// BarryBlog //

A creative dumping ground for issues that interest me personally and professionally, with the thought they may interest you too. Issues such as the business of design, the design of business, the design of objects, design strategy, creative direction, innovation, creativity, thought leadership, observations, as well as recommendations, mid-century modern decorative arts and architecture, and the state of my thinking (and currently the state of my heart).

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Terminology: What is Modern?

Recently I was emailing back and forth with a Flickr friend who has an amazing eye and fortune for all things thrift shop. We spoke about how often people misuse the word "modern" when they are describing something "new" or "now." But I believe it's worth clarifying that "Modern" really has more to do with design approach than time. Dieter Rams designed products in the 1960's which are nearly 50 years old now, and yet are all considered modern today. They are also retro and vintage.

Just a thought.

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Anonymous Carol said...

This bothers me too. Here's my take. From a seriously lay-person perspective, I used Moderne (note the e - I sound like an idiot, I'm sure, but MO Dairn is how I say it) to describe mid century design and modern to describe things that are new. Mod describes '70's for me, but that's another thing all together.

9:50 AM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

Hi Carol.

I've also seen that "e" used at the end and can't tell if it's just someone trying to be fancy or if it has value to clarify. I have also seen people say "Mid-Century Moderne." The word "Mod" is associated in the minds of many as a time period of the 70's, but worth noting for the point of this conversation is while Mod period includes a lot of kitsch fashion, decorative objects, furniture and the like, many of those things are by no means modern.

I've always interpreted Modern as a decidedly intentional approach to design, typically one which rejects excessive ornamentation, and is approached with a simplicity and clarity of thought. The architectural work of Marcel Breuer in the mid-century differs greatly from Eric Owen Moss who is a contemporary, but both are modern to me for these reasons.

Thanks for stopping by.

11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your take, Barry, and it's helpful, I think. That's pretty much how I learned to think of the word, too.

I grew up in a Victorian house with Victorian furnishings (pretty awesome collection, including this fantastic parlor collection with a matching pipe organ!). Anyway, Modern design grabbed my attention, since my experience had been of such an ornate environment!

My introduction to the appraoch was via my grandmother. She had interesting/cool taste and included some awesome pieces (furniture/art) in her own home.

1:05 PM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

Maybe the word "contemporary" works in instances someone is trying to communicate new or current. I know modern's not the best word for this.

5:13 PM  
Blogger ojibway said...

Hi all,
I recently joined Flickr (eyeseenicee)and had wonderful comments from Barry re my Kenwood mixers. Thank you!
Anyway, I reckon that the reference 'modern' is anything that sits comfortably within the context of current/contemporary design. This includes many, if not most, midcentury designs, with some outstanding examples, eg. the Eames Aluminum group. You will see these (and other designs) almost any photo of 'modern/contemporary' interior in current publications as well as in the Houses of Parliament and on the ITV chanel News studio.

You might like the cover of this brochure, Barry - http://www.eamesoffice.com/vintage/sales_materials_detail.php?id=13 which can be downloaded as a PDF file.

7:51 AM  
Blogger ojibway said...

Just wanted to add -
the way the word 'retro' is used bothers me.
Retro, to me means something that has been deliberately designed to represent a past design period. Not necessarily a 're-issue' but a product that maybe tries too hard to look like it was designed 50 years ago but has obviously not. Some of these vinyl to USB record players on offer, come to mind.
Where as an Alu group chair is definitely NOT retro!
Retro designs will often lack the sponteneity of the earlier designs and include technology that we did not have back then!

8:13 AM  

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