Design as social commentary.

For all the time I’ve spent (and believe me, it’s been an OBSCENE amount of time) working on charity projects, I don’t possess much of a social conscience. I’m not an activist (though I do hold strong opinions on many things and I am a furious supporter of the City of New York) , I don’t talk about politics much (having a politician as a parent growing up has jaded me- honestly, I just don’t *care* what your politics are as long as I don’t have to hear about them)   I don’t suffer from any kind of Panda Guilt.  For me, design isn’t an exercise in social commentary.  I just don’t have it in me to create clever takes on cultural mores, since I find most cultural mores to be complete shit and not worth my attention.

So a couple of days ago, Dezeen coughed this one up, and I just sat there thinking “wow, that’s a hell of a punch for 3 small products.”

What am I talking about? This.:




Let’s talk about what these things are.

They’re scales, designed by Alice Wang, called “Asimov’s First Law”.  If you’re not as geeky as I am, the law in question is this one:

 “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”

I am not entirely sure a scale qualifies as a robot, but okay I’ll let that one slide.  The top one is called “Half Truth”.  The premise is that the person on the scale cannot read it themselves. They are required to have someone else there to read the scale for them (and I suppose it’s up to the scale reader as to whether or not they want to tell the person on the scale the truth.)  The second, even more creepy, is called “Open Secret”.  The person weighing themselves has no idea what the results are. The results are transmitted via SMS to someone else, who then can immediately do whatever they want with that information, I suppose.  The bottom one is called “White Lies”, which operates on the principle that the farther back you stand on the scale, the less the scale says you weigh.

The first time I saw this set and read the article, I was horrified.  I mean genuinely horrified.  Worse still was the fact that the few comments that had come in seemed to think it was funny and lighthearted.  Except it’s not.  What the article *doesn’t* say (and it’s a dis-service to the designer, because this really should be mentioned up front) is that Alice Wang isn’t being cute.  Her bio states “She often uses products to illustrate human behaviours, social taboos and social trends. Her products question why people do what they do and how it will evolve over time leading onto other possible behaviours.” 

And when I read that the penny dropped, and I went from horrified to absolute AWE at the genius of this. Because if there were ever a way to shine a light into the dark corner of the psyche on the issue of weight and how it’s related to shame by designing a product? Oh, this has GOT to be it.  This is brilliant.  We’re used to seeing social commentary as visual art (paintings, murals, graphic design, and photography) and as words of course, but product design? Not so much- which makes this even more brilliant.

I think these products achieve her point like a nail gun driving it home.  Nice.