Home decoration TV shows are the most important thing to happen to British design in the past ten years. I have already discussed the likes of Changing Rooms, Home Front and Change That! in this column, but I don’t hesitate to mention them again because we in the industry are totally underrating their importance. Though much of the thinking involved is preposterous and many of the results superficial and flimsy, these shows are popularising the practice of thinking about the design process. That’s quite some feat and certainly more than years of industry trade shows, seminars, lectures, publications and Design Council funding has achieved.
Yes, people have been enjoying programmes and magazines about DIY and home design for years, but nothing has happened on this scale of mass consumption before. It’s funny; while the design industry continues to fret about its public image, the public is getting on and enjoying a bit of “I can design” game-playing.
Of course, in true post-postmodern style, the contemporary public’s enjoyment of design is one part action to nine parts imagination. Yes, some viewers are actually rolling their sleeves up and getting on with it, but most of the audience is sitting back with a glass of Chardonnay and collecting the raw material for their design fantasies.
They’re never going to make something physically, but they like flirting with possibilities. In fact, I bet most of the viewers only ever flirt with paint brushes and hammers in the privacy of their own grey matter. But that’s nothing to sneer at. Indeed, design professionals should be celebrating the elevation of design to the forefront of the nation’s collective mind.
The Internet is also promoting the popularisation of design. Almost everyone with an e-mail account has access to free or inexpensive Web space, and many are already expressing themselves la mode. Soon everyone will be famous for 15 Mb. Along with pied terres in Putney and semis in Solihull, the Web together with interactive TV and other accessible and interactive electronic media will be where DIY design really thrives in the next few years.
Why are private individuals creating their own websites? For a thousand reasons, not least that it can just be a fun thing to do. There you go Web design as leisure activity. But more than that, it’s incredibly liberating for people to be able to control and create their own environments and to share their space with others that’s what the activity of Web design is giving them.
With Web design packages getting easier to use, more and more non-professionals are going to be DIY-ing on-line. There will, inevitably, be an outcry from professionals bemoaning the state of personal websites, but they will have missed the point it’s surely the act of designing something for yourself that’s the most important thing here, not creating a slick end product.
How far will the influence of DIY design stretch? We already have design-your-own-business-card machines at railway stations, and invitations to parties, weddings and other events are getting more imaginative by the day. Friends have even started sending me excellent printed postcards featuring their own photographs. And it wouldn’t surprise me if the concept of DIY design was picked up by a number of consumer brands in the coming months aswell.
Just as loft living changed the way people bought and thought about urban property, so consumer self-expression may influence commodity items. DIY design could be built into the offer of the brand, with consumers left free to create some of the surface appearance of what they’ve bought. It will be about giving the customer an experience rather than simply selling them an object.
Here are two examples: I can think of no better way for Nike to celebrate the millennium than by making Nike Air 2000s entirely white and encouraging their customers to “Just do it” with paint or dye. Or for a car manufacturer to remove all corporate branding from its cars and invite customers to do their own naming (I would pay more for a naked
Citroën Xantia than one sporting its normal crap marque and name).
Would you pay 100 for a pair of all-white Nikes? What an absolute expression of pure brand value that would be. What happens to brands after they reach the white-out stage is anyone’s guess, but DIY design won’t go away the self-designers among the great unwashed will still be able to divert their creative energies into thinking about how to design their home. Or their home page.