The changing face of design in the economic downturn


An examination of how the recession has influenced design, and how it will evolve in the future

Remember back in 2008 when we were at the beginning of the financial turmoil that still meanders on today? Well, back then there was a lot of speculation about how the economic downturn was going to affect design; would design revert and become antiquated? Would it become pared back? Or would design lose meaning as the luxury of design training lost affordability?

As time has passed, we have been compelled to look back to our past – as translated in the wave of heritage, nostalgia and…an aggressive enthusiasm for bunting. We also saw the appeal of stripping back fussiness and detail, simplifying and paring back.

That beige fashion trend from 2010. (L – R: Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Chloé, 3.1 Phillip Lim)
That beige fashion trend from 2010. (L – R: Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Chloé, 3.1 Phillip Lim)

A number of brands like Coors and Weetabix have capitalised on this bandwagon, artfully treading a sweet spot between nostalgia and provenance, whilst reaffirming expertise at the same time.

The unexpected twist in this tale comes in what the ‘big leading theme’ in design will be next. We’ve already gone minimal, we’ve stared through our rose-tinted glasses and reminisced, but as we’re still unfortunately suffering economically, where do we go next?

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Coors of the past? And the age of bunting: Weetabix

A couple of weekends ago London (known as a hotbed of creativity for many) hosted Fashion Week, showcasing everything that the newest UK fashion designers have to offer. TBP went along to get a feel for where design is going in the coming year, and it seems change is afoot…

After a quick whizz around the exhibitions it was quite clear that overtness, clashing-colours, use of graphic imagery out of context, and the mixing of contrasting textiles and materials are leading the way. Such a lavish, decadent, ‘shouty’ and – lets face it – un-British approach to fashion is a far cry from the matchy-matchy beige that dominated the catwalk at the beginning of the recession.

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Mary Katrantzou





(L-R: Louise Gray & Tatty Devine, Mawi, Sophia Webster, Erickson Beamon, Sister by Sibling, Mary Katrantzou)

And we’re noticing already that other product categories are following this model. For example, Haier (a consumer electronics company) has turned up the impact-o-meter to 10 with their latest offering at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Haier Washing machine


Key to this trend is its attention-seeking nature, reflecting our newfound ability to converse with brands.

As a reaction to diminishing sub-cultures, and in some ways limited creativity when it comes to groundbreaking design (i.e. have we run out of designs?) these manifestations play up on the means we have already, accentuating and dressing up things we have seen before.


For now, we will have to accept the noise and marvel at design as if it were sweets in a sweet shop. The question remains however, as to what will be left when the sweet shop allure fades and design stops shouting? Lets hope an improved economic situation will spur on something new and innovative, sooner rather than later.