This is indeed the time to panic
March 20, 2009 1:36 AM   Subscribe

Product Panic - Bruce Sterling on industrial design in the slump.
posted by WPW (20 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
too cute; couldn't finish
posted by grobstein at 1:40 AM on March 20, 2009

(Sorry to be flip; I guess I am curious what other mefites will take away from the article and what discussion will turn up.)
posted by grobstein at 1:53 AM on March 20, 2009

No, you're right, grobstein
posted by dydecker at 2:17 AM on March 20, 2009

I agree with grobstein. I felt like I was reading "Tom Bombadil Talks Design."
posted by uri at 2:48 AM on March 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh thank God, I skim read the article wondering if I should just give up my Mefi membership already. Seems like he tarted up something that should have been more functional with flowery language to hide the fact there was no real consumer content inside.

Which... actually may have been the point of the article now I come to think of it.
posted by Molesome at 2:52 AM on March 20, 2009

I started reading, fully intending to finish. Five paragraphs down I had to go back and re-read the summary thinking "what the hell is this text about again?":
­What’s an industrial designer to do in the midst of economic chaos? Our columnist offers some career advice.
Oh right, intensely hypothetical (and fun!) ideas on how to design new product for an emerging market: the design-aware but flat-out broke (due to pesky economic meltdown, &c.).

Yes, I think grobstein got it.

Mr. Sterling: more "Islands in the Net"/"Heavy Weather"-esque writing please ...and maybe a little less of this. Yes you can!
posted by Glee at 3:11 AM on March 20, 2009

I haven't seen the word "screed" used in a long, long time.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:41 AM on March 20, 2009

When users are forced down-market, you, the designer, want to help them get there gallantly, creatively, and innovatively. They should lower their own handbasket to hell in a brisk, sparkling fashion, with socially just, triple-bottom-line products that are “globally inclusive” and designed for the “lowest billion.”

The 'B' Ark cannot be built too soon.
posted by fleacircus at 4:12 AM on March 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

It made perfect sense to me and made me smile several times, but I'm a designer with an interest in depression-era graphic and industrial design who has an iPhone app coming out in about a week with a fanciful feel-good UI, and I rip it up at DIY home repairs. I would enjoy reading more articles written about my precise circumstances in the future, and suggest that a new post-print-collapse industry for writers could be bespoke trend pieces commissioned by individuals to be about the exact details of their lives.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 4:27 AM on March 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Reason Metafilter is going to the dogs #278: Hating on Bruce Sterling.
posted by Scoo at 4:47 AM on March 20, 2009

Bruce Sterling needs a little hating. I respect the man, but he'll be better for it.
posted by Kikkoman at 5:07 AM on March 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Is this the best design advice he can come up with? ocarina of iPhone and glib estate? (look if you don't eat the cake you can live in it!!) It reads like some sort of satiric shenanigan, except this is exactly the same sort of crap he's been carping on about his whole career, pat instrumentality predicated on demographic acrobatics in the two keys of the voluntary crazies (assemblage consumerism) and apocalyptic melodrama (climate change), because we didn't have enough fun with buckminster fuller the last time did we?
posted by doobiedoo at 5:08 AM on March 20, 2009

"Ask yourself, 'What would Maurizio Cattelan do?'" is not necessarily be the kind of helpful career advice a recently laid-off industrial designer is looking for.
posted by Doktor Zed at 5:08 AM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Glee, not that I am defending the article (it's, uh ... I stopped reading after I hit the clearly incorrect bit about the RIAA having stopped suing folks: I don't know what he's going on about, and I have a sneaking suspicion that any time and effort spent in deeper analysis would be wasted), but Sterling has been getting more and more near future throughout his career.

It's kind of interesting, in a way, because he first starts out at centuries ahead (Crystal Express and all of the Shaper/Mechanist stuff), then decades (Islands in the Net, Heavy Weather), then near, near future (Zeitgeist). Hopefully, you'll get what you want in The Caryatids, which looks to be set five decades out.

Sterling isn't alone in this trend; we've seen more science fiction writers slip-sliding towards the present. As much as I enjoy the social commentary aspect of sci-fi, I also would rather not see him turn into That Guy Who Does Speculative Socio-Political Articles Based on Technology. We've got Cory Doctorow for that, if we needed it. Which I doubt.
posted by adipocere at 6:02 AM on March 20, 2009

What’s an industrial designer to do in the midst of economic chaos?

Hmmm. Writing is clearly not an option.
posted by snofoam at 6:39 AM on March 20, 2009

Jeez. Tough room. I thought it was funny. Not deep, but we can't get deep all the time. I thought it was mainly a long-form joke, and a pretty good one.
posted by rusty at 7:26 AM on March 20, 2009

Metafilter: Jeez. Tough room.

Reason Metafilter is going to the dogs #278: Hating on Bruce Sterling.

Reason #279: Needlessly turning verbs into phrasal verbs.
posted by Herodios at 7:35 AM on March 20, 2009

That was surprisingly bad writing from such a famous author.
posted by delmoi at 9:45 PM on March 20, 2009

Also, there's this:
Everything about the way products are conceived, manufactured, and sold has been destabilized. I’d love to claim I’ve never seen anything like this, but since my wife is Yugoslavian, I can’t.
What the hell? How does his wife's live change what he's seen? Sounds like something Tomas Friedman would write.
posted by delmoi at 9:48 PM on March 20, 2009

adipocere, yeah it's been something of a trend for a while. (Gibson, whose work I've followed more closely, certainly changed this way -- even into near-past.)

Which is all fine of course, but I felt this particular piece was ... actually unreadable. I could not finish it. Felt like "Sterling channeling Robin Williams roaming a '2.0-tech-something' conference."

I find Sterling the novelist, at his best, to be a great read. Sterling the columnist is probably not for me, and I very much hope the former doesn't stop because the latter gets all the keyboard time. (I.e. very much looking forward to reading The Caryatids; it's still in the evergrowing to-read pile.)
posted by Glee at 8:02 AM on March 21, 2009

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