Thursday, May 1, 2008

Is "Listening to The Community" Stagnating Design?

A couple of days ago, an LM community member (and fantastic designer) posed the challenge:

"by aiming for design democracy, I feel [Local Motors is] not actually advancing design, but rather stagnating it a bit by giving power to the people"

Could it be?!?!

Are we killing the advancement of design?

I would pose another 2 questions.

1) What is the advancement of design?

A) Is it actually building cars that otherwise would never be built? or

B) Is it designing cars that are so far out that they will never be built?

2) Are we really democratizing design?

To answer question 1) I would point to a design like the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain. If that opus were never built, would it have done as much to advance design? I think the answer must be no. To me, this says that building a design is an incredibly important part of advancing it for all generations of artists and onlookers. It really does not matter whether you like this particular building or another, the question is what benefit does building a design in reality make?


To answer question 2) I would ask "if people cannot share their voice about design, then how can designers improve?" It is not true that Local Motors let's the raw democracy choose a winner. LM reserves the right to choose any winner(s) at any time, but we listen carefully to the comments and votes of the others who take their time to come to the site. We would be silly not to. They (and their comments) are also one of the most exciting forms of feedback for the designers in the community. Those designers can choose to ignore those comments, but they do so at their own peril. In the end, if a designer is lucky, real people will end up buying a design if it is built, and it is incredibly valuable to hear what those buyers/users might think early on in the design process. No one is saying the designer HAS to listen to them...but wouldn't you? After all, it was not a single person, but rather a group of people that chose Gehry to design the museum in Bilbao.

Only time, will really tell if we at LM have stagnated transportation design, but I think the early indications are exactly the opposite, we are allowing it to sprint forward at warp speed....Fun to think about, and thank you for the challenge.


Robin Spinks said...

No - listening gives you more options from which to choose. Because the concept of Local Motors does not require huge infrastructure around any one design, you can take more risk with design. You can present options to the buying public and get quicker feedback from the market on which designs they like. That's the democracy -the market. As the executives of LM, you still have to make the final choice for the design - no matter how much input you have from the design community. As executives, you are still a dictator - well-informed and persuaded, maybe, but still you have to choose.

Unknown said...

Very thought-provoking, this one.

There are points along the spectrum between the current situation (very few designers, very few companies making cars one can buy) and the other extreme (any designer getting anything built, truly one-off / one-customer cars).

I think LocalMotors falls at a great spot along the spectrum. Many people can design, many people can vote and choose what they want, and some number of designs (remains to be seen) get made.

As a non-designer, I totally dig it.

Crisp Angles said...

Advancement in any design field is the introduction of new, fresh ideas.

When an optimistically minded architect known as Frank Lloyd Wright started to challenge conventional building technique with his controversial designs, creative engineers overcame the obstacles by creating new solutions. When the revolutionary Bangle-Hooydonk era arrived, the design world was turned upside down. Consumers actually went out of their way to recruit as many signatures as possible to oust the daring design chief. Now, we see every car company taking cues from those "bangled 7's." Even Mercedes Benz- the company that invented the automobile- is following in their wake. New designs that push us out of our comfort zone- usually at first glance will make us uncomfortable- but in the long run, will ultimately be incorporated into the design vocabulary by future designers. However, people in general are sheep- they are comfortable with what they know, and will generally follow the herd.

I do believe that there is a chance for Local Motors to accomplish something- the degree of revolution has yet to be determined.

Design Democracy?

Design democracy is an interesting concept that I've been pondering for years now. One one hand, public opinion results are always skewed -the accurate representation of public opinion is compromised by a number of factors, ie.. anyone willing to register 50 different email addresses, and subsequently, votes in their favor. At worst- it becomes a popularity contest. There needs to be a final say- such as in the judicial system, where the jury votes, then the Judge makes the final decision. On the other hand, the idea that "by letting everyone voice their opinion, fresh ideas may come about as a result" can not be refuted.

Design vs Art

What's the difference between design and art? Those two words seem to be inextricably combined when it comes to the design field. To answer this, I studied under Tom Matano for six years- and when I finally found the answer, it shocked me.

Design is a pragmatic solution to a problem that either does or doesn't exist yet. This is often misconstrued with the passionate regurgitation of existing designs- artistic, self-expression- the antithesis of a pragmatic solution. The majority of transportation design students will eventually make the transition from the the latter to the first- and once the concept is understood, their self-expression will be marketable.

In the end, is this democratic car company stagnating or advancing design? I feel it has the capacity to do both. In my earlier blogging, I mentioned that "by aiming for design democracy, I feel that Local Motors is not actually advancing design, but rather stagnating it a bit by giving power to the people." By this statement, I do not mean they're killing design, I simply mean the advancement may not be as advanced as many hope, if the power to decide is given to the everyman.

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