Narrative value

Have you ever lusted after a piece of designer lighting or furniture and struggled to justify the price before opting for a cheaper, mass produced version that was 'inspired by' (or at worst a blatant rip off of) the piece that originally caught your eye? I'm sure many of us are guilty of it to some degree, even if we do it unwittingly.

Of course not everyone can afford the price tag of well designed classic pieces and sometimes a cheaper alternative is a perfectly acceptable solution, but I'm a firm believer in buying less and buying better. I'll often do without altogether rather than buy something I see as inferior.

Here's what Elle Decoration editor Michelle Ogundehin had to say about this on her blog a few months ago prior to successfully winning her 'Equal Rights for Design' campaign.

'Classic pieces are priced according to the provenance and authenticity of their components and the skill required to construct them. Cheap reproductions are not about accessibility, as is sometimes argued, they are the perpetration of inferior goods masquerading as “design”. Not being able to afford an original does not legitimise the acquisition of a copy.'

But before Michelle successfully petitioned the government to change the law on design copyright the design industry had already begun its own fightback against the onslaught of cheap mass produced Chinese imports. Many designers now argue for the value of their work by making us aware of provenance, process and skills.

Over a period of prolonged excess consumption prior to the ecomnomic crash many consumers gradually began to feel disconnected from the goods they were buying. Designers have realised this and are trying to re-engage us and persuade us that the goods they are offering us merit the price tag. Think of Mary Portas and her quest to get women to pay £10 for a pair of made-in-Britain-knickers. A key element in her approach was to build a narrative into each pair that was sold, by including the name of the person who made them.

This beautiful Original BTC Stanley table light caught my eye yesterday, and when I watched the accompanying video I began thinking about why it is that so many product launches are now accompanied by videos that show the process through which the object is made.

In the past consumers weren't interested in the manufacturing process, just in the finished product itself and perhaps in seeing it perfectly styled within the context of a lifestyle they could aspire to. But more recently both designers and retailers have become keen to describe the making process in an artful way. Why? Because it adds to the narrative of the product and makes us feel more connected to it, and thus perhaps willing to pay a little more for it. Sometimes it also taps into our nostalgia for an era when the skill of the craftsperson was more highly valued.

You might like to watch this video and then afterwards ask yourself the question "Do you now feel more or less desire to go out and buy this lamp?" My own view is that, regardless of whether or not you can afford the £599 asking price, it is not an unreasonable price to ask in return for the skill, hard work and time of the craftsman who made it and the designer who developed the idea.

If you enjoyed this video, here are a few other 'process' videos that you might also be interested in:

Faceture by Phil Cuttance

Julian Bond's pixel vase casting machine

The making of a suitcase at the Globe-Trotter factory, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire

...and here's some information about that beautiful Stanley Table Lamp

Launched in 2009, Original BTC's Stanley pendants became an instant classic thanks to their pleasing lines and glossy metallic finish. New for London Design Week, Stanley table lights feature hammered metal shades, supported by curved rods on a mirror polished base. Made by hand from solid steel at Original BTC's Birmingham metalworks, the table light is available in either a nickel, copper, brass or weathered finish and is priced at £599.