Das gewöhnliche Design
As early as 1976 a group of students and young professors at the Faculty of Design at the University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt questioned the way design objects were generally perceived, talked and written about. Frustrated by the contrast of their self-perception as comprehensive designers and the prospect to have future careers as mere product stylists, they were looking for an alternative understanding of what constitutes good design. The group led by Friedrich Friedl and Gerd Ohlhauser started to collect ordinary things such as bottle openers, air pumps or bus timetables. In an ad-hoc approach these objects, all from anonymous authors, where exhibited at the faculty under the title The ordinary Design. This show, which presented only “boring” everyday commodities, surprisingly received national attention and discussions flared up in the design press. In a comical manner the young designers had used means of traditional exhibition design like velvet covered pedestals, usually reserved for “high art.”
Together with the unspectacular exhibits this provoked or at least irritated the audience. At the same time the absence of any heroic, iconic or aesthetically refined qualities among the things shown seemed to mock the whole design education. The approach was original enough so that the Rhenish Open-Air and Regional Museum Kommern bought the extraordinary ordinary exhibits, repeated the show and printed an exhibition catalog. The catalog (104 pages) contained among others contributions by Bazon Brock, Peter von Kornatzki and Adelhart Zippelius. The 110 black-and-white photographs provide a specific snapshot of what unspectacular product normality meant in the mid-70s.
Although this must be considered one of the earliest attempts to anchor appreciation of mundane qualities in design discourse, the catalog became a rarity and is now available in only a few libraries. Newly edited by Frank Philippin and Florian Walzel, the facsimile Das gewöhnliche Design presented by Slanted returns the work to a wider audience. More than just making a design classic available again this renews the question: How much of design is owed to the ordinary? In a time that dedicates its cultural attention almost exclusively to novelty and exceptionalism the every day utility is the silent opponent of “design.”
Dimensions: 15.2 × 22 cm