Design Commoditization And Where Do You Fit Into That

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

Definitions to be able to comprehend the article better :

Commodity: a raw material or primary product that can be bought and sold

Commodification: the action or process of treating something as a mere commodity or object

Commercialization: the process of managing or running something principally for financial gain

Creativity: the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.

Design : creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system

If you are reading this, then there are high chances of you either being a youngster who is about to step into the world of design as a student or apprentice or you being a professional in the industry and now looking to reconnect with the purpose of why you are designing.

Commercialization of skill is beneficial as it creates more job opportunities, helps in the rise of small-medium enterprises, and empowers individuals to financially support themselves in return for their skills. When design, in fashion, graphics and arts took a more practical approach to meet the demand and supply of the people, a whole new market for design education and new job roles sprang up within a few years.

Now came a point in time when commercialization quietly tip-toed into the commodification of design. Fast forward to an era when design institutes started opening up branches like restaurant franchises. Fast forward to an era of tech startups and disruptive businesses that opened up a world of hiring freelance designers for the cheapest possible prices across the world. Fast forward to an era when social-media enabled anyone with photoshop on their computers to offer themselves up as designers. What happens when a subject such as design which is an occupant of the intellectual and cultural property category is diffused in value and treated like a commodity?

From what I have read and analyzed, I’ve come to understand that, design is treated as either a premium, modest or unnecessary investment depending on the client and the market that you are working in. Therefore, now it depends on you to understand and decide on the kind of market you would want to work in.

If you are working in the realm of web design, you need to focus on design that is responsive and functional. If you are more interested in design as a lifestyle and aesthetics then fashion and textiles are more suited for your personality. If you are interested in design for messaging then design communication and graphics could be your choice.

But, having decided that, you also need to decide on the kind of design environment that you would want to work in. If you see design as pleasure and self-expression then you are more suited to a design studio or the design department of a company that values the role of a designer as an important taste-maker. The keywords to guide you in this direction would be innovation, creativity, artistic, and imaginative. 1

If you are one of those people who are happy with creating design tech packs and referencing other brand catalogs to build your own then you are suited to work in high street brands that need a touch of creativity and designing but commodities it enough because to be honest, everyone can make anything and everything, but not everyone can design. Therefore there is not a requirement of the above-mentioned keywords in the kind of work that you are looking for. there isn’t much design required when you need to download and work with ready-made-templates.

And both are correct and equally valid.

But for those people, (probably like me) who view design as the foundation of creative and intelligent human expression and that, upon which is built the visual culture of a civilization, design has the responsibility to build better taste and aesthetics. If your mission and passion are towards using design as a language of helping yourself and your clients’ voice who they truly are then commoditization of design needs to be controlled. Because if everyone is using ready-made graphic templates or producing a different just a color variation of the bestselling product of a peer in the market then this is the point where clients in that market compete on price alone, as there isn’t much product or service differentiation and by the virtue of that it's nothing more than just a commodity.

So what am I trying to convey here? What I’m trying to say is that nothing is right or wrong. But you need to choose what is right or not right for you. We need to very practically understand that with digitization and technological advancement everything is going to be freely and widely available to people. Having said that, there will always be ways to keep the sanctity of design intact. You can always create good design and also educate your employer or clients on why good design is measurably going to outperform bad design.

I mean, why not use the power of technological advancement to think of innovative ways to promote, propagate and create good design because “ Design itself will never be a commodity, but the profession of design can be commoditized.” 1


1. How Commoditization Killed the Designer

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