and it demands a response.

"Design tends to thrive in hard times," says Mr. Cannell. No, it doesn't. It tends to suffer, like any of the other humanistic disciplines. New ideas do not get championed or realized. Leadership turns to market-driven accommodation.

Of course, design will of necessity respond creatively to an economic downturn. It always has. And many talented, world-celebrated designers (including Hella Jongerius, Marcel Wanders, and Fernando and Humberto Campana, of whom Cannell is so disdainful) will no doubt articulate a myriad of rich, generous responses that are problem solving and practical, as well as responsive to monetary and material concerns. These and other great talents will also address through their work other areas of our lives, those human concerns we rely on the arts to embrace, including our emotional, intellectual, cultural, sociological, and political well being.

But apparently these humanistic concerns are of no interest to Mr. Cannell. Or at least I sense that he, along with Julie Lasky, anachronistically consider such topics irrelevant to design. He quotes Ms. Lasky: "If household furnishings are to avoid landfills...it will be about finding the sweet spot between affordability and durability.” That's it? The only measure of good design is whether it's cheap (by whose standards, by the way?) and sturdy? Ikea and Target are to be our official standard-bearers of good design?

It's in reference to the Campana-designed $8,910 Corallo Chair and the $10,615 Jongerius-designed "Ponder sofa" (though I presume he is referring to her Polder Sofa) that Mr. Cannell proposes that the design world "come down a notch or two." Is he suggesting that these great works should adapt something that in his personal opinion would be a more "democratic" pricepoint? What would that number be, exactly, and who would arbitrate it as accessible? (Perhaps they should be priced as the proverbial Nixonian Good Republican Cloth Coat?) When he says "come down a notch or two," does Mr. Cannell mean that Design should retreat from its current expansive, ambitious, fearless, exploratory, guild-breaking, all-encompassing plateau, from its hard-won re-positioning in the Arts? And revert back to what? To the perceived mid-century notion of efficiency and comfort? What regressive, back-in-the-box, frozen-in-the-mid-20th century absolutist utopian modernist "democratic" criteria for evaluating contemporary design is Mr. Cannell proposing from his alleged "front row seat" on design?

Designers and their true supporters have fought hard over the last fifteen years to expand the definition of design, not shrink it. Yes, to "notch it up." To cross established boundaries for the discipline. To allow design to address multiple tasks — including function — as well as the myriad other concerns that might be compelling to the designer. To expand the criteria with which we evaluate design, not shrink it. To not be afraid to talk about a "narrative" embedded in the design of a particular chair, or the sculptural nature of a table. To not relegate art solely to those flat canvases one can hang on one's wall over one's purely "functional" sofa. To allow designers the opportunity to evolve from simply being our society's slavish problem solvers to — at their best — simultaneously being our poets. And some are doing this anyway, like it or not. 

Mr. Cannell quotes MoMA's Paola Antonelli as predicting for these difficult times "there will be less design, but much better design." I hope so, but I strongly doubt that will come to pass. Better how? More like the good old "sensible" days, just after the last century's Great Depression? It's far more likely that there will be far less design innovation, period.

This is not a celebratory moment for design. Design-related businesses, including my own, are suffering, and will most likely continue to face very difficult times in the coming year, at the very least. That said, I deeply resent the tone of comeuppance in Mr. Cannell's article, his condescending, parochial-school-matronly, Calvinistic reproach of the design that flourished during what he refers to as the "economic boom." (I would use the term Renaissance). None of us — gallerists, collectors, architects, interior designers, and especially journalists — who love and respect the designers and the industrialists who have grown design during the past fifteen years should be smugly waving our fingers at those unruly designers who dared to speak without raising their hands, who fluidly transverse the terrain between art and design and lead us — some of us, evidently, resisting all the way — to new possibilities, way beyond those imagined by their counterparts in the mid-20th century.

We are the fortunate benefactors, not the dupes, of design's evolution since our recovery from the last Great Depression. We should defend that progression with resolve. We should push forward, in whatever ways are still possible, even more strongly. We should lock arms and support one another. And we should not hesitate to challenge those, like Mr. Cannell, who would somehow, mistakenly and punitively, equate the current global economic meltdown with design’s recent surge. We should, and will, refuse to go back into the box.

Posted in: Product Design

Comments [82]

Cannell has things so twisted. As design's profile rises the law of averages states that we'll have to endure more of this type of commentary. Thanks for responding with this piece.

Cris DaBica

I read the article. Cannell seems to be under the impression that designers wander about the world designing stuff for no particular reason - choosing stuff and things to design based on how outrageous the concept is. But that's art isn't it?

Oh, and a classic quote from Reed Kroloff "we could be “standing on the brink of one of the most productive periods of design ever”.

Huh?! Didn't we just pass through one of those? iPod, IKEA, Wii, Web 2.0, You Tube, Toyota Prius, Google etc. Has Reed Kroloff been asleep for the last 10 years?

Perhaps the NY Times author should have titled it "Design Innovation Loves a Depression"?

History has shown that design innovation loves conflict (revolution, upheaval, economic trouble) as evidenced by the Constructivists, de Stijl, and other movements plus the Bauhaus and World War II (where many innovations occurred in plastics, chemicals, printing, manufacturing, etc.)

It could be and surely is the subject of numerous graduate thesis works and many books.

I cannot comment on selling of design at the retail level though. There, Mr. Moss is the expert.

Mr. Moss is having trouble selling the "sweet cookies" as Dieter Rams termed his stock, boy its about time! How much Burnt furniture can you flock as great design! hard times will bring about a return to functionality trimming the "Artsign" fat that now fills his gallery. Murry return to a store that sold sensible and sometimes fanciful design. The fact is Design stores as any retail hate a depression!

After reading both articles I found myself more in agreement with Cannel Article. I have no intention of provoking anyone, but I just have a hard time understanding the overly defensive tone of the Murray Moss piece. Why not just discuss these issues and not take them personally!!!

Great design has always been elitist. The Bauhaus rose out of the ruble of WW1 and the Weimar Republic when a loaf of bread cost a wheelbarrow full of worthless cash (now those same worthless notes are highly collectable). No one EXCEPT the rich could afford Bauhaus products. In the fifties an Eames molded dining chair cost $65, equal to most folks monthly house payment.

When I stroll though MOSS I often ask myself “Who can afford these beautiful things... oh, right, Hedge Fund managers and brokers...”

Should great design be only for the affluent, does design innovation have to be so ridiculously priced. Certainly it seems that way.

Perhaps this dreadful time WILL bring about a shift in design and the manner of bringing well made, thoughtful and useful items to market. Because, lets face it, the new Gilded Age is over. Time to get to work.

