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Objects of Desire: Design and Society Since 1750 Paperback – June 17, 1992
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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.
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.Read more ›