David Brooks on the “Design” Society

In his column today, David Brooks talks about something he calls “The Protocol Society” I think he might as well have called it the design society.

He begins by discussing the fact that the economy has evolved from one that makes real stuff to one that makes protocols or sets of instructions. Much like the discussion people have about what some call the experience economy.

This evolution, of course, has not missed the design industry where we have gone through a similar evolution, starting with the design of commodity objects, to most recently the creation of lifestyle experience brands.

He then goes on to describe some of the obvious differences between the “stuff” economy and the “idea” economy like,

•  Two people can’t use the same piece of stuff at the same time. Its called scarcity, and scarcity makes markets, markets establish prices
•  Two people can use the same idea at the same time like software or music, so its much harder to put a price on ideas

Designers are beginning to learn that lesson.

He ends with the notion that economics was one thing when it was measuring an economy based on “stuff”, but is completely different when trying to measure an economy based on ideas. He says,

“Economic change is fomenting intellectual change. When the economy was about stuff, economics resembled physics. When it’s about ideas, economics comes to resemble psychology.”

Now substitute the word economics in that paragraph for design and you get something like this,

“When design was about stuff, it resembled physics. When design is about ideas, it comes to resemble psychology.”

I like that!


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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