“Products on Products”
“PRODUCTS ON PRODUCTS”
by jay messenger
The main inspiration for “Products on Products” is that design is everywhere. Practically everything we interact with has been designed by someone. My keyboard, the Word document I’m typing in, the sofa I’m sitting in, the coffee mug I’m sipping, and so on and so on, outward from everyday objects, to services, and into society. It’s an endless sea of products and meaning-making, interwoven into our daily existence, our cognizance, and our identities.
The idea that there are an infinite amount of layers of design in our lives made me think to draw out a kind of Russian-doll sort of comic. “Products on Products” displays a series of designs within designs – or more specifically: a design within a design within a design within a design within a design – with coda at the end.
Each comic represents the position of one of the pieces we read, discussed and studied for the assignment:
“Product A: The Hat” represents the position of Maurizio Vitta taken in “The Meaning of Design,” i.e. the theory that, in our era of mass consumption, products and services begin to lose their primary function in the eyes of consumers, and instead become sources of “social significance” to those who consume them. Vitta clearly thinks this is an important paradigm for designers to recognize, but I also think it is critical that consumers recognize it as well, much like Bobby does.
Product A is then encompassed by “Product B: The Lesson,” which represents the position of John Dewey in “A Need for a Theory of Experience.” Dewey’s main point is that education needs to take the backgrounds, experiences, and inner thoughts of students into account into their education. This can be accomplished through the “principle of interaction” – i.e. displaying sympathy for students unique needs and preferences and incorporating them into curricula – and through the “principle of continuity,” i.e. the idea that students’ experiences must be manipulated, selected, and built on each other. Mr. Robertson is trying to teach according to both of these principles.
Product B is encompassed by “Product C: The Curriculum,” which represents the position of Emily Pilloton in “Depth Over Breadth.” In this frame, the designer, seen talking to a school administrator, essentially embodies Pilloton’s ideal: someone who has permanently moved to the site of their research, empathizes with the community, and focuses on a highly impactful vector, i.e. primary education. I couldn’t help but satirize the designer’s position a bit, as I personally think it’s really presumptuous to assume you can fully assimilate into a community in this fashion.
Product C is encompassed by “Product D: The Fundraiser,” which represents the position of Edward Bernays in “Manipulating Public Opinion.” Bernays views the manipulation of public opinion as an inevitable and foundational aspect of democracy; the entrepreneur in this frame is executing his right to do so. Bernays also sees public manipulation as a strategic enterprise – Bernays would likely approve of the entrepreneur’s strategy of simplifying and dramatizing the case of “The Curriculum” in a public setting.
Product D is encompassed by “Product E: The Common Sense Solution,” which represents the position of Michael Hobbes in “Stop Trying to Save the World.” Hobbes argues that many “common sense solutions” lack adequate follow-up evaluations, and are often scaled such that they are implemented in social settings that are completely unfitting for this sort of service. In this frame, Bobby and Mr. Robertson survey the aftermath of the entrepreneur’s common sense scaling of The Curriculum: a Designer Corps whereby designers are mobilized to live in and re-design the curricula of school districts across the country. It clearly didn’t work out.
“By-products” serves as both a representation of Vicotor Margolin’s position in “Global Expansion or Global Equilibrium” and as a moral for the story I am telling. Designing is provocation, whether the product be a hat, a lesson plan, a curriculum, a fundraiser, or a national initiative. With everything you design and unleash into the world, you are provoking the society such that there are new expectations, new social significances, new public opinions, and the like. Sometimes these provocations can have unforeseen consequences. This is especially true the higher the scale of your product – and I hope that this comic makes this clear.
We can’t possibly predict all these impacts, but we should at least consider them before we saturate any given market with any given product. We are expansionists – that’s inevitable – but we must try to take the Margolin’s equilibrium model into account.