Consumer Culture, Creation of Monoculture and Production

BDES 1201 — Week 6

This week we will be taking a look at two articles that concern themselves with the topics of the consumer culture driven by our society as well as the impacts that production has on said culture. “A Cold Eye — The Designers Create Culture” by Katherine McCoy explores the impacts of consumer culture on designers and the role that they play in cultural imperialism. McCoy also reviews the idea of cultural sustainability in efforts to denounce consumerism.

McCoy writes about how the current position which design encourages big corporations which aids in the growth of monoculture, this occurs due to these corporations manipulating consumers choices and decisions. Consumerism in the eyes of McCoy is detrimental to our local cultures and we must attempt to save these cultures and preserve traditions when designing.

With our markets being oversaturated with big corp goods many people now look for higher quality small business goods. “We need strategies for culturally sustainable design that honour existing cultures and yet do not look backward or to the status quo” (McCoy 104).

For example the beauty industry is led by the same big corporations such as L’oreal that own most beauty companies, people turn to independent small business companies such as Krave Beauty based in Hawaii which rose in popularity for their natural products that had excellent formulations that impressed customers. Consumers tend to return to businesses that reflect their values and needs.

Krave Beauty — Our Products (IMG —

What Consumer Engineering Really Is by Earnest Elmo Calkins is the second article that we will be looking over. Calkins’ article also explores the theme of societal influences design holds. Calkins holds contrasting beliefs to McCoy on the basis of consumerism. His beliefs are that consumerism aids in a healthy society which in turn, creates a healthy economy. To achieve this, he employs the use of audience centred design.

This is where the idea of “consumer engineering” came in, this was a solution to economic disasters such as the great depression or the stock market crash in 1929 that Calkins references within his text. Obsoletism was also an important touch point that he expresses in his text, it influences consumption. This encouraged consumers to “abandon the old and buy the new,” (Calkins 100).

After briefly analyzing the two texts, we see that both discuss the same topics of cultural consumption and Design impacts on society. we can see the contrasting viewpoints between the authors. McCoy rejects consumerism and praises and endorses sustainability while Calkins wants to employ consumerism to sky rocket our economy. While Calkins points are quite sound, that the economic benefits of consumerism are well reflected this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is what is best for society and consumers. McCoy has modern solutions, sustainability is the mindset of the future and we should all think a little more like McCoy. We need to Diversify our culture, and focus on putting the spotlight on wider variety of consumers and businesses.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. Why do Apple customers continue to purchase Apple’s products when they know about the company batterygatting older phones to urge the purchasing of new phones?
  2. Do you believe designers have an ethical and moral responsibility to become more sustainable with their designs in modern times due to societal pressures?

Works Cited

Calkins, Earnest Elmo. “What Consumer Engineering Really Is.” The Industrial Design Reader, edited by Carma Gorman. New York, Allworth Press, 2003, pp. 129–132.

McCoy, Katherine. “A Cold Eye: When Designers Create Culture.” Print Magazine, 56.3, 2002, pp. 26, 181–3.

Word Count: 482



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Maya Sonya Sowinski

Maya Sonya Sowinski

Student of the DXD program at George Brown.