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Art for the masses

Consumers have been given so much leeway that they now think they can dictate design. Itíll end in tears, says Louella Miles

It all started so well. An edgy logo, the best of corporate designers, a high profile launch. Yet the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) made one fatal miscalculation: the great British public now believe that they ‘own’ design.

It’s a bit like football. Every fan thinks that they could do a better job than the manager. Just let them into the dug-out to fire instructions at the team. So we shouldn’t be surprised that TV screens and newspaper pages have been full of home spun logo alternatives.

This fascination with design isn’t a new thing, but it is becoming more prominent. Take a recent Tate Modern initiative. It invited 150 schoolkids from around the country for an overnight sleepover in the Turbine Hall in tents that they had decorated themselves from images inspired by the visit.

The rationale? Well, this was just the first step in a process culminating in a conference next year called ‘From My Space To Your Space’ — run by young people for young people — which will produce a manifesto saying what they want to see in the gallery in the future.

The lunatics have taken over the asylum? Well, not quite. It’s more of a case of people wanting to be involved, and brand owners encouraging participation. Maybe a touch of ‘partnership marketing’. And then we have the arts establishment eager to bring artists to the attention of consumers, and to add kudos to everyday objects. For instance time was when, if you wanted to see art, you’d visit a gallery. Now we have Oyster card holders designed by Tracey Emin, and plastic bags — such as the new Sainsbury one — dreamt up by Anya Gallaccio (both courtesy of the Arts Council’s 60th anniversary).

The ‘design for all’ movement is even leaching out into the community, driven by organisations such as the Design Council. Its Dott 07 (Designs of the time 2007) is a year of community projects, events and exhibitions based in North-east England that explores what life in a sustainable region could be like — and how design can help us to get there.

One project, OurNewSchool, encourages students, staff and people from the wider school community to explore how to change the way things work and collaborate to design and try out solutions. Another, Alzheimer 100, will explore how design can improve the daily life of people with dementia and their carers, looking at practical issues and seeking to design new products and services that tackle them.

The danger, as LOCOG has found, is when design loses its exclusivity. My view, for what it’s worth, is that its logo is here to stay and will win through in the end. And if it ends up as fish and chips wrapping — well, I suppose that’s an art form, too.

 

Louella Miles
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