Richard Seymour’s pronouncements couldn’t be better timed. As Design Week takes a positive step through its redesign to show readers a new future, so last week’s Milan Furniture Fair launches demonstrate just how much the international design community falls short in adopting ‘optimistic futurism’.
Seymour is right in saying that it is a designer’s job to be optimistic and to envision a better world – for ordinary folk as well as cash-hungry clients. And it is not idealistic to expect them to fight for what they believe is best. Yet many showing at Milan settled for a superficial tweak or improbable style statement rather than challenging the norm in terms of ideas, technology or delight.
There were exceptions, though most of those had a relatively clean sheet. We might expect postgraduate students from the Interaction Institute at Ivrea in northern Italy, for example, to innovate, combining technology with social interaction. But it is interesting that Italian furniture giant Tecno, sponsor of the Ivrea show, is keen to push Shawn Bonkowski and Dana Gordon’s Message Table as a human way of addressing technology in the office. It indicates that even established clients will embrace change if the opportunity is presented to them.
Thinking UK, we can rely on Ron Arad and Zaha Hadid to test materials and form in real projects. But what a pity that copying such greats is prevalent among a younger generation, who ape the style but fail to capture the spirit.
Dutch collaborative Droog is the past master of challenging perceptions. At Milan it even conducted market research in a stimulating and inclusive way, exploring the ‘value’ of objects while doing so. Visitors paid @5 (£3) each to rank sets of objects, similar in all but price, according to personal preference and to say how much they’d pay for their chosen products.
Cynical? Maybe. Optimistic futurism? Almost certainly, and we’d like to see more of that at events like the Milan fair, evidence that designers have their brains engaged and the confidence to push boundaries to achieve a brighter future.