Art and design discipline is struggling to bring together the role of design as a catalyst in a consumer driven economy and its position in planning and implementing lifestyle-sustaining businesses. Designers have a potential to produce products and offer services for social good. However, a gap exists between this potential and callous consumerism. , asserts that consumerist communities devote nearly all of their time, energy, and resources to ‘consuming’, which according to the business men and women is seen as something good.
(Cross 2001, pp. 49-55) defined cconsumerism as a personal belief that one’s wellbeing and pleasure depends significantly on the level of purchase of goods and space and personal consumption of the same. That is, individuals or groups of individuals derive their happiness from goods consumption and possession of objects or items. Consumerism is a concept that leads to economic growth. However, designers are yet to deal with the problems associated with hardnosed consumerism and commercialism. Consumerism refers to the analysis of criticism problems as being essential to the culture consumption problem. Stylized cultural subjects substitute social influence and traditional culture in different populations. This, therefore, forms a gradual transformation on culture consumption.
Consumerism problems tend to modify market values and choices or preferences, which continue to overshadow environmental and civic values. For example, privatizing a suburban community implies that such city neighborhoods will be viewed as properties rather than civic places. Privatization of communities and estate areas leads to changes in landscaping that eases planning for gigantic houses and resource intensive landscapes, all of which are stimulated by increased consumption.
Consumerism is a global issue-affecting designer. Thus, this paper seeks to examine consumerism and explores its impact among modern designers. This piece demonstrates the association between consumerism and the current trends in design. Lastly, it analyses and interprets various design theories with respect to consumerism.
Consumerism and impact on global designs
Current trends in design have led to the rise of consumerism. This has consequently led to increased changes in landscaping and design of structures. Moreover, designers have also adopted consumerism counter-mechanisms to help them cope with global trends like consumerism. According to , designers can devise spaces and products that act as alternatives to societal relations of ownership and sharing. For example, mobile structures, temporary swimming pools, and prayer spaces for nomadic communities illustrate how modern designs can provide models to serve the same purpose as conventional designs. The second way in which modern designers reduce the rate of consumerism is by tapping sources of innovation and motivation and linking them to some slow natural processes, which in equal measure act as public goods. An example is when designers modify streetlights such that they light dimly at night when the moon is bright in an effort to save energy and allow people to benefit from the moonlight.
There has also been an idea that designers can look for ways of producing goods that reduce reliance on commercial consumption but strengthen commons. Private consumption is a form of social communication that bestows particular profit seeking individuals or groups with authority over some aspects of the society. This increases the challenge to innovation of designers. As a result, designers have adopted a co-design or self-assembly approach, which a small group of designers engages with the community in studio activities. During such sessions, design practitioners provide the community members with necessary skills and equipment needed to repair and modify locally relevant items by themselves. This approach has been found to generate some form of social language that encourages doing instead of owning. Additionally, there has been a suggestion that designers could espouse community or public mechanisms that enhance excellence and availability of public spaces hence providing alternatives to commercial spaces. Exploration of underutilized goods and spaces has thus been encouraged to generate projects that add to the social utility.
(Roberts, 2012, pp. 83-97) argues that the current societal and political contexts are demanding cheap or less costly goods and services. This has been triggered by the increasing consumption that shape design costs and sales. That is, demand for reduced cost of goods and spaces has actually led to reduction of costs leading to market expansion and continued investments.
Consumerism and trends among current designers
Consumerism has shaped design in various ways. It has led to mass production of uniform materials in standardized forms and shapes. This has been viewed as a cheaper option by the society. Nonetheless, designers are limited by the social cost implications as they try to diversify their designs. As such, it can be argued that consumerism has led to standardization of design products and services. Consumerism has led to ecological safety concerns. This occurs when harmful products are emitted into the ecosystem, degrading it at the expense of cost effectiveness. This is even worse with the increased demand to privatize management of public spaces. This has often led to offering of public services and goods along with private companies like those that deal with waste management. Consequently, this leads to comprised designs of public landscape.
Private and personal consumption has made designers to also focus on individualizing design solutions. The design fraternity is also able to keep up with the changes in social language that consequently give the design sector a social status and identity. This is pragmatic especially because individuals would not repair their own goods and spaces. Instead, they will opt to buy new landscapes and items.
According to Trentmann (2004, pp. 373-401), theorists of both modern and post modern times have agreed that modern capitalism and culture have a fundamental role in proliferation of consumption among the public. It is argued that some individuals or groups of persons seek identities in the community through consumerism. This act of consumption is seen as a therapeutic reaction of such person(s) to the identity crisis.
