Monday, April 1, 2013

The Language of Things - Final Reading Notes

Throughout his book, The Language of Things, Deyan Sudjic visits many interesting aspects of how everyday objects have a hold in the world. He began by explaining the different experiences through designers and movements in design, from Raymond Loewy to Philippe Starck. Though each hot shot designer has seemed to give the world an opinion about what design should really be, designers mainly can only provide different opinions instead of absolute truth. Through his first section on Language, I discovered that the world of design is driven by many different ideas, and each idea has value in an ever-changing world of product consumption. In this first chapter, what I found interesting was how those ideas can work well as language. Each form has a different linguistic property that communicates different ideas and perspectives. Sudjic writes: 

“...You might look at the Soviet and American space capsules that docked in Earth orbit, and which now hang in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, and see two different national mentalities rendered in physical form. They are two objects designed to do exactly the same thing, in the most extreme of conditions. And yet they look utterly different, and reflect with shattering clarity two utterly different political and economic systems. One looks as sleek as a Harley Earl limousine, the other seems to belong in the world of Jules Verne, of brass portholes and mahogany fittings.” (Sudjic, 42)

In his next chapter, Sudjic explores the phenomenon of archetypes in design. These are objects that would be considered as the “quintessential work lamp” or “ultimate safari vehicle.” Archetypes have an identity that define their category. If one looks at a box of tissues, many societies will address that box a “box of Kleenex” because it has become an archetype of disposable tissues. The chapter talks about how these archetype languages impact a product’s emotional connection. Because the Anglepoise lamp is known as “The Work Lamp,” it has an emotional engagement revolving around work. “To switch on an Anglepoise and move it into position is, both literally and metaphorically, to suggest that you have started to work. It is like opening the shutters of a shop, or raising a curtain in a theatre. All the senses are involved, sound as well as touch. The click of the switch is like putting up a ‘Do not disturb’ sign.” (Sudjic, 56).

Then Sudjic spends time explaining Luxury and how high society has defined itself first through employing craftsman and artisans to acquire possessions, and now has evolved into a modern style of consumption. The language of much craft luxury has been that a wealthy person had the money to have someone skilled and valuable make their things. Their things would be incredibly valuable, because the level of quality and artistry they had were far more costly than what any normal person could afford. However, now in our modern industrialized society, the level of quality and artistry has become greatly democratized because of mass production, so luxury has had to define itself in different ways. Sudjic says “Contemporary luxury depends on finding new things to do that are difficult. Ii can be using more of a material than is strictly necessary... Before the newest technologies made complex forms easy to make on the production line, luxury cars came with curves that were difficult to form in metal, and cheaper models tended to have boxier silhouettes, or simpler curves: the difference between the original Citroen 2CV and the complex multiple curves of a contemporary Maserati.” (Sudjic 120).

As he explains the different examples of how luxury has changed in society, it becomes evident that luxury comes down to spending more money than others. This can be a very useless thing to some, but in other realms of society, it is an important aspect of their lives. Sudjic closes his chapter saying “Luxury in our times revolves more and more about the details that persuade consumers to spend money. But another definition of luxury - one that is closer to its original meaning - may prove increasingly pertinent. IT sees luxury as the way to provide a sense of respite from the relentless tide of possessions that threatens to overwhelm us.” (Sudjic 129). So, basically it comes down to special-ness.

The last two chapters in his book are on Fashion and Art. These both were extremely revealing, in that many designers hope to be artists, and both fashion and art have a powerful status in the world. As Sudjic puts it, fashion, which began as a craft and now has turned into an industry, uses image and art to create business. It does not have a set format of rules, as the old perception of luxury had when it appreciated fine craftsmanship, but it constantly changes its rules in order to make business. Fashion does not only make money, but it also defines social statuses. “If fashion is about defining those who belong and those who don’t” Sudjic writes “then so is a uniform.” (156). Uniforms define the character an army or police force wishes to convey. Just as the Marines have a dress uniform and a camouflage uniform to define different situations or actions, the type of clothing worn defines the character of an individual and how they want to be perceived. This also relates to the planned obsolescence phenomenon fashion depends on. When something goes out of style, then that person is perceived differently than if they wore something that was in style. The same thing drives other industries.

The chapter on art explains the roles of art and design in objects. Designers can sometimes make art, but since art is basically defined as being something that is useless, it is very rare that design becomes art. What was interesting is that art has gone through a serious evolution that has redefined the role of art in the world. It also has been an important part of other creative areas, such as furniture and advertising. What has evolved is a conflicted line being drawn in the sand between art and design. It is conflicted because of how both fields are creative, and each one has the capability to feed into the other. However, Sudjic suggests that the complicated interaction between both fields will cause a new category to emerge. He says “the ideology of design has been intimately bound up with problem-solving. Now we are being offered an entirely different category of object. It is not one that is likely to do much in the short term to shift the relative positions in the social hierarchy of art and design.”

What has been helpful from reading this book is how it has provided a deeper knowledge of what design is. There is a responsibility that any creative person has when taking on any of these different fields, be it fashion, product design or art. One should know what he or she is doing just as much a person should when in a conversation with another person.

Sudjic, Deyan. "Chapter 1: Language." The Language of Things. London: Allen Lane, 2008. N. pag. Print.