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“Objects of Desire” by Adrian Forty

Adrian Forty in his literary work “Objects of Desire” analyses the design of consumer products since the beginning of the industrial revolution for over 200 years and how these products have taken into account various design and architectural components. In his analysis, he is able to uncover three design paradigms or idioms that emerged during the industrial revolution period that played a major role in the development of design history in a span of three decades (Forty 1). These three design paradigms include production, consumption and mediation paradigms which have all had an impact on the conceptions of design history based on content and approaches. The production-consumption-mediation paradigm or the PCM paradigm is basically a new concept derived from John A. Walker’s production consumption model for design history (Lees-Maffei 351).

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The PCM paradigm presents the history of design in a chronological manner by identifying three issues that were of significance during the industrial revolution and that have played an important role in the development of art and design approaches (Kac 46). The production paradigm or idiom according to Forty (131) focuses on product changes that have been made by manufacturers of products to respond to the changing consumer tastes since the introduction of the industrial revolution. Manufacturers during this period engaged in the mass production of goods to meet the changing needs of consumers. According to Forty (8), mass production influenced how manufacturers designed or created these goods because the current social context catered for mass produced goods. The development of production during the industrial revolution conceptualized design history as manufacturers were able to design products that would meet the consumer tastes and preferences (Forty 8).

The consumption paradigm according to Forty examines the impact that consumers of products have on the design and manufacture of these products. The consumption paradigm therefore emerged as a result of changing consumer preferences and tastes which became more apparent as a result of the industrial revolution. The consumption paradigm attempts to place design and design history within a social and economical context characterized by the industrial revolution. Forty (8) notes that before the industrial revolution, many product designers and small scale manufacturers focused on aspects of production such as analysing the purpose and quality of the product itself instead of assessing the role of consumers and users of the product in the design process (Forty 8).

Walker viewed the consumption paradigm to be important for design history as it provided an important identity within an increasingly commoditized world that dwelled on the conscious actions of consumers to manipulate the design of these products. The structuralist and post-structuralist schools of thought on design and architecture such as Roland Barthes Mythologies and Image-Music-Text all published in 1972 and 1977 demonstrated that consumers were important in developing the design meaning of cultural artefacts (Lees-Maffei 364).

The mediation paradigm which is the third and latest addition to the production and consumption model focuses on placing a lot of emphasis on the extent to which channels of mediation are relevant to design history. Mediation arose during the industrial revolution to explain the role of promotional channels such as media and literature in providing a form of mediation between manufacturers/producers and the consumers of products (Lees-Maffei 370). Mediation supported the consumption paradigm as it was able to form the practices and ideas that would be used to form products. Mediation allowed designers to investigate the purpose of designed goods as mediating devices themselves which would play an important role in determining the type of design the goods would take. Mediation brings together all the issues that pertain to the production and consumption of goods by evaluating the social significance of these designed objects (Lees-Maffei 370).

Works Cited

Forty, Adrian. Objects of desire: design and society since 1750. London: Thames and Hudson, 1986.

Forty, Adrian. A reply to Victor Margolin. The Journal of Design History, 6.2 (1993): 131-132.

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Kac, Eduardo. Signs of life: bio art and beyond. Cambridge, Massachusetts:Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2007.

Lees- Maffei, Grace. The production-consumption-mediation paradigm. Journal of Design History, 22.4(2009): 351-376.

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