Friday, April 22, 2005

Having Taste is Un-American

I just finished reading an interesting manifesto by Paul Graham entitled "Made in USA." The basic premise I've gathered, besides seeing this as a nice promo piece for his upcoming book, is that Americans don't have good "taste." It's nothing cultural. Instead, we are techno-innovators, which doesn't mesh too well with the basic ideas behind good design. Global competitive advantage has, for the post-WWII generation, been concerned with getting great new products to market fast. We've built tremendous national wealth on being the biggest and baddest, the new kids with the new ideas. Unfortunately, "design" has suffered as a result. The author presumes that even the idea of good taste is unto itself wholly un-American. That is, until Apple rebirthed itself and introduced the iPod.

The Japanese and even Europeans are seen (by some) as having a higher design sense, mostly due to their appreciation for craftsmanship. Of course, vocalizing such beliefs could get you a bloody nose in some parts of the U.S. Question: Did Americans lose the desire to have attractive, well-designed, long-lasting products, neighborhoods, or cities during the post-war boom? Sounds likely; "they don't make things like they used to." Or do they? Check out the classic piece of Detroit iron, this time in a sealable package to keep vagrants at bay. It's the Ford SYN US concept (pictured above), a vehicle I pray never makes it anywhere but a recycling bin.

Maybe we're at a tipping point when good design will again merge with American ideals of individuality and market predominance. Hopefully, a more sustainable component will form the crux of this new design ethic, which actually draws on centuries-old principles. Time will tell if we'll replace our garish American-designed autos with well-designed, fuel-efficient models that exude a soothing Appley glow. Maybe I'm the only one that finds Nokia phones and Powerbooks know, with their soft fading backlit screens. Then again, Target has made a name for itself introducing pleasant (and affordable) design to our red-state brethren. If only the products were made in America, constructed of locally-sourced materials by the skilled hands of our neighbors and friends....


Blogger Queen T said...

if only...yeah. i def would say that there are more aesthetically pleasing items here in J. which is why when one is here, no matter how much you want to live simply and avoid buying "stuff", it just appeals to your eyes. evn my cell phone is kawaii [cute]

10:25 AM  
Blogger emeeul said...

queen t, words can only hint at the amount of contempt i have for you being in japan. just looking at their websites (i've never visited, *boohoo* me), it's like a dream of pop-culture-meets-americana-meets-retrochic-meets -bauhaus. my favorite japanese wunderkinds are the folks over at

1:09 PM  

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