Eric Baker
Eric Baker

Easy guys Marcel will get a Target line soon enough. I personally am waiting for the Target/Campana beanbag chair for $50.

Then they can all party together in a loft in Tribecca and toast the masses.


Michael Cannell did a valiant job quoting me, but when I spoke of the "sweet spot between affordability and durability," I wasn't talking about mere sturdiness. I was referring to the growing sense of environmental responsibility in our culture, which may lead consumers to be less willing to buy cheap objects and throw them away. (And thank God for that.) Among other things, sustainability has come to mean possessing an object for years or a lifetime—or many lifetimes. But such longevity demands fine materials and craft and a transcendent aesthetic typical of works like Jongerius's Polder sofa, and almost everything else Murray sells. The price may be too high for many of us right now, but when the economy rights itself, we'll still have the exuberant lessons and examples of the recent design renaissance. I don't foresee a prolonged dark age. Meanwhile, designers and manufacturers have the enormous challenge of making beautiful, affordable goods that we'll want to hang onto. I believe they're equal to it.
Julie Lasky

That is the ugliest chair I've ever seen (the stuffed animal one). If a depression leads to less of this kind of "design", GOOD.

Isn't it the equivalent of an old junker with little army men and broken glass glued all over the entire vehicle except for the windshield?

As Charles Eames would say: "The real questions are: Does it solve a problem? Is it serviceable? How is it going to look in ten years?"

Hmmm, let's see. The answers are:

Ummm, maybe (just glue a Cabbage Patch Kid on if something falls off).
The same as it looks right now. LIKE CRAP.

And "Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design." Again, I'm really not sure what kind of need is being recognized here in this particular example.

It's kind of strange to think of 'Design' or designers as one big mass requiring a single direction or party line. Some designers work on user-driven communication systems, some do formal experiments in expensive furniture. Those 2 probably don't have a lot in common and one couldn't very well switch to doing the work of the other. Even in more similar fields many designers disagree on approach. I think a real sign of maturity for the profession both inside and out would be to recognize the range and diversity and not think of design as having or needing such a limited, fixed identity. Some designers are indeed incapable of being practical and others contribute greatly to 'the bottom line'. And it's fine. Maybe designers just love hierarchy.

I have to agree with KChini. It seems as if Murray's defensiveness clouds his judgment. And Murray's two exemplars of "great design" have, in fact, long been part of the problem, because the reason for their price is not the greatness of the design, but the perceived status that it confers upon the owners. Period. And I have trouble weeping for the loss of overpriced status symbols.

And, perhaps Murray should be reminded of the many great, iconic works of design that did come out of the Depression, by the likes of Dreyfuss and Loewy, works that have lasted long after the economic challenge subsided. I don't know if I wholeheartedly agree with Cannell, but to dismiss his point outright is simply reactionary.

The real problem is that Mr. Canell doesn't know what design is. He seems to believe design is expensive furniture. I think this is forgivable to the layman, but someone who is writing an article for the Times probably should done a little more homework.

Should things such as the One Laptop per Child be "taken down a notch"?

It is time people became more educated on design. It surrounds us everyday and yet it is still a 10,000 dollar couch to most people.

I can understand Moss's frustration. Further more it's even more frustrating because although most designers will agree with Moss's rebuttal, non-designers will never hear his cry.

Maybe a letter to the editor might have work better.
Curtis Raed

What a lot of crap.
Honestly from both parties firstly if you google Michael Cannell you'll find his portfolio page here:
Ummmm.... doesn't look like his got that much design experience...
Oh and it also seems like his done a lot of reporting...
Makes me conclude that he has no understanding of the design process and the effort required to produce a product for mass consumption.
Makes me also conclude that he doesn't even come close to understanding how diverese design really is and what all the different design roles are across industries.
Also highlights that he has no understanding of how differnt designers appraoch consumer segment and how we tackle the variations in consumer sentiment.
Move onto this website which Michael founded called The Design Vote: www.thedesignvote.com
What can we extrapolate from this...
Well if I was talking about trends Michael would be stuck in web 2.0 + crowd sourcing.
So his method of criticing good and bad design is with a thumbs up or thumbs down. What a dumb useless metric!
Clearly this argument is mute and Murry Moss shouldn't have even bothered to respond.

Shove the whining. Now. I had no idea people had such thin skins.

These times? They're a challenge. A big one. Toughen up, get to work, and make shit happen. The only people who whine are the ones who lack confidence in their ability to do something valuable. Baker's right: so long, gilded age. Bye-bye, excess.

Just think--in the time you spend complaining about Cannell's article, stewing over how "mean" he is, you could be doing what he spends a lot of time talking about: adapting and expanding, looking for new solutions and being breathtakingly inventive. That's what designers do. The good ones, anyway.

Great work WILL be done over the next few years. I guarantee you, those doing that badass work won't pay more than a few minutes notice to this article, or for that matter, this discussion.

Brad Gutting

Designers, let's go prove to Michael Cannell what design is. He just sent us a challenge, lets go out and meet the design brief dictated to us by these economic times.

Design Loves Poetry
The Happy Hour Chandelier is now a sensuous metaphor for the economy taking a nosedive.

Carl W. Smith

Maura - you said it! Bravo.

The design brief for the Fernando and Humberto Campana Corallo Armchair probably wasn't does it solve a problem? Is it serviceable? How is it going to look in ten years?

More like - has it been done before? Is it VERY different? Will it shock? Will many people think it is UGLY? Will it represent high-end affluence so many rich fund managers want to put on display?

We all should recognise design as a Left & Right Brain thing. Creativity and the Application of Creativity must work together. In this respect the chair wins and is a fine example of creativity expertly applied.

I collect furniture by designers like the Campanas and the only thing that will change for me now is that I will hope to get better prices and I will probably buy less. However I am not going to do an about face. I think the piece in the NYT was designed to provoke debate but I can't say it was any great shakes. This is a period in which pandering is becoming an international passtime. I find it annoying.
cs leigh

mr. moss,
with all due respect (nearly our entire wedding booty is from your store - white rosenthal goodness)....

but you really shouldn't shoot the messenger (cannell).

the market *always* determines the designer's priorities, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, et cetera.

how you might think cannell could somehow influence an unalterable pattern is puzzling to me.

gong szeto
Gong Szeto

I like it all, The practical and the fanciful, Dieter Rams and the Campana Brothers. Regrettably design does not love a depression,
you will see less innovation & less product. Less chances will be taken and that means less creative stimulus. Who wants to take chances when it can mean losing your house.

I used to live a few blocks from the Moss store in SoHo. Were the product designs great? I don't know. I never went in. The idea of spending that much cash on anything seems impractical. Ask a local enabler/ hedge fund manager what "design" means to him.

