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With the introduction of machines and mass production into the world,
artists and designers were forced to rethink their practices, the results were extremely
extensive and, to this day, still influence many creators all over the world. Modernism
covered many different disciplines, it strived to renovate the traditional artistic
and literary activities made before the end of the nineteenth century. The
first half of the twentieth century saw an intensification of the debates and
ideas that had begun to support the practice of modern architecture and design.
This was particularly evident in the 1920’s, when many progressive architects,
artists and designers discussed the relevance of their work in the context of a
broader panorama of cultural modernity and technological change. Modernists had
a distinct set of criteria that they valued, which many intellectuals,
designers, architects and historians such as Nikolaus Pevsner or Glenn Parsons have
analyzed and discussed. This essay will discuss this criteria in the context in
which Modernism was created. It will also ask the question: Does our
contemporary design fit the criteria that Modernists valued?, Can we surely categorize
designs as Good Designs or Bad Designs, or is Design completely subjective?. Hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi
hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi


Glenn Parsons, a Philosophy professor from Ryerson University, explained
Modernism thoroughly in his book “The Philosophy of Design”. He started by
explaining its origin, which did not come from what we consider today the Design
realm. Modernism was born with the Industrial Revolution, which completely altered
society by producing a new social class, the industrial working class. This
workers did dangerous, and somewhat futile, industrial jobs while the rich
industry owners produced staggering amounts of money. Besides the social change
Industrialization caused, it also changed our material world with the Introduction
of  mass production, which eliminated autonomy
and craftsmanship.  Modernists strived to
bring back the human element of society, to bridge the gap that had been formed
between people and our material world. Many writers, such as William Morris and
John Ruskin conveyed this reform to Design, asking philosophical questions
about its aim. Morris thought mass produced products were badly designed
compared to the previously more authentic craftsmanship, the new designs were made
to fit the taste of the Bourgeois. Many early Modernist compared the poorly
designed goods being mass produced to the quality of life at the moment. On
this context, even
though many Modernists criticized the rise of industrialization and use of machinery,
some thought that it could be an agent of change for our society. Designers now
had the opportunity to mass produce affordable and functional goods for people
of every class

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Another key pillar of Modernism was explained by
Parsons, he said: “Modernism was, from
its beginnings, a normative movement, which sought to identify not merely
popular Design, but good Design”. It can be argued that “popular” design,
the one preferred by the uneducated masses, does not necessarily mean “good”
design. Modernists were against the excessive and meaningless ornamentation of
goods. Nevertheless, Modernists did not just want to revolutionize and
modernize the aesthetic look of things, they wanted to “break down the
traditional distinctions between design and other fields of human activity.”1
Walter Gropius, a key Modernist figure and founder of the Bauhaus School also said:
“the idea of the fundamental unity
underlying all branches of design was my guiding inspiration in founding the
original Bauhaus” (1965,61). To summarize, Modernists views on design were closely
related to the social and political panorama in the arts. They were not
striving to just improve the look of products, they wanted to produce
functional goods that would also improve the quality of life of the people who
bought them, even if they didn’t follow the “popular” taste. An interesting question to ask is: How did
Modernists strive to create universally accepted products without following the
“popular”, highly ornamented taste? This proved to be a challenge. Nevertheless,
they were firm in their belief that “form follows function”, and that by
producing products that are useful as well as functional, not meaningless, they
were improving the social fabric of life.

1 Glenn parsons 

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