Good Design Open for Debate

If the panel discussion "What is Good Design Now?" at the Museum of Art and Design at Columbus Circle is any indication, the answer is: It depends on what you mean by "Good". The three assembled design rock stars represented an interesting cross-section of the design world, and fittingly, the well-desingned discussion was all sharp edges and shiny insights.

The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik led graphic designer and Pentagram partner Paula Scher, architect and landscape architect Ahmad Sardar-Afkhami, and Jonathan Adler (whose mother was in the audience) through a wide-ranging discussion that did intellectual somersaults through Auntie Mame and Barbie's Dream House (Adler), Moroccan parks and the kitchens of celebrity chefs (Sardar-Afkhami, who has designed both) and the bone-headed craze for putting dew drops on soda cans (Scher). Scher, who also sits on the Art Commission of the City of New York, explained how it came to be that if you are standing on Houston and Bowery, the sidewalk on one side of the street doesn't match the sidewalk on the other and other things she learned about the exigencies of city governance by being a commissioner (basically the budget had shrunk when the last section came up for approval).

All of the panelists weighed in on the recent universally loathed Tropicana redesign. "It's not like the original was great design," pointed out Scher,  "but it was familiar." Then the debate took on a mind twisting, but accurate, turn about how this redesign was a direct result of Coca-cola's redesign a few years ago, when they flattened their logo, which in turn led Pepsi to flatten theirs which in turn readied the American public for the Obama logo. Maybe you had to be there.

Toward the end of the evening the "good" of the event's title took on a different meaning to more of the "do no harm" sort, when the question was raised about ethically produced items. Adler said that it was basically all design students talked about anymore, and that it has the biggest impact in the mass market, where these things had never been a concern. "For every beautiful $8,000 sustainably produced Vermont farm table made from reclaimed railroad ties," he said, "there are 3 million resin-based cocker spaniel magnets being made in China."

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