"Lie down with dogs, you get fleas"
felix sockwell

Design has always been a bit elitist. Poor people have much more pressing needs than to bother about the functionality and aesthetics of the chair they are sitting on, if at all they have a chair. The time has come when design has to move beyond what point size your type is, to the bigger issues of urban planning, education, ecology, the crafts sector, clean drinking water for all, and many more.
The problems of this century aren't going to revolve around how 'modern' or good-looking your furniture is. There is a crying need for designers everywhere to wake up, and think about the issues that really need design. I don't think Cannell is entirely wrong, but on the other hand he definitely has a very narrow view of design and doesn't understand it holistically at all. But his basic point is valid: designers, move beyond the superficial.

As one of designers who contributed to creation of all kinds of "conversation pieces" (and exhibited at Moss), I obviously applaud Murray vigorous defense of experimental design with no strings attached. I was very surprised, however, that due to Mr. Cannell's selective and indiscriminate quoting, both Julie Lasky and Paola Antonelli seem to appear "on Cannell's side" in this argument.
In reality, Julie and Paola have devoted years of tireless work calling for and promoting design out of the box, just as Murray Moss advocates. Let's make their record clear.

I see the conflict between the arguments of Moss and Cannell as a rift in their definition of design, or what each perceives to be a "designed artifact". In reality, both arguments are correct. There have been many groundbreaking innovations that have been developed in hard economic times, but the same hardships will cause a tremendous drop in sales in furniture sold in Moss’ store and other objects of “high design” in general. Experimentation persists in all states of the economy. Let us not forget that Eames' goal was create beautiful, well made objects for the common man using efficient new manufacturing processes. It is only recently that they became objects of "high design", sold at a premium.

Design is so broad. Some designers will suffer greatly through these times and others will flourish. The fact is that it is not about the design itself, but rather about the designer being able to be entreupenurial and innovative (is that not what design is about????) in his/her business practice and find ways to create within those limitations. It's actually kind of a cool challenge. How to still produce quality and be smart about it so that the end product is one that fits the economic state of things.

Design elitism stinks. It's what's made the industry so unpleasant to work in. Artists and designers don't talk to each other. Everything is about status and who-knows-who. Things become sterile in that environment. Design should be approachable and usable by ALL. Not a few who can afford it.
ian b shimkoviak

"On the whole, money does artists much more good than harm. The idea that one benefits from cold water, crusts and debt collectors is now almost extinct, like belief in the reformatory power of flogging." --Robert Hughes


Amen Murray. We have been lucky enough in the last fifteen years to enjoy a design ecology in which designers were given a chance to experiment and to address fundamental social as well as aesthetic issues in their designs --especially with stuffed toys. The work you have shown has been infinitely more critical, important and interesting than most of the bland reductions that passed as correct design in previous eras. That this work was made possible by private buyers in the United States and government support in Europe is part and parcel of the socio-economic system we live in. Instead of griping about who can afford the goods, why aren't we making concrete proposal for laboratories where such experimentation is encouraged and exhibited? Isn't that what we should be offering a new administration, however romantic the hope might be?
Aaron Betsky

Perhaps this is not what was intended by either article. But if we take what Mr. Cannell is proposing and apply it to what's going on in the country at large, isn't there room for change?

For example our U.S. motor companies have to do some redesigning within, and not just the the production of their vehicles. They have to trim and be efficient. Not just in a sustainable sense, but fiscally.

Isn't it true that designers do well under constraints? This is a time where constraints are many and we could all benefit from the outcome.
Diane Faye Zerr

Both parties are giving one another too much credit. Critics and writers have to have an opinion or their articles fail to inspire. Design stores have to have a manifesto or their stores blend in with Design Within Reach.

Tastes Great!
Less Filling!

Truth is Moss is out of touch with 99% of the buying public, and Cannell is overstating the potential of a product design Renaissance. Worst case scenario is a designer's sketchbook will be packed with ideas that can't be marketed, and the best case is that we start making objects that make lasting positive impact on the consumer.


From otto architecture + design:

Today’s designer is unique. As always, design is a true reflection of a society. The contemporary design that Cannell seems so disdainful of, and Moss puts on an unreachable pedestal is simply a reflection of our world today. Technology, research, art and global accessibility have made this forward momentum - however bizarre or extravagant - possible and necessary. Cannell’s (understandable) romanticizing of mid-century design, is his greatest misstep, while Moss’s (singular) glorification of contemporary design innovation is his.

...What do we all (Cannell and Moss supporters alike) hold in common? Love or hate a depression, we all have a love for design. Cannell is right, good design MUST be accessible, but we argue that accessibility is not synonymous with ownership. Moss is also right in that design has rightfully taken a place in the arts, but we argue that not all design art can be qualified as great design.

The greatest design - past, present and future - is the perfect blend of function, aesthetics and process. The greatest design revels in how the three interact with each other.

...black and white make great fuel for a debate, but the reality of this argument is filled with countless shades of grey.

When William Morris said "Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful" he began a revolution that blended art and everyday design. The booming economy of the last 15 years enabled design and art to blend on higher and higher planes; yes, even abstract ones. Is that bad? So the furniture at Moss isn't for everyone. There are plenty of other places selling at plenty of other price points. There's something for everyone somewhere. Why hate on Moss for showcasing the newest and most daring? Of course it's expensive, not many of these pieces are made. They made with new techniques & technologies. Or they are made painstakingly by hand. Production & sales will take a hit during times like these, things will get less colorful for a while, does this mean that exuberant creation enabled by a strong economy was a bad idea?
Erik Heywood

Editors love an attention grabbing headline. And by the looks of it they got just what they were aiming for. So it's exciting to see so much digital ink dedicated to this feisty back and forth. Without defending either argument, I will say that I respect the artist's right to price their work at what can be described as fair market value (what someone is willing to pay for it) and I also appreciate the blurred line between art and design. But it has always surprised (read: confused) me that in age of relatively easy and often high productivity, many design objects are priced at a cost that does not reflect their materials and construction. I would hazard a guess that, ultimately, Mr. Cannell is having trouble accepting just this: cost against construction. It would have been in his interest to have come out and stated that in his article but it would have required a level of self awareness and honesty that runs contrary to his article's end game. Meanwhile Mr. Moss sadly falls prey to a good headline and a few journalistic zingers that pepper the article. What I find most troubling about Mr. Moss' response is that I'm afraid he didn't understand the underlying premise of the piece. That the design industry may merely need to shift priorities away from the top of the market to other segments of the market that Mr. Cannell thinks have been neglected. While actual neglect at any level may not be the case, I saw no call to "go back into the box" as Mr. Moss notes and surely there was no suggestion to do away the technological, social, ecological and artistic advances we've made. I will say that I appreciated the underlying call for increased attention to sustainability as a larger global goal.

