MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Filtering by Tag: authenticity

Trying to find momentum

evh98-wire In the meantime...

I remember an early lecture in architecture school about America's "kleenex" culture---the use-once-and-throw-away characteristic of our society. Here's the UN and its membership entry.

Continuing the discussion on what in design is more authentic as the economy changes---democratic ecology, intelligent design, longevity...and the burbs.

So, maybe about 30 years ago, I scribbled some graphic notes in my sketchbook representing sound levels in the city. I was interested in what might give a different topography to the city, and what considerations might generate a different kind of architecture. I was also interested to discover if activity levels correlated with financial speculation. That is, did the architectural topography of place (assumed to be financial) have any relationship with the social (my noise level/graphic equalizer map) topography. Fund to find other explorations.

And I can't remember where this came from, but thanks for the delightful A History of Visual Communications.

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Chair versus chair: Design and its value genetics

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I am so pleased with the debate engaged (not necessarily initially) by Cannell and picked up by Moss (and so many others) about the origins of design and the economy's impact on innovation.

Embedded in the discussion is a sense of authenticity, almost morality, associated with original explorations. In its advancement/resolution, I'd be very interested in a genetic chart---great designs, their origins, their briefs (given or authored), the money that was invested in the path to launch, the size of the particles of the market that supported them, and the relevance and authenticity of design measured by both economic (how many use and benefit from use) and non-economic factors (influence, impact, enrichment, enhancement, etc.), and their ultimate durability, sustainability and value.

We, of course, do not usually make a choice of approaches, but does the Moss patronage trump the Cannell ethic? Is the discipline of modernism a virtue in any economy or a mask for limited opportunity (and privileged position) in a down economy. Is Eames a recession product or a recovery product? Does the economic context provide Moss an opportunity to present process/maquette/model as special/unique/valuable, but the economy demand finish?mosscannell-sub-600

Cartable culture

As New York real estate dynamics create new social dynamics in neighborhoods, Glenn Collins, writing in the NYT today, asks, "Is charisma cartable?" Bar 6, Buenos Aires

from Argentina's Travel Guide

"But if drinking and dining have always been a movable feast in New York, is charisma cartable? Can the character of everything from venerable pubs to palatial eateries migrate with their names and owners? This portability issue has gained new urgency in a season of economic disarray, when property owners are less willing to extend the leases of even the most beloved old-timers."

Favorite neighborhood bars, losing leases, relocate and hope that the vestiges of place, transported and reinstalled, will draw familiar customers and the character and culture of their original locations. He writes that, "Loyalists can be fickle, and geography perilous."

He references a consultant who says, “you want to transfer a core set of values, so people will make an emotional connection and keep coming. But there’s a need for reinvention as well — new people must sense that this is the place to be.”

In the more barren urban landscape of Detroit, I often wonder if culture is cartable. Or maybe my question and challenge is, can form create culture?

In a recent trip to Argentina, we found a host of great places in Buenos Aires. Bar 6 was one of them.

The interior was a delight. Under an arching wooden canopy with an angular slice of sunlight  were a variety of settings supporting a variety of social opportunities. Much more than a bar, Bar 6 seemed to embody the dynamics of the entire neighborhood.

At mid-day, it was lunch that brought the people. In the early afternoon, the place seemed to catch a diverse clientele, both local and global, enjoying a break from the shopping in the Palermo neighborhood, or just stopping by because it was the local place to be. In the late afternoon, the moms took over the place, strollering in the infants, meeting the schoolkids, chatting with the current generation of young mothers.  By early evening, the commuting dads seemed to arrive to join their wives and kids for a cocktail to end the day and set a stage for dinner. Late in the evening, the hipsters arrived, and the place took on an extraordinarily different dynamic. Throughout it all there was a great sound track, and each of the formal settings--bar stool, couch, club chair, cafe table--supported each constituency.

Was this urban culture at work? Or was this form at work?

I yearn for the replication of this form in Detroit. I yearn for the places and spaces that support a diversity of generations, lifestyles, purposes and activities. I live, instead, in a place of social zoning---coffee places, family places, dinner places, places to explicitly articulate membership in a specific economic class/strata, cruising places, etc.

