#milanuncut : A few thoughts



Billed as being an “… experimental, collaborative journalism project that aims to lift the lid on the design world to coincide with next week’s Milan furniture fair.” #milanuncut appears to have come down to an article in the Guardian by Justin McGuirk and a side discussion about unpaid interns.


Because there is without question an urgent need for a more open discussion about the “design” industry.

However what #milanuncut does beautifully prove is that before the discussion can take place the participants must be prepared to question the state of the “design” industry as a whole.

Do we need so many design students? Do we need so many designers? Do we need so many products? So many interns, paid or otherwise?

Of course we don’t.

However the majority of those involved in the #milanuncut twitter discussion seem to be predominantly interested in a new organisation of the profits within the existing industry structure rather than in the value of fundamentally reorganising the “design” industry so that it becomes something useful and proactive.

We know. We know. Behind us stands a company that sells designer furniture. At a profit.

But that doesn’t mean we want new chairs, new tables, new lamps ad nauseum.

We want good, sensible products that offer us something new and fulfill a function besides the purely economic.

In his Guardian article Justin McGuirk mentions Tip Ton Chair by Barber Osgerby for Vitra. A good, sensible product that does something new, interesting and useful.

He doesn’t mention L’Oiseau by the Bouroullecs for Vitra. Because it isn’t.

Last year in Milan Ronan Bouroullec told us they wanted to do less but better. The disappointment in the (smow)blog office as we saw the first L’Oiseau photos was audible.

For us the biggest failing of #milanuncut, however, is the lack of suggestions as to how one could guarantee sensible incomes for designers within an economicaly sustainable industry.

Fewer designers who produce less and so can make more pro design?

We know. We know. As if crazy idealists like us still have a place in our superficial, navel-gazing, bearded world.

#milanuncut has an App! We don’t even own a device on which we could use that!

And so, and assuming that everyone who wants to call themselves a designer is allowed to release as many new products as they want, how can we guarantee good incomes for all?

Established designers have to stop pimping their wares so widely.

In our experience there are two types of producers. Those who are genuinely interested in building long term relationships with a designer. And those who need established “star” designer’s names for their marketing. Established designers have to learn to spot the difference, stop accepting everything that comes their way and so stop encouraging the flood of senseless products released every year. Work for several producers by all means – just do it for the right reasons.

And when we have less marketing generated products from the same few big names, younger designers will have more of a chance, as Jason Miller from Roll and Hill eloquently put it “…to have their work manufactured in a real way”

Producers have to invest more in new and less in old.

In his article Justin McGuirk says that in the current industry climate Giulio Cappellini can’t launch careers  like he once did with the Bouroullecs, Jasper Morrison or Marc Newson.

Nonsense, of course he can.

The Cappellini show in Milan was littered with works from interesting, talented young design studios who Cappellini could take under his wing and promote.
And a couple of very, very tired looking pieces from Jasper Morrison.

Even a company such as Cappellini must question the sense of using Jasper Morrison to fill a hole in their programme.

Accept the hole and invest the money in helping a young designer to develop interesting projects.

Which also frees Jasper Morrison to develop new ideas and concepts.

Take a few tips from the record and publishing worlds.

The advance may not be the most universally loved model – but works.

Euro 80,000 for a three chair deal ? Euro 10,000 for a lamp ?

The idea obviously isn’t new, but with such a model where the producer pays up front and then recoups, the financial risks involved would automatically reduce the number of new products to manageable levels.

We hear the detractors cries of “Yes, but then we’ll only have sterile and safe products”.

As if Milan 2011 was wall to wall edge of your chair high risk innovation and new aesthetics!

L’Oiseau! Be still our beating hearts!

Talented designers, like talented authors or musicians will always rise to the surface because they have something to say and know how to say it.

Justin McGuirk writes for the Guardian. We don’t.

Certainly there are, and always will be, producers who only produce what they imagine the market wants, normally based on some ridiculous “trend research”. They don’t help anyone other than themselves.

However there are also producers who look deeper and realise the long-term benefits of innovation and who are prepared to take risks. Well-calculated risks, but risks.

Ultimately if we can limit the number of products and designers, those designers that remain can be properly paid.
And the rest can do something else professionally, and design in their spare time if they want to.

Sorry. No one said life was fair.

For us the idea behind #milanuncut is interesting and important.

Just next year, please make sure in advance that a few more good people are on board, and please moderate the discussion a little better.

Marcus Fairs made a few brave attempts at changing the direction with his talk of business courses at design schools – a regular feature of our (smow)introducing interviews and in our opinion an important failing in design education. But the public just wanted to discuss unpaid internships.

Unpaid internships are without question bad regardless of in design, journalism, IT or wherever employers think they can get away with it.

But the argument is unrelated to the the issue that was meant to be discussed.

And that’s a shame. Because it is important.

Maybe next year.

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