Amos Klausner

I too think that Moss is a bit over the top in his defensiveness. Maybe the Times article on top of a poor retail season (including Design Miami) really disturbed him.
I am sure he will survive any downturn; he is a visionary in the retail field and is much admired.
It seems Moss takes the article far too personally. No one is suggesting he go back into the "box." That is a curious and churlish comment.
I read the Times story with interest; I think hidden in the woodenly-constructed text was a suggestion that design today has become bloated with trendy architects (Zaha et al) and over-hyped fairs (see above, Design Miami) and overpriced, self-loving promoters of the so-called Design Art.
Like it or not, we are more than a year into a full scale recession and depending on how long it endures the world of design will feel the effects.
The worrying aspect is the effect it will have on younger, less known and up and coming designers.
There's a huge nice somewhere between Moss' pricey gallery and the disposable niceties from Ikea. Perhaps emerging designers will offer us just what we need.

I just read the article, then read this response. From my point of view, it would seem that Mr. Moss is the one full of hostility;

"What regressive, back-in-the-box, frozen-in-the-mid-20th century absolutist utopian modernist "democratic" criteria for evaluating contemporary design is Mr. Cannell proposing from his alleged "front row seat" on design?"

Perhaps Mr. Moss is more worried about the effects of the article on his business than whether or not design will benefit from a slowed economy. And well he should be, MOSS specializes in high end design.

But Mr. Moss makes some good points. I'm a fan and customer of his store, but he seemed to miss the optimism in the NYT article. That in the past, design has not only made it through past recessions and challenging times, but that it's excelled. Perhaps this time around, we'll see more of that. That's optimistic if you ask me... which I realise you didn't.


Ah yes, the big picture. Something that is good for design industry as a whole may not good for individual designer. The reason why design can evolve through bad times like this is because we have more time on our hands, fewer clients, fewer materials.

But wait, can't we say the same thing about war?

I hit send by accident. Can't go back to correct it.

continue... Mr. Moss post is the exact respond I was hoping for. It's not that I think Mr. Cannell is wrong. He is right, but to post an article like that is very disrespectful to other designers, people who are suffering from the plight.

Do you think designers care more about the beauty of their designs than whether or not they can put food on the table?

Did Mr. Cannell think designers would say "wow, too bad I can't take my family on that vacation and I have to lay off few of my good friends, but man, the poster from my firm won an award last year... thank goodness for the depression"?

This is a classic case of Sour grapes. And what is sour grapes, but a pathetic denial of current bad situation.

"too bad you have to give up your car, but hey, that's better for the environment. Think of the big picture. The big picture."

What's worse is, and I suspect this is why Mr. Moss was so upset, is that this guy thought he was speaking for the rest of us. Imagine what other people outside of our industry may think if they read Cannell's article? Graphic Designers, the profession that benefit from Depression.
Panasit CH

To Creamer:

Design community is not a communist country. We are not designing for the big picture. We push ourselves to better ourselves and we do good design because we love it. But that will never come before being able to pay bills on time and keep our friend's job without having to lay them off. Mr. Moss has the right to be mad. The depression effects everything, not just his high end merchandise. To say, hey, at least your design will "look" better, is.. true.. but highly inappropriate.

There's no optimism in the idea that design can benefit from depression, war, and other tragedy. It's like you want a pie, and you can't get it, then I whisper to you "hey, at least you won't get fat." Yeah, you can call me an optimist too.

Panasit Ch

Design definitely hates a depression.

Design for Disney!

when i walked by the moss store once, an elderly woman said in her phillipino accented english "that is so modern!", something which brought some good laughs from me and my friend. since then, we pass by there and say, "that is so modern!" as a worthy joke.

years ago when moss first started his store, he came over to the coffee shop across the street and sat next to us. he was talking in a loud way, to his companions, about how he knew what was in and what was worth selling.

but the truth is, most of the products in there are just plain stupid, ugly and/or worthless, and only a shit for brains chasing after every new fruity thing loves it. of course there will be naysayers, but among you, i suspect are men who wear thom browne (aka pee wee herman clothes) and women who love kawakubo (i.e., circus clothes). so case closed.

candace kim

Charles Eames said, "Design is the sum of all constraints."

All of them. They change from time to time.
happy new year!

since i do not want to waste valuable html trees here, i will simply link to my rebuttal on theaptBROADCAST. that no one asked for.

stefan boublil

Design Sucks! Except for the Moss Store, that Rocks!

Hey Thom Browne, fuck you! You stole my style.
Pee wee herman

Two different people talking about two different things:

Moss, talking about Design: an intellectual, envelope pushing, money generating, status defining, deifying, none-the-less valid, pursuit of creating objects with a function.

Cannell talking about design: a thoughtful, real world applicative, life bettering, environmentally sensitive, economically sound, none-the-less valid, pursuit of creating objects with a function.

What both men seemingly fail to realize is that one cannot exist without the other. Campana brothers could not have designed their Corralo chair without first a utilitarian, anonymous chair having been designed. Likewise - we all would be sitting on the same flat rock had Design not pushed the boundaries of what 'chair' can mean. Both men overstate. Moss lives in an intellectual dream world untouchable by common man. Cannell cannot fathom that a person would spend 10k on a sofa for anything other than status.

Sorry, but while I don't buy Canell's poorly supported argument, I have a hard time not clapping, or at least breathing a sigh of relief that the Stupid Money Bubble popped.

Campanas' stuffed animal chairs are brilliant as an original strategy, when they were cobbled together from junk toys from the local toy store. But as limited edition artwork [sic] with auction sales and artificially inflated prices, they become a parody.

I say this one of those lovers of design who have put up with Moss's insufferable preciousness for all these years, and who watched Moss and his design-is-too-as-collectible-as-art! cohort's aspirations to--what, the level of self-declared importance of the art world? Mission Accomplished.

Moss's disdainful comments about "alleged 'front row seats'" and "official standard-bearers" and his acidic warnings about absolutist design mandarins would have more credibility if he hadn't spent the last fifteen years working to define Design as a product of The Moss Era.

While I think that Cannell has perhaps oversimplified things a bit, for Moss to claim that all designers and artists, etc, hate a depression is what proves Cannell's point. Sure from a retail point of view no one literally enjoys a depression, just as no one literally loves social injustice, but as a "designer" I would think Moss would recognize the importance and productive capabilities built into seemingly debilitating restrictions imposed by cultural, social, or economic problems.
Any lasting effect produced by an art/design movement has been a response to such problems, while most likely not joyfully. While I don't think Cannell has a full grasp of the complexity of the ideas he is trying to claim as true, as it's not as simple as depressions produce great design, it could be seen as quite a defensive response by Mr. Moss...what I might interpret as an overcompensation for self-doubt, as anyone knows the most confident response to criticism is indifference.