No place (I know of)  in Detroit is lit except from the narrow, frontal dimension. No place in Detroit offers anything than dark. No place in Detroit offers a diversity of settings. No place in Detroit offers appropriateness for every time of day and every generation. No place in Detroit accommodates more than one race, one generation, one lifestyle, one class, one. Nothing about Detroit is about community, only about conflict.

Does the embedded culture support the design of the place? Can design of place transform a culture? Can design, regardless of place, support community? Who designs Detoit, anyway? Who pays them, and for what? (Sorry!)

My emerging new rules for an emerging economy

dsc_0006Returning home empty-handed from a recent several-hours foray into the local manifestation of the global economy---Christmas shopping at the malls and local downtowns---I found myself yearning for something we have very little of around here: local stores selling the works of local producers. Wandering the malls with the realization that Somerset, and Michigan Avenue, and Fifth Avenue, and so many others sold the same stuff here as there and there and there, I felt the frustration of being unable to be imaginative and thoughtful, and the disappointment of being unable to express my appreciation for others in this season with something original, select, and authentic.

Later that day, I was cruising through my subscriptions. and hit KK*. Kevin Kelly is a Wired magazine founder, has been doing a reprise of his 1998 book, New Rules for the New Economy, on his website.

The key premise of this book is that the principles governing the world of the soft--the world of intangibles, of media, of software, and of services--will soon command the world of the hard--the world of reality, of atoms, of objects, of steel and oil, and the hard work done by the sweat of brows. Iron and lumber will obey the laws of software, automobiles will follow the rules of networks, smokestacks will comply with the decrees of knowledge. If you want to envision where the future of your industry will be, imagine it as a business built entirely around the soft, even if at this point you see it based in the hard.

Kelly argued that "plenitude drives value." He pointed to three key new rules for the new economy---"It is global. It favors intangible things--ideas, information and relationships. And it is intensely interlinked."

However, this is also a week that wraps up a rather incredible year. Bernie Madoff has made off with $50 billion of others' money in an extraordinary graft, the White house has stingily granted $14 billion to preserve auto manufacturing and jobs in the country, Hank Paulson is on his way to spending $700 billion to restore a global financial system that is doing nothing to restore an economy, and Barak Obama's ambitious program to create 3 million jobs now looks feeble as the fallout from the excesses of virtual plenitude is predicted to cost over 4 million jobs.

It is yet early in the new cycle to see what trend there is in reaction to this very dangerous and fragile economy we are now in. But this reaction, combined with the interest in sustainability, and the "practical" rather than :ideological" character of the new administration, might all be pointing to a rewrite of those "new rules."

My suggestions---

  • It is intensely local. The increasing separation from the means of production brought a world in which the virtual representation of the real masked the reality of its ephemera. Arguments about global  flows and their contribution to cost and value collapsed in the face of the power of local conservation. Interest in sustainability brought awareness of the impacts of distance and the increasing value and measure of carbon footprints. Collapsed communities now bring awareness of the importance and real value of supporting local production. Employment, home values, real money, and sustained communities may now be seen as the products of thinking and acting local.
  • It is about the tangible. The products I am interested in these days carry the substantial value of authenticity. Whether "local" from Detroit, or Nepal, or Peru, they are the products of a distinctive, individual and embedded culture and not the marks of global "brands." I touch them and can tell a story about them and the people who made them. They endure in my house and in my appreciation long after the stuff with a label has been tossed out, having lost emotional and well as appreciable value. Most are "natural" in the sense that their materiality has a recognizable, experienced source. I now have more value to show for small investments in local things than can be shown from the waste of the billions in the pursuit of virtual WMD's, or the billions lost by many in the greedy search for more from Madoff's "black box."
  • It is about trust. I certainly believe in and benefit from the network. Much of the value I bring to my clients is enriched by the learning I bring from others' experiences in other places and others' expertise from other places. The value I receive and deliver is first grounded in a relationship, however. I know and have met these people. We exchange stories, challenge assumptions, test concepts, measure results. And the value given to me by my clients is also based on trust--that I am interested in what matters to them and will deliver what I offer to their satisfaction. The year-end roundup of tales of extraordinary fraud, economic collapse and world respect are all explained by a loss of "confidence"---trust---where in so many cases those who were intensely interlinked were not appropriately interrelated.

Kelly subtitled his book, "Radical strategies for a connected world." It will be interesting to see how sustainable these strategies are. Does the loss of plentude cause value to collapse, or does it reveal true value in the local, the tangible, and the social.