Most people dont say things are “well designed. They say theyre “attractive, “smart, “beautiful, “pretty, “lovely, or, my personal favorite, “really great looking.
Generally speaking, we dont use the term “design unless we own, or want to own, an Eames chair (as above, but then you knew that). “Design, the term and the concept, is, that is to say, the preserve of the architect, the interior designer, the marketing professional, the graphic artist, the product developer and design manager.
Thanks to the work of Virginia Postrel and others we now know that design is becoming an ever more ubiquitous aspect of the marketplace and the life of the consumer. Even hardware stores, the great bastion of male artlessness, now use design as a selling point.
But, for all this, “design remains an insiders term and concept. Or so I thought. And then a couple of weeks ago, I saw the new ad campaign for Target. The tag is “design for all. The text:
This is the first time I remember seeing “design made the public face of a brand and an explicit “value proposition. The insiders lingo has become a brand building strategy.
It makes good sense a the company that has featured the work of Michael Graves, Mossimo, Isaac Mizrahi, Amy Coe and Cynthia Rowley to take this position. It is a superb way to mark the difference between Target and Wal-mart, as we have noted in this blog before.
But the Design campaign represents an interesting marketing challenge. Brands routinely seek to claim a cultural meaning: Marboro and the great outdoors, Pepsi and youthful irreverence, Gillettes Venus and the goddess. Usually these meanings are well marked and well known. This makes the building of the brand much easier.
But the notion of design that Target wants to claim is not well defined. It is in fact a little obscure. In a classic, anthropological problem, this obscurity is hard for us to see. We know what design is. Its hard for us to imagine that anyone does not. Its hard for us to imagine that anyone uses it “lower case d as it were. (As in “do you have this plate in another design or pattern?”)
So the Target campaign has to do two things at once. It must fashion (more exactly, refashion) the consumer’s notion of design, and then claim it for the brand. This is a little like building a suspension bridge as you cross it. It is not impossible. Ah, yes, come to think of it, it is impossible.
Never mind. Target, bless them, will try. And, bless them even more, Target will, in the process, make a small contribution to higher education in America.
For more on the Target campaign, see Debbie Millmans treatment at SpeakUp at
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