According to (Trentmann 2004, pp. 373-401) and (Erben 2011, pp. 113-159), cconsumerism is an attraction towards purchase of material goods by a society in which many people develop their goals in life partly through acquiring goods and landscapes they do not need for subsistence or traditional display. Thus, consumerism in a given society is viewed as being driven by a mentality to possess and motivation to spend. (Thorpe 2012), a consumerist mentality has referred to such as societal behavior and individual action. This mentality has been the subject of modern debates
Design theories include Gestalt Theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, Altman, Sommer, Hall, and Kinzel theories. Gestalt Theory was developed in the late 19th century in Germany and Austria. This theory is applied to several disciplines including art and design. ‘Gestalt’ was derived from the word ‘getellt’, which means to place or put things together. Thus, gestalt may be used to refer to a form or shape of something. This theory lays emphasis on the perceptive and cognitive processes of the human mind. Its proponents follow the principle that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ (Figure 1). This means that when humans look at an image, they look at the entire or whole pictorial impression and not the individual parts making it up. Thus, people will get the figure and miss the ground, that is, what is not perceived by a person). (Thorpe 2012) argues that there is no correct or wrong inference to a figure since this depends on the choice of the individual. Futhermore, individuals have varying memories and experiences that have an impact on perception of images.
Gestalt theory is guided by several laws of organization. One of them is the law of similarity. This states that similar items are grouped together. The law of proximity states that items are grouped together based on their nearness while the law of closure asserts that elements are brought together if they tend to complete some entity. The last law is that of simplicity which states that items tend to be arranged in simple figures according to smoothness, regularity and symmetry. Thus, consumerism has led to the change of designs of structures and public spaces to include differentiation in aesthetics, size and style. (Roberts 2012, pp. 88-97), states that individuals try to shape the environment. Nonetheless, the environment shapes our behavior, preferences and choices.
Abraham Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs is the other design theory. This approach ranks human needs and wants. The ranking takes the image of a pyramid. Maslow’s Hierarchy posits that humans are in constant search and desire for self-actualization and self-esteem that are found at the peak of the hierarchy. However, for them to reach there, they must meet and fulfil the lower level (Physiological and safety) needs, at the base first. This theory is important for designers who want to understand the human and his environment before developing designs that meet their needs/wants. Maslows Hierarchy of Needs (Figure 2) is a common theory in design that apply ergonomics and anthropometrics engineering (Figure 3). Abraham Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs theory has led to development of better seats, lighting, computer and furniture among other equipments that meet the consumer needs at an affordable price. Such items have also been customized for specific age groups, ethnicity and particular gender.
Consumerism has led to purchase of electronics, automobiles and even public space in a notion of satisfying human wants. This move has led to depletion of public recreational facilities, sale of public space as well as pollution of the environment. Thus, consumerism in design has equally experienced mass lobbying that try to fight for protection of the environment. For exmaple, environemental movements in significant cities have lobbyed for the need to transform parking spaces into parks even for a few days. Such movements have also complained and disapproved rapid expansion of private establishments that enchroach public amenities. (Trentmann 2004, pp. 373-401), indicated that the modern consumer society is attracted to shopping and mass consumption of luxury goods and landscapes. However, such increasing consumption has led to destablization of ecological systems and diminution of public goods that have social benefits.
Thirdly, the theory of personal space is also a design theory that is relevant to this research. This approach was proposed by Iwrin Altman, Edward Hall and Robber Sommer. These scholars argued that individuals yearned for adequated personal space that allows for contraction and expansion as one meets his/her individual and social needs. Personal space also entails privacy and control of one’s territory. This not only make individuals feel safe, but also socially comfortable. Theories of personal space have influenced designs related to privacy, social and public spaces, hence, the spacing between seat and table in hotels, planes, vehicles, offices, and even banking halls. Attitudes with respect to personal space affect the way our homes are designed. Some homes have master bedrooms, open or closed kitchens, living and dining rooms that may be opened or closed, small or large.
Increasing consumerism has led to increased human desires and preferences. For example, there is a need for colossal residential apartments, entertainment equipements like televisions that are technology endowed, and the need for spacious garage with 24 hour camera surveillance among others. Moreover, consumerism has led to loss of environmental sustainability since there is continous depletion of the same resources. Individuals also tend to deplete their capital savings in a bid to engage in the consumption competition. Some countries such as England have organized and facilitated design competititions that solely aim at mobilizing architects and designers to confront global issues like ruthless commercialism and consumerism. Such events have also acted as a platform for attractice plans and designs that are ecologically sensitive and retaining the essence of a social good. Design events such as competitions and awards have equally provided an avenue for awareness creation on the need for social change and control of consumerism. However, the challenge that remains is the lack of an alternative to commerce. Hence, consumerism is expected to continue rising until stakeholders work towards a sustainable solution.
This discussion has established that there could be a gap between the meaning of architecture and design for public good and consumerism pampered with commercialism. Professionals in architecture and design face problems in engaging the society during public landscaping for environmental sustainability. Thus, some designers have opted for political activism and mobilization of participants as a way of addressing problems associated with consumerism and commercialism. However, design theories have also been constantly consulted in an effort to meet the design demands or preferences of the public. Some of the theories that have been of significant use in architecture and design include Gestalt theory, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and the Personal space theoretical framework. Lure of material goods and landscape is now a form of modern identity and continues to be the subject of politics and debate worldwide.
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Figure 1: Ergonomics design
Figure 2: The whole is greater than some of its parts
Figure 3: Maslow’s Hierarchy
Needs at the lower level must be met to some extent before higher needs begin to manifest themselves