Toxic Design Culture

Okay so what is design culture, and what is ‘toxic’ design culture? Unlike my next post, I don’t have any real academic journals to back up any arguments present, but I do have my experience and I will always have an inherent disgust for capitalism and wasteful consumerism. Design is incredibly complicated and fluid, changing depending on the designer and the desired outcome, for me design is about making lives better. For this reason I believe that design is and will always be necessary, but I argue that it is difficult to truly make our modern lives better through design, not impossible, just requires more complex thought. That leads to today, where design is more about the hype and profit margins and brands like Teenage Engineering or Apple exist, but the actual products have so many flaws for no real reason, hence, “Toxic Design Culture.”

I truly believe that the future is boring, flying cars are dumb for every reason, cities are constantly investing in dumb “tallest skyscraper” type projects and don’t even get me started on crypto. All of these ideas make the future exciting, so they make money, so the consumer is taught to fall in love. Many of the most world famous designers love to flex their skill with designing the most luxurious hotels, yachts, and watches. While these technical projects can be really cool and push architecture forward they are also a waste of time and money. When we could build infrastructure for healthy and sustainable farming or proper socialized healthcare in the US, many governments invest this potentially useful money into tax breaks for the rich first of all, but also in dumb passion projects that only look cool. I mean, how many times have tech bros tried to reinvent the train with stupid pods and vacuum chambers? This global dick size contest is all about trying to force the future to be pretty with, at the very least, flashy designs while not putting in proper work and money to actually design a good future.

This idea of a pretty outside but rotten insides is exactly what the Gilded Age was, and unfortunately makes great marketing for larger, often tech, companies. The MacBook Air I am currently typing on is so beautiful and thin and sure pretty good quality (unlike a certain design focused tech company also on the chopping block) but all of these devices are so insanely unrepairable, its almost as if Apple doesn’t want the consumer, who in many cases owns their device flat-out, to actually touch the thing. There are edge cases, like if I am paying off my phone or computer where I don’t actually own the device, therefore I shouldn’t be able to open, but in large all of the tamper stickers large companies are so fond of are borderline, if not fully, illegal. The worst offender, however, is Teenage Engineering. This brand started off with affordable and beautifully designed audio products but has ventured into the luxury audio space with their field line. I love myself an OP-1 but Teenage Engineering’s products have such a long history of poor quality control that it feels like a mistake to invest into a thousand dollar midi-keyboard. The EP-133, or K.O. II at first looked like a truly great music making device, but as soon as it actually got into consumers hands it turned out to be basically pre production hardware sold at a profit. All of these beautiful modern devices are so ugly on the inside, and the obvious answer is that these companies need to preserve their profit margins, but it’s difficult to come up with any reasonable answer to why this is the state of modern design legends.

So how does this relate to modern watchmaking? The fashion watch. Plain and simple many fashion watches from Fossil and associates take advantage of the trendy Scandinavian design language to make a watch that looks minimalist and cool, but just put cheap nondescript movement inside and sell it at a relative premium an you have a successful business. Arguably less ethically are the big luxury fashion brands who use the same techniques as Fossil, but just slap their name on the watch and charge even higher in some cases. To this day I haven’t found a watch that perfectly fits the aesthetic I enjoy so much, and it’s easy to say that if I want it done right I have to do it myself, but I’m still in college, my freshman year no less. This is where I’m stumped, why are there so few Scandinavian watches that work as well as they look, I can think of one brand that get’s close, Nezumi, but nothing that’s quite there yet. Are watches enthusiasts just too niche and traditional?

Someday I will revisit this topic, when I have more years of experience but for now I feel it is incredibly important to criticize the current toxic design culture, and the modern gilded age. Someday I will have a better grasp on sociology and will be able to connect firmly art issues with social issues, but for now I will just rage at the machine and hope someone hears me. That’s all for now folks, and keep an eye out for my next post, it’ll be a doozy.