Additionally, if Mr. Moss is going to correct Cannell's misspelling of the Jongerius "Polder Sofa", I must extend the same courtesy to Mr. Moss in his statement:

"Or course, design will of necessity respond creatively to an economic downturn."

(I presume he means to say "Of course")

Okay folks. Listen Up. I believe my point of view was pretty strongly misconstrued by Moss. Words were put in my mouth to suit his purpose. I'm not in any way passing judgement on the design culture of the past decade or so. On the contrary, I celebrate it along with Murray. Though I think most of you will agree that it had reached unsupportable heights. I'm simply observing that it has passed into history now, and that designs may contribute great things in the new culture that lies ahead, but in a very different way.


My friend Stefan Boublil has responded far more clearly and thoughtfully. than I ever could on his site. So please follow this link back to him: http://www.theapt.com/broadcast/?p=18423

Michael Cannell
Michael CAnnell

All of this squabbling over gallery pricing is distracting from the true point of the essay. This is a long overdue for a plea, from the heart, for the humanities.

After listening to Murray Moss speak at a panel at Parsons the day after the financial collapse began, I came away with the conclusion that he believes exclusivity is a positive attribute in marketing design. I don't even know where to begin the counter-argument because I seem to have been born in the opposite camp. It is probably as futile to argue this matter as that of taste.
Russell Flinchum

Depression does make it hard to be creative, but sometimes that "down time" can lead to some emotional creations. Everyone is different and feeds off themselves differently for inspiration. Hopefully every designer knows how to find theirs, or at least come close to it.
Nikki - Logo Design Guru

If what Cannell caused, and Moss responded to, is a great debate on the relevance, authenticity and value of design--how wonderful! I think it is very appropriate for us to examine whether design tracked the vaporvalue of the financial "industry," was enabled by it, or was, while supported by it, independently exploring new ways of bringing value to life. I'd be happiest, however, if what we did and do is proved to be independent of economy, whether real, absent, or artificial. Thank you very much for adding fuel to the fire!

Murray Moss' response, visceral and heartfelt, seems to be grounded on what HE thinks good design is and should be. Shouldn't that be a culturally evolving definition? It seems he doesn't like to be challenged to reset the ideas of what is culturally relevant, aesthetically considered and yet still useful. Really....is that "going back in the box" ?
I personally favor the Dieter Rams notion "good design is as little design as possible" and welcome a return to a more pure notion of design. Perhaps a return to a simpler idea of what a designer's real purpose could and should be... an idea I hope that will inspire us all... and frankly there is a whole world fertile and filled with art and poetry of the everyday .
I don't need my chair to be my poet.
deirdre jordan

After reading Mr. Cannell's article, thrice over, I found it to be completely innocuous. Perhaps there is a history between these two gentlemen? OR perhaps Mister Moss has some concern that what M. Cannell writes has some truth to it (it does). Why else would he take it so personally?


There’s an unmentioned underlying issue here with which I struggle myself. In the following analysis of these two articles I see a systemic problem: Current American three-dimensional design is failing to contribute to the larger dialogue in the global design community.

Whether disdained or hailed by the two articles, here are the designers mentioned
Lorcan O’Herlihy – born in Ireland
Rem Koolhas - born in Netherlands
“S, M, L, XL” – Bruce Mau born in Canada
Philippe (Starck) – born in France
Zaha (Hadid) – born in Iraq
Established & Sons – UK Based Collective
William McDonough – born in Japan
Michael Braungart – born in Germany (chemist)
Campana Brothers – born in Brazil
Hella Jongerius – born in Netherlands
Marcel Wanders – born in Netherlands
Russel Wright – born in the USA (1904-1976)
Charles Eames – born in the USA (1907 – 1978)
Ray Eames – born in the USA (1912 – 1988)

The only “American” designers mentioned have all passed away. They are no longer producing new ideas to contribute to the three dimensional dialogue. Even the people quoted in Cannell’s article are no-longer actively creating designs, although very well-respected with their intellectual insights. P. Antonelli is an Italian curator and K. Wilson, R. Kroloff, and J Lasky is an American historian, an academic, and an editor respectively.

Objects, created by our past heroes and by non-American designers listed above, are infused with philosophical depth. The modern American designed-objects are deficient in having this philosophical impact because of our cultural prioritization with function. The American culture puts a great deal of emphasis on being functional. This desire “to do things” is what makes life meaningful for Americans, rather than, say something else like “to love more”. Americans, including Cannell, have a thirst for function in order to enhance productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency in society. Function is a great prioritization for technology and capitalism (Americans have invented quite a bit of functional magic in the past century) but not for designs prioritizing the true essence of humanistic philosophies.

Cannell’s title that the economic depression is good for design can be true but only so that we can create inspirational objects worthy of the shelves at Moss. Cannell’s suggested response to this economic depression is to focus design on efficiency, productivity and function to get back to our old America. We can instead reassess our cultural values and create designed-objects with our new American voice, infused with humanistic philosophies.

With our forced detachment from the cultural addiction to productivity and money, we can finally stop focusing on designs that help us do more, but instead, focus on designs that help us love more.
Ko Nakatsu

I would personally tend to agree with Mr Cannell, though perhaps he should have been more specific and called the article "Useful design loves a depression". I trained as a product designer but very quickly began to lose interest in many aspects of the profession since it has no real relevance or importance to most people in the world and often lacks any depth, critical inquiry or strong values.

I was not even a thought in the back of my parents head in 1970 so to speak of a recession or depression with any real understanding would be false but I do believe that the recession will indeed "skim-off" a lot of the excess wasted energy, time and materials involved in this industry and beyond.

As long as you do something that is of real use to someone other than yourself then they will usually be willing to pay you for it or return the favour. I would be very surprised if anyone working in healthcare is as nervous about the recession as the design community is and should be.

A few days ago I read with less sadness than I feel I should have, that a billionaire had committed suicide since his "fortune" disappeared overnight. The real shame in this was that a man had chosen to take his own life because of nothing more than a belief. Many people deride those who believe in a god as deluded but never question that money is also a concept. The only difference might be the number of people who subscribe to the belief.

There is a definite freedom on remembering that and if anyone is intrigued I would suggest visiting this website: http://www.buddhanet.net/

I sincerely hope I have not offended anyone reading this and if I have, then I apologise.
Ian Crawford

Classic prejudice against designers who "live in their own little world". Good response to a naive article.

