It must have been inconceivable to the audience at the 8th International Design Conference, held in 1958, why the sociologist C. Wright Mills was invited to give a lecture. Only a few sentences into his speech, Mills thrashed the design industry for pulling art and craftsmanship under the umbrella of the market, and for joining the ranks of ad men, PR flacks and market researchers to ally “the struggle of existence with the panic for status” (Mills, The Man in the Middle” 70):
The silly needs of salesmanship are thus met by the silly designing and redesigning of things. The waste of human labor and material become irrationally central to the performance of the capitalist mechanism. Society itself becomes a great sales room
Melissa Aronczyk is an assistant professor of communication studies at Carleton University. She is co-editor (with Devon Powers) of Blowing Up the Brand: Critical Perspectives on Promotional Culture, forthcoming in August 2010 from Peter Lang Publishers. She is currently revising a monograph, Branding the Nation: Mediating Space, Value and Identity in Global Culture, for Oxford University Press.