Artist Bill Schwarz, who has a page here at Digital Media Tree, got into a cool online food fight yesterday with "design sponge"--a design blogger recently profiled in the New York Times. What is a "design blogger"? Reporter Lockhart Steele gives the flavor:
On design blogs, readers who are normally not privy to chatter among interior decorators and tastemakers can participate in debates on burning topics (sample: Is the designer Karim Rashid overrated?); get advance word on design trends, like erotic stained glass; and find answers to practical issues, such as how to quiet an obnoxiously loud apartment buzzer. These tips and tidbits are sometimes dispensed by bloggers who support themselves with day jobs within the design industry.
it seems Design Sponge blogs enthusiastically about (among other things) products her boss, a PR company, also happens to be flacking. Steele or his editor erroneously reported that she doesn't disclose the relationship--apparently she does, if that makes you feel better about her online recommendations.* Crabby artist that he is, though, Schwarz questioned the feelgood aspect of the project, from his own perspective as a former industry insider:
i think what puts me off about design sponge is the unironic career driven fashion immersion vibe. i worked for bergdorfs for over ten years and got a pretty good inside look at the design and fashion world. but it left me with fashion damage. what puts me off most is the underpinning of planned obsolescence. that little something that makes people dump their two year old stuff for new stuff. i think we should be dealing with classic designs that last for the life of the product and a product that is well made (a harris tweed jacket for instance) should last close to the life time of its owner.
The wordy, wordy responses to Schwarz from design sponge and a rabid reader never replied to this issue. The rabid reader focused with Clarence Darrow-like intensity on Schwarz's use of the word "smarmy" to describe Design Sponge (I'd just say "gushy"), whether he learned of Design Sponge from the Times or on his own, and whether his comment was design blog jealousy. Pretty hard for the latter to be the case when you're running an art blog consisting mostly of minimally or cryptically worded links, with a recurring focus on design, architecture, and arcane Americana, I'd say, but anything's possible.

*Sermon-in-a-footnote. We've heard a lot of blather on the political blogs lately about the need for a blogger code of ethics. You write on blogs about what you know and what you feel passionately about, which may just happen to include carefully insinuated strands of paid PR flackery. Readers have to be critical too, and know that a blog may be good for information or inspiration but not necessarily hard, peer-reviewed facts. When I was reBlogging at Eyebeam, I was a hair's breadth from posting a picture of a "street tagger"'s work before I realized he was a well-paid-by-the-industry, footwear-decorating hack. At least one other hoax I didn't catch. Trust nothing!

- tom moody 2-02-2005 5:08 am

- bill 2-03-2005 2:22 am

If I believed everything I read (ie: William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition") I would say that all culture currently exists to represent stakeholders. I don't think its true, but it is increasingly the norm for bright-eyed young PR up-and-comers to draw tighter and tighter connections between art (music, writing, tv drama, laser shows, etc.) and the money that makes it happen. It seems to me that Design Sponge and her defenders inhabit a world where this sort of thing is utterly acceptable, in fact expected, behaviour. I think their shock at being called on it is genuine. Will we (by we I mean younger generations) eventually let go of the distinctions altogether? I believe I remember Bill actually arguing along these lines once here on Tom's blog. I can't find the thread but it was about musicians selling songs for tv ads. Bill was saying something to the effect that ads are part of pop culture and vice versa. And I do believe it is nearly impossible to produce culture and remain completely pure. Even (maybe especially) in art blogs the critique/promotion boundary occasionally blurs. But when you have been in a culture industry, as Bill has with design, you get an insider look a how incredibly boring promotional content really is. It's the path of least resistance, and a little vigilance in this area goes a long way.

NB: I'm posting this here instead of on Schwarz cause the thread there seems to be wrapping up nicely.

- sally mckay 2-03-2005 7:39 pm

did tom say im crabby ?

although ethical orientation is generational, ethical models are not. the geneva conventions for instance, dont morph and ignorance is no excuse.

- bill 2-04-2005 9:48 pm

Crabby in the sense that you harshed the buzz of d*s and her crew. My own crabbiness is universal and does not morph. But seriously, Sally's onto something here with her suggestion (via bringing up the Harry Nilsson thread) that the concepts of "design for the life of the product" or "design for the life of the owner" might also apply to egregious misuse of nice songs to sell crappy products before the generation that originally enjoyed them dies off. Just kidding again--I do not want to revisit that subject.
- tom moody 2-04-2005 10:38 pm

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