Also: misery loves company, and authoritarianism is the most efficient form of government (arbiter in this judgment being the person in control of the authoritarian government). One nineteenth century philosopher thought the poor should die and decrease the surplus population.
Eric Hanson

One reason Mr. Moss's business is suffering may have nothing to do with the matter being debated with Mr. Cannell. Last May a friend bought an expensive (but well designed!) watch from Moss. It didn't work and was returned to the store within two days of purchase. Moss refused to take it back. The credit card company ultimately handled the refund (charging the amount back to Moss), but I have to admit to a slight pleasure in reading of Mr. Moss's sales slump.
Fymi Oyo

There is a good scene in "The Devil Wears Prada" in which the main character is chided by Miranda Priestly for thinking herself above the 'stuff' of fashion. The Priestly character outlines how the decisions innovative designers make and realize trickle down to the general society, including the protagonist, who is in turn humbled by the lecture. If designers arent given the opportunity to realize ideas, facilitated by available capital, then the general culture loses out. Many designers are seeing this happen first hand.

Do you think Google, who won this year's National Design Award for corporate achievement, would get venture capital in today's climate? For a website with a search field on it, and a wonky logo? Probably not. It was an economic bubble which first allowed Google to flourish, not a recession.

On the other hand, many of today's 'starchitects', including Rem Koolhaas and Daniel Libeskind, developed ideas core to their practice in times when they couldn't receive funding for their ideas.


There is a good scene in "The Devil Wears Prada" in which the main character is chided by Miranda Priestly for thinking herself above the 'stuff' of fashion.

I agree with Manuel. This passage is actually one of the most persuasive things I've ever heard about the relationship of "high" and "low" (or "less high") design:

Andy Sachs: Y'know, it's just that both those belts look exactly the same to me. Y'know, I'm still learning about all this stuff.

Miranda Priestly: This...'stuff'? Oh...ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? ... And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff.
Michael Bierut

I'm scared of crossing even a fictionalized version of Anna Wintour, but Google's hyper-simplified design was from 1998, a reaction to the more-is-more web design conventions of the still-inflating dotcom bubble.

If there's a design analogy, then Kiosk's storage room shop of anonymous, found design is the Google to the conventional wisdom of Moss's pseudo-conceptual luxe vanguard.

And while I still think Moss's acid defensiveness has mostly to do with the threat to his own gatekeeper/standard-bearer status, he DOES have a point that other design drivers-- subjectivity and narrative, sculptural form and material, randomness and experimentation--are as valid as utility and function.

And as Ko points out, since those are historically American design concerns, the real question should be, "Murray, why do you hate America?"

Hello all. A bit late to the game here but wanted to chime in a bit anyway. A lot of this argument seems to me to be about "ownership"...who can own what or who can afford what? While I can see Cannell's point when it comes to, say, the thinking (or more precisely the lack there-of) that has gone into urban-planning for years now (i.e. wouldn't it be great to get some of the best design minds to put their thinking towards public spaces rather than strictly consumer goods) I would never fault Moss, the Campana Brothers, Studio Job etc. for putting ideas into the world that not everyone can easily understand...ideas that are, as it turns out, quite expensive to own for a myriad of reasons. But ownership (the ability to possess these ideas/things) is not, in my mind, the point of them.

This all takes me back to my first "real-world" exposure to the world of high-end design/art that came in the mid-90s. As a young writer/editor fairly fresh out of college I was approached by Dan Friedlander of LIMN (http://limn.com/) in San Francisco (who sadly everyone seems to forget was the precursor to Moss in the United States) to help him put together a magazine of the same name. Of course I said yes and was thrilled with the prospect until Dan said he wanted to focus the first issue on Alessandro Mendini and Ettore Sottsass.

Not being very familiar with either man at the age of 24 (I had studied environmental psychology and urban planning in college) I was horrified by what I saw - particularly from Sottsass and Memphis. What the f*ck were they doing? This is the ugliest crap I'd ever seen! And the prices!?!? But of course we pressed forward with the issue and proceeded to also do the first American Sottsass/Mendini exhibit at the LIMN Gallery (http://limn.com/art-gallery.php).

As I began my research I was shocked at the amount of writing Sottsass had done over his career. Beautiful, eloquent, humanitarian pieces that were often hyper critical of the all too often static architecture/design/art world that he had found himself ensconced in. His words were so poignant and made me realize that design can be so much more than just a chair, a cup, a dresser, a building etc. Design can be a way to critique the world around you - to address political and social issues in ways writers, poets, painters etc. might never consider. And though it took me pouring over hundreds of Sottsass essays to get his point, in my mind this is what much of the work LIMN and Moss and others like them can do for the casual observer if they are willing to put a little thought into the work beyond just asking "is it comfortable" and "can I have one."

Most people (including myself) will probably never be able to afford what Moss showcases but the ideas are out there for everyone to devour and if you are lucky enough to live near a Moss or a LIMN, you can walk in right off the street and spend hours looking at the stuff up close and personal. The Campanas "Stuffed Animal Chairs" are not necessarily about comfort or aesthetics. They present many more ideas than that if you are willing to engage them and to write the pieces off (and most of what Moss exhibits) as simply catering to Hedge/Trust Funders is very short-sighted. Of course this work is not for everyone and it never will be but again, that's not the point. The point is that it pushes the boundaries, raises questions and challenges conventions. These are all things that I hope never go away regardless of whether or not I will ever have one in my living room! The ideas and questions they raise are things I can take with me to every part of my life.

To end, I just wanted to leave you all with the last few paragraphs from one of my all-time favorite Sottsass essays called "When I Was a Very Small Boy" from 1973. If anyone is interested in reading the whole thing, drop me a line and I'll get you a copy. Enjoy!

"I would like to break this strange mechanism I’ve been driven into. I would like to break it for myself and for others, for me and with others. I would like not to have to play the role of the artist only because this way I get paid, and I wish it wouldn’t even occur to others that there’s anyone who gets paid for being an artist. I would like all of us or none of us to be artists, as we were when we did drawings, boats, ships and windmills, cableways and telescopes. I would like to think that the old happy state that I once knew could somehow be brought back: that happy state in which “design” or art—so called art—was life, in which life was art, I mean creativity, I mean it was the awareness of belonging to the Planet and to the pulsing history of the people that are with us.

"I’d like to find somewhere to try out things, together, things to do with our hands or machines, in any way, not like boy scouts or even like craftsmen and not even like workers and still less like artists, but like men with arms, legs, hands, feet, hairs, sex, saliva, eyes and breath, and to do them, certainly not to possess things and to keep them for ourselves and not even to give them to others, but just feel what it’s like to do things by trying to do them, trying to find out whether everyone can do things, other things, with their hands or machines—or whatever—etcetera etcetera. Can it be tried?

