The Meaning of Life: Art, Design & Consumer Culture

October 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

Design Practice In Context 2

Culture’ is everything we don’t have to do. Culture consists of the gratuitous stylistic extras that we add to the things we do have to do. You have to eat, but you don’t have to decorate elaborately prepared curries with silver leaf. You have to move around, but you don’t have to dance.Culture is a biological drive for humans. It is not something that we just add on at the end, after we’ve dealt with all those survival problems, but something we keep doing all the time. – Brian Eno

If we look at early communities, what drove the meaning of life was survival – making sure you had enough food and produce to be able to live a healthy life. The idea of something beyond the real – for example religion, spirituality or astrology – took them beyond reality back then.

Today, we are driven by consumption – it gives us meaning. Shopping is the hobby of the nation (and advertising is the back story of this). This need to belong legitimises us and gives us value in modern society. Consumption dictates our culture so much so that 20% of the world’s people in rich countries take up 80% of the commodities of the world.

Design fits into this consumption as designers develop items to be desired and consumed. Understanding culture is essential in the design process.

Consumer Culture

Values and beliefs, societal structures, family, education and music all reflect the way that we live. What drives this is the need to satisfy our emotions, needs and desires. Artist Chris Jordan tries to put information of this nature into an understandable fashion. He created pieces of work made of landfill waste to shock us into how much rubbish we use.


This painting, Cans Seurat (2007) depicts 106,000 aluminium cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds. 

This video is a short documentary by Chris Jordan that aims to shock us into realising an awful thing that goes on in the environmental world.

Graphic Design: Fine Art or Social Science?

Graphic Design is the activity that organises visual communication in society.

  • Efficiency of communication
  • Technology for Implementation
  • Perceptual and Behavioural Concerns
  • Advertising Effect on Beliefs and Actions
  • Cross Disciplinary Communication
  • Active Dialogue and Communication Networks

Graphic Design cannot be understood in isolation, but within a communication system. The emphasis should be on the interrelation between the audience and the design, actively participating in the construction of the message, decision made based on the study of human communication – an awareness of psychology, verbal communication, sociology, etc.

The Role of Animation

Playful Politics – Reflection of social norms

Sofa Satire – Narratives from events and issues at the time

Girl Culture – A vehicle for consumer indoctrination

Authority – Challenging the status quo and platform for alternative belief systems

Us & then Branding – Epitome of emotional attachment and consumer culture


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading The Meaning of Life: Art, Design & Consumer Culture at Tom Davidson.


%d bloggers like this: