Discover more from Logo Histories' Extra Issue
Design & Social Change, 1974
Frank Gianninoto, Idea 124, 1974
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A good deal of the social change that has occurred in the world recently has developed, I think, because we are all so much closer together, thanks to modern transportation. We can get to know the people and the lifestyles all over the world, and this is bound to change our thinking and - best of all - to keep us more aware, more alert, and to enable us to learn from each other.
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One can of course read about the social changes that occur in various parts of the world - but nothing is quite as effective as actually seeing what is going on. This is particularly true of those of us who are designers, for we are essentially "visual" people. The designer is always a participant in social change. In the broadest sense he works with his eye on tomorrow - not only with the thought of what will be acceptable tomorrow, but what will be beneficial to the users of the products he designs, and to their manufacturers as well.
The designer who works for industry is helping industry to meet not only social changes but technological and environmental developments. I have been a designer for over 40 years. If my colleagues in the profession and I had not foreseen social change and been able to meet it, the whole field of industrial design would by now be as dead as a proverbial Dodo.
In point of fact, had it not been for an awareness of social change, the profession of industrial design might not ever have gotten off the ground at all. For the origin of the profession paralleled the origin of the most significant elements of social change in this century - mass-production.
Industrial design originated because mass-production became possible, and, on the other side of the coin, mass-production would not have become possible had it not been for the contributions of some of the pioneer industrial designers.
I was in at the beginning of all of this. I saw our profession act as a work catalyst, helping to cause social change in industrial production. This change was based on the premise of more goods for more people. To realize this objective there had to be economy of production; industrial design made this possible by eliminating the ‘ginger-bread’ from products and other unnecessary costly elements which were hangovers from an earlier period, and by designing in a way that enabled manufacturers to tool up for high volume, high speed production. There also had to be efficient distribution of mass-produced products, and industrial design helped here by developing protective packaging which would assure the safe transport of goods over long distances.
In the U.S., one of the significant results of mass-production was mass-merchandising. This meant self service. We industrial designers not only designed the supermarket and developed new merchandising concepts, but also developed attractive and informative packaging that could sell the product without the help of a sales person.
I said earlier that the concept of mass-production was based on the theory of providing more goods to more people. As a corollary, it was also based on providing goods that would genuinely meet the needs and wishes and aspirations of the people. To do so the designer had to anticipate changes in consumer attitudes, and he had to make his client aware of them.
No producer of consumer products was ever successful without some understanding of the man or woman to whom his product is sold. The intelligent manufacturer knows this, and hires a designer to help him gain this understanding and to help communicate with his potential market. To be able to do this the designer certainly must keep abreast of social changes and of the trends - or the winds, if you will - that cause change.
As always, today we are in the midst of change. Society is changing, the sales environment is changing, consumer attitudes are changing.
Overriding all this. change is the great increase in overriding all this change is the great increase in our population which poses the basic problems of housing and feeding on a large scale. The architect and the interior planner and the city planner are involved in developing advance kinds of housing that will be inexpensive, flexible, and appropriate to the lifestyle of a growing population. The package designer is faced with the problem of getting large quantities of goods, including food products, to the people.
We are keenly attuned to developments in this area. For example, one of our clients, Thomas J. Lipton, specializes in dehydrated food products and we work closely with them on packaging these items. I believe that this kind of product - light weight, small, needing no refrigeration, yet being thoroughly nutritious - may be an important factor in our changing society in the future. Years ago I designed packages for the first frozen foods - and I know how they helped meet the social changes of that era.
I think dehydrated foods may have particular importance in what we've lately begun to call the "inner city", where refrigerated trucks are not very popular, because of their size and their exhaust fumes, and where storage space, both in the retail outlet and in the home, is limited. Our increased population is also newly aware of our environment and looking for ways to protect it for coming generations. Consumers' concern about our ecology is causing us to think creatively about what can be done to eliminate waste and counteract pollution. In the long run this has to be a job for the scientists, but we designers are working with them and with everyone who shares our concern for the environment.
In our design firm we find that most of our clients are concerned also. For example, the Marcal Paper Company is producing all of its tissue and towelling from recycled paper - and I wish they were getting more credit for this fact.
Another change in our society is beginning to appear in the form of increased leisure, as a result of increased automation. A challenge here for the designer is how to help the worker with time on his hands to use his leisure pleasantly and productively. There are probably many solutions. One that I lately have been involved with was the development of packaging specifically for families who enjoy the out-of-doors and who cook their meals while on a hike or on a boat. I think that it is important for us to contribute to happy family life as well as to efficient production.
Another social change confronting us these days is the development of a much more educated population. This is a result of the greater exposure afforded by the speed with which we can travel, as I said before, but to a greater degree on mass media. Youngsters today tend to become educated beyond their years, thanks to television. As a consequence of this, our consumers are becoming more demanding. Today's young consumer, we find, is more sophisticated and is looking for a kind of sophisticated simplicity - and learning that it is not easy to come by.
As a result of our more educated public we find the consumer wants more information about available products. In the U.S., the government is seeing to it that packaging is thoroughly informative. At the moment the governmental regulations are not clear-cut and often are not presented in a way that is really helpful to the shopper. But I believe that it's possible to provide the sort of information the government requests in a way that will be really meaningful and beneficial to the consumer.
In our country there has been considerable discussion of what the new labelling regulations will do to a well designed package. We know that today's consumer reacts extremely favorably to good design, and I believe that the addition of the informative data, if properly handled, indirectly points up the integrity of the manufacturer and is therefore reassuring and convincing to the shopper. In other words, it can help everybody.
The manner in which informational material is presented on a package has a lot to do with consumer acceptance of the product. Information and instructions should attract the consumer, not just satisfy governmental regulations.
With all of the social change about us, I think it is important for the designer to think of the consumer not just as an element of the mass-market but as an individual. Otherwise, as our population grows and as automation becomes universal, the individual becomes like a number in a computer. To treat the consumer as a person we must make available to him and to her as much variety, as broad a choice as possible. This is a job for the designer.
Design and the designer - the industrial designer, the package designer, and the architect - must constantly be prepared to face change. The social change we are talking about today is really just part of a continuous evolution that has been going on as long as I can remember. And the evolution offers continuous challenge to the designer. To me, this makes our profession the most exciting on earth.
About Logo Histories’ Extra Issue
Logo Histories’ Extra Issue unlocks opinion and insights lost to time, buried within the pages of rare out-of-print design books and magazines. Through this series, you'll come to understand the challenges and opportunities corporate identity designers of the past faced to help you better understand design practice of the present. For Logo Histories, click here.