BDES 1201 — Week 6

This week’s readings brought us a reflective look into two articles concerning design’s overarching effects in economic and cultural history and today in Earnest Elmo Calkins, “What Consumer Engineering Really Is” and Katherine McCoy’s “A Cold Eye”. Each in their own ways explain the effects design has had on the past and how it has come to be in the modern world.

Calkins begins by giving a brief explanation of “consumer engineering” from which he goes in depth to explain the economic climate of the 1930’s and the effects it has had on the economic world since then more specifically the design world. Calkins goes on to explain the great depression has given us insight and the later revelation of obsoletism. Through this phenomenon Calkin explains the strategy of producing products for the sake of consumption and re consumption in which he gives the example “Clothes go out of style and are replaced long before they are worn out…People are persuaded to abandon the old and buy the new to be up-todate, to have the right and correct thing.” Calkins offers a powerful sentiment that conveys a perspective towards consumption that is echoed in the practice of modern design today.

Katherine McCoy starts off her article by addressing the notion that designers participate in “the destruction of cultural resources” and that “As major players in the creation of commercial mass media, we happily help to foster the hegemony of a global consumer monoculture — a kind of cultural imperialism.” McCoy elaborates on the problem within design ethics relating to culture and ‘melting pot’ design is becoming through developing a standard and creation of a universal design culture.

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Both these articles describe the problem embedded in design standards and the culture created around beauty in design in our modern world. Throughout each article we are given examples of standards of design beauty in different day to day products, this paired alongside designed obsolescence makes for an ever-changing standard for consumers to match and keep up with that is set by design. A perfect example of this would be the standard we hold to our kitchen appliances. Throughout the years the function of these devices has changed minimally but the appearance of these products has changed exponentially. Modern homeowners have spent lots in way of making sure their homes stay with the times and that their kitchens, in particular, remain modern to keep up with these standards. Companies like General Electric have been around for over a century and looking back you can see the changes between each iteration of appliances which follow this trend. Keeping up with what is “modern” and the design standards set has left little room in way of culture and tradition as the market that has been designed for us is one in which we must ‘keep up’ with and one that has been built under one universal culture. Hopefully, awareness of this phenomenon can be brought to light as we work together to address as stated through McCoy’s article who lists several possible solutions.

Word Count: 507


  1. What strategy do you think designers could adopt to create “Culture sensitive” design ?
  2. What do you think Culturally sensitive design would entail in a modern world?

Work Cited

Calkins, Earnest Elmo. “What Consumer Engineering Really Is.” The Industrial Design Reader, edited by Carma Gorman. New York, Allworth Press, 2003, pp. 129–132.

McCoy, Katherine. “A Cold Eye: When Designers Create Culture.” Print Magazine, 56.3, 2002, pp. 26, 181–3.