VC501 – Design Manifesto: 1920’s Consumerism & Industrial Design

Between 1760 and 1860, technological progress, education and an increasing capital stock transformed the world – and the industrial age began. The Great Depression was a big influence in the shift in consumerist culture, people demanded a high-consumption way of life, which was boosted by government subsidies. Money was chosen over time, pleasure and comfort was sought in the purchase of goods, which grew more obsolescent, rather than in the search of collective pleasure or civic virtue. The industrial revolution, as it became to be known, gave workers more income to spend on products and commodities. The industrial revolution was responsible for the rapid transition to the modern age.

Technical innovation during the Industrial Revolution meant machines helped us a society to evolve, things were being made faster, bigger, better than before. Mass production lines meant mass availability, this was the start of consumerism. The world embraced the industrial and commercial boom and society envisioned a new age – of practicality and consumer consciousness, of making the world a better place through commercialism. Constructivism, Futurism and Cubism all helped to created this new modern age. For these industrially produced products, design would be needed. The art & graphic design industries grew vastly (advertising, product design, and branding). After all new cars need design campaigns. 1920’s graphic design and the industrial industry went hand in hand.We are drowning in a sea of fearful and reverse-psychological advertising.

The 1920’s were the start of the mass advertising and marketing campaigns. Clothes, automobiles, technological commodities, home furnishing suddenly became must-haves! Without design innovation, and an endless progression of styles consumers might actually get what they paid for. Heaven forbid.

Mass advertising and marketing campaigns still exist, company’s products are polished up and portrayed in a way that the consumer is never buying the product the company is advertising, surely this type of advertising is wrong. Without exaggerating their product features and socially pressuring consumers into buying their products, they simply either a. wouldn’t sell or b. would sell less.

“Style obsolescence promised to solve the problem of overproduction…By about 1926 automakers had begun to worry about ‘saturation’ of the middle class market for cars—the market that had spurred the dynamic growth of the previous decade. What would happen if everyone who could afford one of the cheapest models already owned a car?”
Duh. They wouldn’t buy one. Let’s just—um—get designers to create new looks and incorporate “new” technology every year! Brilliant! So thus, General Motors is the first to get on the band wagon of introducing yearly models. They have to. Profits are down. What will their children eat? The Model T is kicking their tail in the market.

Overproduction means over saturation in the market, automobile companies were some of the first companies to be worried about this during the 1920s. Obviously they were worried about competition, cheaper cars, if the person buying the car had already purchased one. The simple solution to this was to create a new brand of car every year, with “updated technological features and innovation”. This was the birth of clever advertising, brand and marketing, if a customer has the same car as his neighbor, and the neighbor goes out and buys the new model, the neighbor with the old model – by means of advertisements and social consumerism – will feel inferior because his model is outdated. This is a problem today, with laptops, mobile phones etc. We are forced into thinking that we won’t be happy or won’t be worthy to our friends, or will be mocked, because of our outdated product. This is clever psychological influence from advertising campaigns. And its getting worse.

We as graphic designs have a role to play in stopping this greed, after all consumerism is killing the world. Capitalistic greed has to stop. Products should be advertised for what they are, without any added fluff. The world is moving fast, things are available in an instant, if you want food, its there, if you want a new coat, its there, it takes very little time to acquire anything, and this is hurting our society as whole. Psychologically we have been groomed by advertising and marketing into thinking addictive consumerism will make our lives happy, and it only lasts until we’ve gone out and bought the product, and it become a cycle – with products available at the tip of our fingers, instantly. We need to realise consumer pleasure do not last and like drug addicts society is demanding more and more hits. The essence of consumerism is broken promises ever renewed, create a state of enjoyable discomfort. People propel their daydreams forward, each time attatching them to some longed for object, such as a CD player, Television, sports car etc, but the desires for the object dissappear once they have bought it, because the happiness the product has given them is short lived.

Sections of this post are sourced from: Consumerism in World History: The Global Transformation of Desire by Peter N. Stearns (

Social History – Taylor & Francis Group (


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