By Reena Jana
Posting in Architecture
Can the purchase of an expensive, yet original design object be contextualized as an investment in the design industry, manufacturing R&D, and national economies?
A chair is a chair. Or is it? When one chair costs thousands of dollars and bears the name of a revered designer, is it worth more than another seat that looks an awful lot like the expensive one with the fancy label? What if, when you sit in either one, they are equally as comfortable--on the body and on the eyes?
Product designers and, perhaps even more powerfully, respected design magazines are escalating the debate against knock-offs. In the article "The Real Cost of Ripoffs," published in the June 2012 print issue of Dwell magazine, Deputy Editor Jaime Gillin breaks down why original design is so darn expensive. It's worth the investment, she argues, because it is just that: an investment in design as an industry, as well as in the research and development efforts of individual designers and manufacturers.
"...a percentage of your purchase goes back to the designer, who reinvests it into her business, her next idea. In order to take risks and innovate—and, indeed, to make a living—a designer needs to profit from her successes. Same with manufacturers—they need money to contract and promote designers' work and to keep their production quality high. This is the basic premise of how the design industry works, at least when all goes well.
Enter knockoffs, to blow this balanced ecosystem to bits. Some enterprising person sees a popular design and gets dollar (or euro, or yuan) signs in their eyes. It's relatively easy to ship a piece overseas to be reverse engineered and manufactured inexpensively. Labor costs are low and it's simple to swap cheaper materials and compromise on quality. Maybe they tweak the dimensions or add a small new flourish in order to improve their chances of getting away with it."
But Gillin and Dwell aren't stopping there. Gillin also wrote a companion blog post in which ten design-world luminaries voice their opinions on the topic. She plans on expanding on this post in coming weeks, too, offering more quotes that couldn't fit in the print story. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming sentiment is to rally against copycats. But the rationales are insightful for the most part and worth reading--if anything for peeking behind the curtain of the elite design world.
"With knockoffs there are no designers, no legal fees...[and] when people buy a product, we pay a royalty fee to the designer," Antoine Roset, vice president of Ligne Roset USA, the upscale furniture maker owned by his family, is quoted in Gillen's blog post. "We pay designers because we respect designers. When you buy a knockoff, you say: I don't care how it's made, I just care that it's cheap."
On a somewhat positive note, lighting designer Lindsey Adelman noted that "If it's an independent designer [copying your design] you think, maybe them imitating my work is along their path of development as a designer. You encouraged them to develop their own path and voice. That's cool, it's not threatening. It's different if it's a corporation like West Elm; that feels lazy and bad."
Images: So Sylvie/Flickr; super-structure/Flickr
May 29, 2012
Comfortable chair! You can also check this site http://www.appliedergonomics.com/ for more designs.
I agree that bigger efforts should be taken to protect intellectual property, but I have some reflexions for you: If the "knockoff" is not a copy, but it is a "inspired by" product, is it bad? I really think that if you make an exact copy and brand it as if it its original, then you are doing wrong, wherever you brake the law or not. But lets think about this: Is not the original 1006 Emeco an almost exact replica of a wood chair?. IIRC, the inventor was not good at designing furniture, but he was very good at making things, mostly metallic. Was he "stealing" the design? Is almost everyone partially copying others when designing most, not all, furniture? (because all have to be designed by standards, and most of them have 4 legs, same seat heights, and other equivalent features just to be functional) Also, another important point; the Emeco discussion gained importance with the current Chinese versions, basically because of its price, easily 5 times or more less.... but, what did Emeco said when at is first glory time, in the 50-60's, when other American companies presented their obviously copied versions, like Goodform, Ohio Chair and Art Metal... Just because they are American then it is different? or maybe the difference in their price was not that great? Quality is another thing. Its known that Emeco chairs will last a life time while the Chinese versions don't, its known that Emeco finishes are better, etc... but while one has not been deceived and is aware that is buying a lower quality product to benefit from lower prices, then, should it be okay?
Try this: Spend countless hours designing and developing something. Then, when you have a producti you can sell, someone copies your design and sells it for a fraction of the cost of your item. Sure puts a crimp on people coming up with new and better designs.
Other than patents, are there copyrights for manufactured goods in effect anywhere? And if there are, what are the prospects for an international consensus for enforcing these copyrights across borders?
The bottom line is the bottom line on this. Sorry, I will not pay thousands of dollars for an outfit or a chair or what have you. Now in general, I don't buy knock-offs, because the designer items are usually ugly or uncomfortable. I generally like a lot of non-designer items better anyway, so I will save my money and use it on going places, doing things. After all experiences are one thing that can never be taken away by flood, fire, etc. Things like this can and quite often are destroyed by various events in our lives.
Good article highlighting another cost society pays for its lack of wholeness by its loss of greater artistic expression and enjoyment. Hopefully we will grow out of this in the centuries ahead. While great design is always wanted and needed, existing inequities effectively prevents it from being well supported and flourishing. I think of knock-offs as an early clinical sign of dis-ease shown in every form and aspect of enterprise not grounded in integrity and good governance and existing within an unhealthy environment. The article referenced above and the ensuring comments begin to round out the conversation and are worth reading.