Growing up in central Massachusetts, my family would go on a weekly shopping trip to a store called Spag’s. A cash-only, discount department store that carried everything from lightbulbs to citrus. My memories of Spag’s range from the fried dough cart in the parking lot to bumping into my 5th grade math teacher (he was wearing jeans! I was so embarrassed!)
Spag’s had a great run, but when a Walmart opened its doors five minutes down Route 9, it didn’t stand a chance. Slowly my beloved warehouse retailer started making changes to its policies, inventory and pricing, in an effort to compete with the superstore down the street. A fight they inevitably lost.
We tell ourselves this is the nature of commerce. We tell ourselves this is the nature of competition. We lament that what happened to Spag’s is sad, but unavoidable in the American marketplace.
But what happens when the industry and market thrive and depend on nuance, texture and diversity? The very nature of good design is antithetical to homogenization, and it’s terrifying to see the Walmarts of our industry growing ever swiftly and effectively.
We absolutely can’t beat them – these giants are here to stay. But we can acknowledge the importance of the Other. The importance of diversity of thought, textural context of process, and nuance of many design minds; pushing themselves to find a better solution, a better material, a better path than the fastest/cheapest/easiest.
When content, products, or ideas are bandied about by the same small handful of large companies, it endangers the essence of design. These companies are engaged in a self congratulatory monologue that prohibits diversity of voice. But as Colony and so many of our beloved counterparts are discovering, the very act of being and working preserves an alternative perspective; helping to keep the conversation of great, nuanced design alive.