"My friends say it can."
Andrew Wagner

Andrew, that Sottsass quote is just beautiful. Thank you.
Michael Bierut

I heard scriptwriter/director Paul Schrader on the radio a year or so go. He was speaking on this topic - the effect of the economy on cultural production. From memory his words were:
"When times are tough people wants artists to shelter them. When they're good they want them to redecorate."

Perhaps this doesn't translate directly to a design debate - I guess it depends on whether you think designers are just interior decorators...
Aaron Seymour

Actually, Curtis, One Laptop Per Child should be "taken down a notch." It is terrible design from the strategy to the interface. The only thing great about it is the industrial design and the innovations in the hardware and manufacturing (though these still can't compete with the state-of-the-art in the industry).

The project was conceived and developed in arrogance (something the Media Lab seems to have an endless supply of), has been a total failure, and represents the worst approach to design ("we know how you all should live and we will build it for you and you will appreciate it"). Had the designers of the interface, strategy, and company done any real design research (like maybe talking to their customers and users), they would have found-out quickly that the world does not want a "toy computer" and does not have the patience to use an effete operating system that no one but its designers can figure-out. it doesn't interoperate with any standard business or educational software, relegating its users to a OLPC ghetto. This is just the beginning of why competitors like the netbooks from Asus have succeeded instead all across the "developing" world.

This type to uninformed (though well-meaning) design needs to be denounced. It's rife in design firms and design programs throughout the USA.
Design Critic

If all you see in Google, Manuel, is "a website with a search field on it, and a wonky logo" then you don't know much about either Google or design.

Absolutely, if a company had an innovative and ground-breaking way of enabling advertising online that transformed how the industry placed ads as well as how customers found things they needed to find, that would change several industries at once (not to mention online culture), that company would get funded today... even with the crappy logo.
Design School

Inevitable and wholly dull. I've lost count of the amount of 'the recession will be good for art because it needs a good puritanical purging after years of overindulgence' articles I've seen knocking around in the last week or two. This may well be the case, but what the hell was everyone doing listening to idiots whose art judgements were informed predominantly by how well their hedge fund was doing in the first place? It shouldn't have taken a recession for people to realise this.

And to whoever left that comment up there, the Toyota Prius is not a notable piece of design. The perverse and irrational hype over it is notable, but not for the reasons you probably think.
North Briton

As someone who has had the displeasure of working with Michael Cannell, I can concur with the reader who surmised that he doesn't know design. And as to Mr. Moss's feeling of resentment for "the tone of comeuppance in Mr. Cannell's article, his condescending, parochial-school-matronly, Calvinistic reproach . . ."-- unfortunately that's how this man approaches everything. I question those who want to keep someone like him employed. At the same time, we're all talking design. And there's certainly something worthy in that.

Rotten apples make the rest all the more appetizing.

Karl Lagerfeld:
There is no creative evolution if you don't have dramitic moments like this.
Bling Bling is over.Red carpet covered with rhinestones is out. I call it the new modesty.

Fashion- furniture- food-etc is all lifestyle.

Mr. Moss makes some good points. Straight out of the gate, Cannell seems steamed; there’s a cynical, hostile chip on his shoulder, but what’s it really all about? Opening the article, Cannell says, “Few of the arts benefited from the late economic boom more than design. After all, when the wealth is flowing, people don’t covet the concerts you see or the books you read. They covet the couch you bought, and then they buy a cooler one.” What kind of people does Cannell spend his time with?

But Cannell seems to come to the table with some rather peculiar assumptions. Is it true, for example, that when “the wealth is flowing” people automatically engage in cool couch competitions? And if that is so today, has that always been the case? Does affluence mean, automatically, a decrease in interest in what the wealthy folks read and see? Would a decrease in wealth mean that a bookish turn to the world of ideas is just around the corner?

And most importantly, when did design sneak into the world of the “arts?” Just a few lines later, he points out angrily that certain furniture was selling “for the kind of prices more often found in the art world.” That sort of price encroachment is bound to get certain folks jittery, but for a design writer to evince this level of disgruntlement speaks to a deep ambivalence within the design community about design itself. Cannell thinks “excessive” pricing must speak to “excessive” design. Offering righteous indignation, he points to a party given by the Dutch designer Marcel Wanders to showcase his latest lamps. During the festivities, Wanders’ girlfriend, Nanine Linning, “hung upside down half-naked while mixing vodka drinks from bottles affixed to a chandelier.” The only palliative, Cannell suggests, is to reinfuse design and designers with a puritanical austerity and an attendant humbling of pricing structures.

It seems Cannell is saying that only “art” can lay claim to inexplicably astronomical prices, even though fine art itself is often irrelevant in today’s world . Design is topical and relevant; it touches our lives every day and yet “arty” pretense in design is considered to be beyond functionality, therefore deplorable. Marcel Wanders’ party may have been frivolous, but the lamps still work. There’s no shortage of functionality there. But what must the artists be thinking? Creators of functionless, irrelevant work upstaged by designers, their girlfriends and their outsized lamps. And that was when times were good. Seems like designers are having all the fun, and Cannell, schoolmarmishly, wants no more of it.

He’s not happy, either, with the notion of designers loudly laying claim to their creations. Why should we know Rem or Phillipe, alongside their works? Who do they think they are? Bono? Oddly, Cannell conflates bang-on trend designers with those who are interested in the questions of our day, even though one would think of it is his job to suss out the difference between the two. One can hardly trumpet, as he did, S, M, L, XL as a paragon of excess (except in its intellectual scope and breadth) when it nearly bankrupted the graphic designer who put the it together.

Hoping that designers and the objects they create “come down a notch or two” is an odd wish, since Target and Ikea, by Cannell’s own admission, have already “democratized” design. What he apparently wants, as designers make their descent, is a more focused application of principles of sustainability to the things we make.“ One way or another, design will focus less on styling consumer objects with laser-cut patterns and colored resin and more on the intelligent reworking of current conditions,” he says. “Expect to hear a lot more about open-source design, and cradle-to-cradle, a concept developed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart that calls for cars, packaging and other everyday objects to be designed specifically for recycling so that their parts and materials are used and reused without waste.” And of course, it does. In this, Cannell is on target.

