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Seven Hills

Boston-area exploration, travel notes, crafty things, and other Somervillainy.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Design Your Life

Does anyone else think the democratization of design has gotten a little out of hand? Or maybe I mean the ubiquitization of design. I'm all for Target and its "design for all" mantra if it means I can get cute home goods instead of the plastic, "country casual" look from my youth, always featuring the color-choice troika of dusty rose, dusty blue, and off-white. But more and more there seems to be a lot of pressure for every aspect of one's life to be ... designed.

I first noticed an ad for the new magazine Blueprint from the folks at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia with a sense of foreboding. I should have been excited: they essentially had me in the crosshairs of their market segmentation. But the photograph of a geeky-chic model couple perched on their sleek, modern sofa screamed "focus group." It was trying much too hard. She with her bangs, indie ringer tee, and tapestry ballet flats. He with an ironic smirk, a collared shirt, and jeans, as though to say, "I am not so pretentious that I will overdress at my casual computer-industry workplace, but I am ambitious, so the quality of my casual clothes is really good." And a big framed photo of the couple's quirky pet dachshund hanging over the sofa.

I might be secretly curious about what the magazine had to offer, but I wouldn't be caught dead reading it in public.

I went back and forth for a minute when I saw it for sale at Walgreens. Then I decided I really wanted to see what Martha's staff thinks of my edgy-with-disposable-income generation, and how exactly the magazine would position itself.

Here's what Blueprint appears to think of us:

1) We have bad manners. How many "Do"s and "Don't"s does an aging hipster need? However many, it's more don'ts than dos, it seems. When you're at a party, don't cut down the hostess. Don't start thank you notes with the words "thank you." There's even an entire feature called "Behave Yourself" (don't double-dip, don't litter ...). I'm not sure whether it's meant to instruct its gentle readership or make us feel smug that we, too, recognize each heinous faux pas. Either way, it's clear that Blueprint thinks someone's in need of some etiquette training.

2) We're not interested in DIY. Wait, really? I thought this was the one admirable distinguishing characteristic of Gen Y. (Or am I Gen X? Gen XY? Somebody somehow missed my exact age group. We may have disposable income, but apparently not enough.) There's a big feature on making your own charm bracelets and necklaces ... without any info on actually making the jewelry. No diagrams of needle-nose pliers, jump rings, or clasp options. (This so completely goes against the grain of the Martha ethic, I almost wonder if that lady who walked out of the prison is an imposter.) The make-a-purse feature consists of instructions on tying a few knots in a scarf to make a sort of hobo sack. A clever idea, but one for hurried, impatient types, not someone who might be interested in investing time in a craft project.

3) We don't cook. The "entertaining" feature tells you how to buy pre-made stuff and arrange it on a table so it looks like party food.

4) We're cultural and intellectual dimwits. Blueprint suggests a list of seven hip albums to choose from when I arrange my next cocktail party, ranging from Beck to Serge Gainsbourg. It informs me that, just in case I was wondering, the expression "mano a mano" does not mean "man to man." Announcing "I'm all about ..." whatever it is you're all about is deemed "tired," but adding "-tastic" to the end of a word ("This brie is cheese-tastic!") is "inspired." Not only do I feel patronized, I feel patronized by a publication that thinks "tired" is a fresh and original heading for an In/Out list.

I would like this magazine more if it started with an assumed base-level of intelligence and personal taste on the part of its readers. Obviously someone who buys this magazine at least cares about aesthetic matters, even if they feel the need for some guidance. Perhaps the magazine truly is targeting absolute beginners, those who want to live in a West Elm catalog but don't know where to start, but even if that's the case, I can't imagine anyone would find the publication's condescending tone appealing.

Even worse than the assumption of cluelessness is the apparent assumption of laziness. The selection of features suggests that while we may care about looking like we have our lives together - care desperately, it seems - we'll be damned if we have to work for it. The overall aim of this magazine seems to be to tell its audience not how to "design" a life, but how to purchase one.

And conveniently enough, a modest but notable number of the suggested products in Blueprint's pages are made by one branch or another of Martha Stewart Living.


At 6/14/2006 12:38 PM, Blogger Brian P said...

Nice post! It's kind of strange that we don't usually see reviews of magazines. (Maybe there should be a magazine for that.) This also got me thinking that Wired is kind of a male equivalent of Blueprint, but more ego-stroking than intelligence-insulting. (I don't subscribe, but since it's free at work, I'll pick it up every now and then.) Without getting too specific, it's all built around how hip, clever, individualistic, and gadget-obsessed it thinks its readers are: Among the regular features/departments is something called "Infoporn."

Although I didn't read it much at the time, Wired was a much different magazine in its early years--sporting fancy glossless heavy-bond paper (like The Believer) in a large format. I suppose economics drove the conversion to the standard size and cheap paper, but the content seems to have moved from information age "think pieces" to short, superficial articles, and the whole thing plays out like a wordy Sharper Image catalog.

p.s. I can never figure out if I'm Gen X or Gen Y either. I think we're X. (Where's a librarian when you need one...? Oh.)

At 6/14/2006 2:20 PM, Blogger JessRedRose said...

We're Gen X, according to some/most. There was a big article in Time in the 90s that put the cut-off at 1976, I think. In any case, we're culturally Gen X, right?

Chrissa - I read the first sentence of your post and almost stood up at my desk and shouted "amen!" I feel completely saturated by "good design" at this point. It's all so damn *tasteful*. I find myself buying more ridiculously tacky gee-gaws at thrift stores just to rebel, a little.

I mean, everyone had such good intentions - it is lovely for things to be clean and modern and inexpensive - but I'm officially designed out. I'd like to see a little more personality in our interior design and fashion, perhaps?

At 6/17/2006 8:15 PM, Anonymous christina said...

This reminds me of how I felt trying to figure out Budget Living. The now-defunct Budget Living, that is!

At 6/20/2006 4:29 PM, Blogger marshmallow soup said...

i have to say that i miss budget living. at least the early incarnation. but i agree (and probably contributed to its demise) that it had a bit of an identity crisis issue.


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