There is a lot of romanticism of the past. I wonder if it was just as hard to find unique and colorful pieces back then, but archival evidence says it’s not. In Sears catalogs and local show rooms, there were dozens of color options for everything ranging from couches to refrigerators. Every brand had it’s own unique design language and it was as easy to tell a Ford from a Cadillac. It was easy to tell a GE TV from a Sony.
One of the biggest problems with capitalism is that corporations are not happy with a lot of money. They don’t want obscene amounts of money. They want ALL of the money. If they’re not actively pursuing all of the money, then they are doing their shareholders a disservice. Unless you’re a boutique manufacturer actively chasing a niche market, there is no way you’re making a pink fridge in 2019.
Over the years this has led to a marketplace full of sameness. Brands are functionally indistinguishable from each other. In the past, companies bet big on diversity and individuality. They leaned heavily on their own designers and engineers to distinguish themselves from the competition. Some companies were colorful, loud, and young. Some were more reserved in their design language. But this meant you had a dynamic and diverse marketplace of products.
Now, everyone is chasing the same designs in an attempt to cater to the same audience. Everyone wants to be the popular girl. No one wants a personality anymore. So we have a marketplace flooded with all the same shit. Without logos, you cannot tell one flatscreen TV from another. It’s getting impossible to find a TV with a brushed aluminum bezel now, let alone a white one or a red one or a pink one.
Everyone is pursuing the largest slice of the pie. And I guess this is okay for most people. But us Bachelor Uncles find it hard to get excited about the same old thing. Sure we can geek out on specs, but what does that thing look like as an object? Does anyone care? Does anyone give a shit? My TV is going to spend most of it’s life off. What does it look like when it’s not turned on? What about my fridge? What about my stove?
And it’s not just a lack of color. It’s also a lack of form. Every single thing has the same form factor, the same shape, the same colors, the same materials. Go into an electronics store and try to tell anything apart. It’s impossible.
We lost curves, colors, gradients, and shapes. Even when it’s something as simple as lamp shades. I went to Lamps Plus’ website and just clicked on lamp shades and this is what greeted me.
For reference, here is what lamps used to look like:
We live in a time when you can 3D print anything. I can go to Threadless and custom design any shirt design I want to be custom printed on demand. I can reach out the manufacturers in China and custom make whatever I want. I’m just some dude and I have access to global marketplaces and I would have to imagine multi-billion dollar corporations have even more reach than we do.
But in the 1950s, when the television was a new invention. When cars had 2 speed transmissions and the telephone was still relatively new. In a world defined by the borders of your county or state, we were to create unique, colorful, beautiful spaces at prices the middle class could afford.
But now with infinite reach and infinite access, we have been resigned to a morass of sameness. An endless yawing expanse of white, grey, black and beige. Sure, there are companies like Big Chill and Smeg (worst name ever) catering to a small niche market for outrageous prices. But those things aren’t in the reach of most people. It is hard to justify the purchase of a pink fridge for $4,000 when you can get a steel one for $700.
Have we gotten to the point where color and design are now products available to only the 1%? It’s hard not to jump to the conclusion that an unseen cabal is guiding the middle and lower classes deeper into depression by robbing us of our own sense of style and individuality. That by keeping us visually and spiritually repressed, they can better control us. It’s hard not to feel the creeping oppression of the monoculture.
I will leave you with these questions – Why is it during a time of unprecedented market access and manufacturing capabilities, why don’t we have everything we used to have AND the new stuff? Why do we have to lose everything? Isn’t the marketplace big enough for every color? Every style? Every design?
Will we ever recover? Or is this it? Is there where we will stay? At the bottom of the design arc while corporations continue to chase the lowest common denominator?
I’m bored. Show me something amazing.