On my kitchen wall is a framed page ripped from a copy of Viz featuring a facsimile cover of a glossy CondÃ© Nast-type title. In an elegant serif typeface the masthead spells out, House Unaffordable, followed by the strap-line, “Incorporating Expensive Things Magazine”. Over a tasteful shot of an English country house interior it has run some truly inspired coverlines: “Prohibitively expensive furniture; chairs that cost more than your crappy little house”; “Doing up a derelict cottage, it’s easy when you’re a f***ing rich architect says Quentin Twatt”; “Special feature on things that look good in photos but bloody ridiculous in your house”.
It’s been hanging there since the dark days of the recession. Ten out of ten for attention to detail, those naughty Viz boys plonked the date inside the O of “House”. It never fails to raise a smile. More than the actual spot-on observations, what amuses and amazes me more is the fact that they saw fit to unleash their acid wit on a genre of aspirational publishing which I wouldn’t have guessed made it on to their coffee tables. It just goes to show how alienating fantasy imagery can effect people. Must be the pervasive power of the media…
Being a design journalist (but only when it suits), I find myself in some vaguely enviable situations; invited to a designer’s studio or manufacturer’s showroom for a press launch, checking out the Milan Furniture Fair or 100% Design, or “researching” around the Conran Shop, Purves & Purves or Heals, minus the Saturday crowds.
The fact is I actually get to see, touch, even play with, those covetable objects which magazines love to turn into eye candy. The only problem is my take on “reality” seems to be slipping because these days I’m consuming more objects more vicariously than ever before. My virtual experience of objects is flourishing, thanks to a whole trough of new magazines which are intent on pumping pretty pictures of stuff straight to my spending impulse.
The thing is these titles aren’t necessarily design-oriented. Instead, design has finally become (just) another “department” on the contents page of numerous mags which are totally audience-focused rather than content-led. Yes, lifestyle is all. So, choose your poison, or should I say your idealised image of yourself? There’s Wallpaper if you’re a grown-up ex-Face reader who knows what to wear but needs a check-list of what’s trendy on the cushion front. See Frank if you’re a 30-something PR-ing girlfriend of an Arena reader (the stablemate magazine). Select Passion if you’re a girl with balls who likes a bit of ethnic chic. Or if you take techno music as seriously as some people take trains, but like a bit of radical design in the mix, get Immerse.
But wait, I hear you cry. Wasn’t there another moment in the not too distance past when design was all over the press? Of course… back in the ol’ designer decade, when everything turned matt black and sprouted shoulder pads. So haven’t we learnt anything from that irrespon-sible consumerist dÃ©bÃ¢cle? Seems not. All these printed pages tell me nothing about what’s good or bad stuff, just that there’s more of it changing hands, the economy is booming (wait for it…), advertising budgets are boosted and the magazines are selling more space (what’s with October’s 274-page issue of The Face containing nothing I wanted to read?). So, they need more content which translates as more pictures of things – not just frocks – which get people craving. But, do we really need a different, cheap ‘n’ cheerful equals throwaway, inflatable uplighter every month?
Not wishing to talk up a rival publication too strongly, but a recent essay by Rick Poynor in another design magazine, struck me as a turning point. Here is a respected design writer, who doesn’t knit his own muesli, saying enough is enough. Finally. And in a publication that doesn’t have “eco” in the title. Does this mean that a radical polarisation may be about to hit the media’s coverage of design? The shopping guide versus the consequences? Let’s be honest though, that’s no answer.
Wouldn’t it be preferable to be given some facts along with the sexy shots, so that we consumers could make informed, even ethical choices, while picking from the vast array of objects we’re lucky enough to have laid before us.
Don’t get me wrong, I like things too. But, before we get too swamped under a mountain of pretty-coloured plastic things, remember the fate of the Filofax, and that some things always look better in the photos, and are best left to the stylists.