What Cannell misses here, however is that “frivolity”—colored resin, or laser-cut patterns— and cradle-to-cradle manufacturing can exist simultaneously in the same object. Droog Collective—with whom Wanders worked during the late 90s, and is not known for their austere design—developed a biogradable outdoor seat called “Garden Bench” in 1999; other “name” designers are also at the forefront of sustainable design even today. Consumption is not the problem, per se. It’s waste. And a sustainable object does not have to have functionality as its primary motivation. A plate or a chandelier (with or without the half-naked bartender) can be produced with cradle-to-cradle manufacturing methods and still fulfill the designer’s aesthetic goals, austere or not.

It’s shocking, actually, how incoherent Cannell’s commentary is. As the former House and Home editor at the New York Times, one expects more due diligence and logical consistency. Scattered thoughts like his aren’t out of place in the comments section of a blog, but are surprising in one of the nation’s premier newspapers. The irony of Cannell’s functionalist claim for design is his ideological, irrational and inconsistent approach to his topic.

Part of the purpose of the design is to convince us of the merits of sustainability. Design can integrate the object made with cradle-to-cradle in mind seamlessly into our lives, improving and informing the experience of our day-to-day activities. Making the stuff that surrounds us shouldn’t lead to the decimation of our surroundings. Design leads the people with both the carrot and the stick. Fortunately, we don’t have to be so sober while we do it.
B d B

why does mr. moss think that this article is about him?

he takes it so personal only because he represents some of the designers mentioned?
moss is not the only one who represents them.

he get's plenty of free press on show casing well known designers, the press elected him design guru!?
he is well connected & has plenty of funds.
showing unknown & underground design demands more creativity taking risks & much more to make people aware of what else is out there apart from already established names.
we need to support all one cannot thrive without the other.


I love the critique of a critique. And so it continues...

I have two criticisms relevant to Moss' statement: "Designers and their true supporters have fought hard over the last fifteen years to expand the definition of design, not shrink it. Yes, to "notch it up."

The design community includes a great number of people who are re-thinking lifestyle and production, not just the form of an object. They too are design professionals, enthusiasts and lovers. And just because they are not his suppliers doesn't mean they're not there or not "true supporters." Moss seems a little out of touch on this.

The designers Moss defends (his suppliers and their reputations) are actually behaving very much like Medieval artists: working in their small studios, and producing crafty yet pricey objects for their royal or aristocratic patrons. How does this expand on the idea of design and not actually shrink it back to its roots in luxury crafts?
Michele Champagne

I just read this interview "Design Versus Innovation: The Cranbrook / IIT Debate" on two approaches to design. Its relevancy to this discussion has been creating a stir in my mind. It makes me curious about other potential design methods out there...

(link of the interview was from core77 )

Ko Nakatsu

For what it's worth:


Andrew Wagner

I love Moss. I have purchased some beautiful things there, but from their lower and perhaps most function-driven tier of products. I love to visit Mr. Moss's shop and website to see his covetable curation. And while most of his offerings are beyond my actual means and practical interest, I find his shop so important in terms of giving voice to so many designer's challenging ideas and objects. While I might not want to own a Campana chair, I do love knowing that they're out there. And I learn from seeing everything Moss shows -- every object contains an idea.

We are in the middle of a severe backlash against our best? or worst? (who knows anymore) tendencies to spend our money on items we love perhaps more than we actually need. Things that might cost more than their purpose dictates they are "worth". I don't know where we go from here. I can only hope that these frightening times will force positive and meaningful change that will leave more room and appreciation for design rather than less.

But perhaps the biggest challenge ahead for design, particularly the highest of our high-end work, is to stay out of the 'Let them eat cake' Wall St. fray.

In case you haven't seen it yet, here's the expenditures for John Thain's (ousted former head of Merril Lynch) executive office suite redecoration last year.

1) $2,700 for six wall sconces.
2) $5,000 for a mirror in his private dining room.
3) $11,000 for fabric for a "Roman Shade.”
4) $13,000 for a chandelier in the private dining room.
5) $15,000 for a sofa.
6) $16,000 for a "custom coffee table.”
7) $18,000 for a “George IV Desk.”
8) $25,000 for a "mahogany pedestal table.”
9) $28,000 for four pairs of curtains.
10) $35,000 for something called a "commode on legs.”
11) $37,000 for six chairs in his private dining room.
12) $68,000 for a "19th Century Credenza" in his office.
13) $87,000 for a pair of guest chairs.      
14) $87,000 for an area rug in Thain's conference room and another area rug for $44,000.
15) $230,000 to his driver for one year’s work.
16) $800,000 to hire celebrity designer Michael Smith, who is currently redesigning the White House for the Obama family for just $100,000.

I think there is going to be greater emphasis on craft. IMO, the more people who start embarking on these DIY projects, the more the general public will come to appreciate something that is well designed and well crafted.

I think things are going to be tough in terms of innovation, but at the same time we have an opportunity to really push for public education.

I can see both sides of this argument. But I do have to say that maybe these economic times are a good challenge for designers to have. It will force us to be more creative and more responsible in the choices we make. Is that such a bad thing? I think not.

I really believe that the designers who manage to have survived this downturn will be better for it ad produce better and well thought out work.
Alex Valich

Great design cannot have a price tag attached to it. And, Just because the tag reads higher doesn't make the design better, it makes the consumer all the more impractical.


It is true that design "tends to suffer, like any of the other humanistic disciplines" Mr. Moss, but it is also true that "design has to move to the bigger issues of urban planning, education, ecology, the crafts sector, clean drinking water for all, and many more." And it is very likely that this crisis will bring about the necessary balance in priorities.

Design suffers in a depression AND design loves a depression.
Both ideas post interesting perspectives. What I think is missing, from both perspectives ia broader definition of design and designers. Designers are not just the creators of objects; there is a lot to design in ideas.
Certainly design will not, must not go back into the box. Much to the contrary, design needs to expand its vision and assume its relevance in other fields; it's relevance for the world.
The relevance of design is in the way it looks at problems. The relevance of design lies in its approach to problem solving and proposing of new possibilities. The relevance of design is in design thinking and that prevails, depression or not.
Mariana Díaz

A good five months after these articles were written one can see evidences that design does need to expand its horizon from being elitist to providing for many.The designer seems to be always in a fool's paradise and thinks the world is made up of billionaires alone. Must say there is enough playing field for all.........people like Murray Moss can still design their outlandish stuffs which will be gobbled by Ambanis and Mallayas of India than poor suffering American hedge fund manager but we need designers like Laurie Baker who created exquisite architecture while being humble craftsman and the buildings have lasted generations and also looked good. A case in point would be for all designers to read Victore Papaneck and his Design fo the Real World and look up www.dailydump.org for an innovation in India by an industrial designer to treat organic waste in an hygienic way while providing livelihood for craftsmen.
chitra vishwanath

This is obviously a very controversial subject, but I have to go with no in this case. I don't think that design loves a depression at all.
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