There’s the tiniest of barneys going on at BERG’s blog post about Nike’s Mayfly running shoes. I won’t reiterate my comments in detail here — I’m kind of ambivalent about the products, but find knee-jerk “they’re terrible!” reactions too simplistic — but they reminded me of a (not entirely related) bit from Victor Papanek’s 1984 book Design for the Real World.
The book’s a good read and makes many valuable points about design, and designers, and many of the big problems in the world that aren’t tackled by people who are more interested in first-world commercial opportunities. But Papanek does sometimes come across as a bit of a cranky fundamentalist, with many of the descriptions of his designs sounding like “I prototyped another amazing, potentially world-changing product but industry ignored it. Again!”
Then there’s the point where he finally lost me. Despite his many good ideas and philosophies, he started to come across a bit like a real-world version of Jakob Nielsen — fundamentally correct, but somewhat out of touch with how likely it is normal people will take up his ideas.
Integrated design must consider social groups, classes, and societies. Much design must be re-examined to see how far it may perpetuate existing class systems and social status.
An excellent example are tratöffler, leather and wood slipper-shoes made in Angelholm, Sweden. This footwear can be worn both at home and (with casual dress) on the street. They sell for about $10 a pair in Sweden. The upper part is made of cowhide; the last and heel are shaped of wood. The soles are rubber. All three materials age well. These slipper-shoes are orthopedically so beneficial to the foot that they are required to be worn by surgeons and nurses in operating theatres. They are also very comfortable. They have a life expectancy of at least four years, can be worn in every kind of weather and, being nearly identical, cut completely across social and income classes, conveying no idea of status.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this when I assume Papanek is advocating classless, status-free shoes as an ideal form of footwear that should be adopted in more places. Yes, they might be practical and sustainable but… this idea seems to ignore the way fashion works in modern societies. People go out of their way to identify and buy clothing precisely because it is an indicator of the “social and income class” to which they belong, or to which they want to be seen to belong to.
Given the original inspiration for this post I am now obliged to end with this photo:
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