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Objects of Desire: Design and Society Since 1750 Paperback – June 17, 1992

3.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Readable and argumentative.

About the Author

Adrian Forty is Professor of Architectural History at the Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning, University College, London.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; Revised ed. edition (June 17, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500274126
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500274125
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #297,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I rediscovered this book after college since I was probably too young to truly appreciate it the first time around. I use it now as the textbook for my Culture of Design seminar because it is one of the rare design history books that can ground design in its social context with real depth or clarity. (And boy, have I looked!)

While it can seem long winded to some, the ideas contained within are so novel and well explained that it can make someone allergic to 18th and 19th Century Design (like myself) truly appreciate the radical innovations of that period. For example, the Industrial Revolution was not just due to the steam engine's invention but more specifically to division of labor such as implemented in Wedgewood's factory in the mid 18th century.

The chapter on "Differentiation by Design" is a gem, showing how design reinforces class, age and gender roles. In the chapter on labor saving devices, women didn't really save any labor since cleanliness standards simply rose to meet product opportunities...

It's true that the book's layout, infographics and quality of the images do not do it justice... Hopefully the next reprint will address that.
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Format: Paperback
Design, according to Adrian Forty, encompasses not just how things look, but how they are made and marketed as well. In a very readable and well-illustrated book, Forty shows how design reflects and changes culture. His fascinating historical accounts show how modern consumer society developed. Victorian pocket knives, for instance, mirrored and reinforced that era's strict social structure. In another example, Forty reaches back to the 1750s to show how Wedgewood china introduced revolutionary changes in industrial manufacturing, design, and marketing that made the industrial revolution possible. Objects of Desire should appear on the reading lists of every design department and business school
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Format: Paperback
This is more for the reader who wants to read an economic and cultural treatise on the development of design and how it has affected culture.

If it wasn't so long-winded I would have actually enjoyed it a lot more. Forty has looked at some of the assumptions we have made about design and culture and realised that they are not quite as they seem. A classic example he uses is that the invention and high use of sewing machines coincided with the impossibly ruffled gowns and dresses of the 1860's - the assumption has always been that the sewing machine made this type of style possible. Forty points out that these dresses did indeed use up to 100yds of fabric, and the use of the sewing machine only made them possible by making them more affordable. Sweatshops paid machine sewers far less than they paid hand sewers - therefore more complex dresses made by machine could be made for cheaper cost. My only problem with Forty is that he takes nearly 2 pages to say this.

I have some other problems with this work, I don't think it is well illustrated - all illustrations are small and in black and white - a bit hard to take in things that he calls 'richly glazed' and so on when you can't even see the colours. It also means he has catalogues and so on in here printed in impossibly small form so you can barely make out the designs.

On another petty note, I was surprised to see the picture of a cauliflower tea pot - fully functional from Wedgewood on one page, and then several pages later a picture of the mould was shown - both from 1760. What suprised me was that there was no reference in the text or near either illustration alluding to the fact that these were both in here. I thought something like this would at least have a small footnote directing to the other page.
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Format: Paperback
What is design? Is it what we make it to be, how we want it to be, or is it just designed and accepted by society? Adrian Forty writes the book in an unusual way by setting up each chapter as its own entity, yet the concepts in all the chapters somehow relate. The author enjoys jumping from topic to topic at high speed which makes the read interesting with the overwhelming examples there are in products- in one chapter it went from pocketknives to watches to childhood furniture to textiles to soap to architecture within a span of a couple pages. Ridiculous as it may be, it somehow kept my attention. Filled with pictures of antique and modern design, Forty proves that design has progressed though time according to the needs or perceived needs of society. It makes you see things more as designs than products, and inspires you to wonder why something was designed the way it was. This book was assigned to be read in one of my college classes, and I decided to keep it instead of selling it back after the semester ended.
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Format: Paperback
While there is a fair amount of interesting historical information in the book, it is spoiled by a very heavy dose of academic Marxism and class resentment, as well as an amazing lack of basic historical knowledge (or perhaps, a denial of anything which contradicts theory -- such as assertions that dress and purchase distinctions based on gender and social class were minimal until the development of capitalism). The sections on the development of radios as consumer items are about the only parts of the book not infused with political theory.
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