Where are the Missing Masses? 

Maggie Mustaklem
26 Jul 2023

What comes to mind when you think of mass market design? Made in China? Cheap plastic goods? I think about fast fashion and kitchen products from Amazon. Yes, we need to buy less. Full stop. But mass market design still shapes most of the world around us. Why don’t we want to talk about it? Fundamentally, design journalists and researchers simply find mass market design less interesting than elite design and craft. Admittedly, it often is.

Nonetheless, mass market design looms large. Unless you live in a shepherd’s hut and make all your own tools, its likely you engage, materially, with mass market design every day. Kitchen spatulas, socks, garden hoses, keychains, electrical outlets: we all use them.

"Why does the design community exclude things we use so frequently, and at such incredible scale?"

I think the answer has a lot to do with the way many people, like myself - tuned into design, think of themselves. I now buy primarily vintage to reduce my ecological footprint and use Amazon as little as possible - although there should be a dispensation for new parents. In my head I don’t perceive myself as supporting mass market design. But of course I do. We all do.

The disdain design journalism and research have for mass market design means very few people are attempting to understand its creativity, innovation, the global scale of production and distribution. Excluding mass market design from media coverage does the design industry at large a great disservice. Understanding big ideas and important thinkers from high end design and local artisans’ craft is valuable. But that plastic vegetable chopper you bought on Amazon because it had over 5,000 reviews that’s in millions of households is also has a story, and it might not be entirely bad. How can you dismiss something you don’t understand, something so fundamental to daily life?

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