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Is design still the preserve of the few? : The useful can be beautiful, the beautiful has to be affordable
Is design still the preserve of the few?
The useful can be beautiful, the beautiful has to be affordable
Gérard Laizé, March 26, 2012
SPECIAL FEATURE

Furniture by well-known designers is still elitist in France (and others countries), both in terms of how it is sold and of its prices. The public, however, is keen to invest in decorating their houses and is enthusiastic about products at reasonable prices that add a little something to their home. The market for accessibly priced designer goods is still in its infancy. Designers, now more than ever, have a mission to give a boost to this market and to expand it, keeping in mind that they need to be aware of realistic and practical formats, and respect psychological price thresholds. They also, crucially, need to enter into partnership with retailers and manufacturers. The average value of furniture bought by a French family in 2007 (a third of French families actually bought some furniture) was € 1,265. Homeowners spent € 1,865, whereas tenants spent € 733.

But, although these results that are precise, they have little descriptive power and there is a less graspable appreciation that varies according to the relevant markets: whether the price of a product is in line with the psychological threshold of its target consumer. This is of central concern for the health of the economy. The working group to which the government gave the task of putting forward measures to boost the economy submitted its report in March 2008. Among other things, it reminds the reader of the concept of “the right price, which in people’s imagination, is often linked to the cost of paying a decent wage for the work required to produce the good or service plus a reasonable margin.

Porro Pillet_Nouvelle-Vague
Porro Pillet_Nouvelle-Vague
 
 However, the way prices are determined in the modern economy tends to deviate from this principle. Consumer demand in rich countries is less and less sensitive to a product’s functions only and has become very sensitive to their immaterial value, i.e. their capacity to stimulate their owner’s imagination, to express their support for certain values, to help them construct their identity or to express their belonging to a particular group… This being the case, since there is no objective basis to this immaterial value, the “reserve price” varies from one individual to the next.” Moreover, the sociologist Gérard Mermet, who was a member of this working group, defends the notion of cost/benefit ratio instead of the (obsolete? Ed.) notion of quality/price.

Lampadaire-horloge_Arad Ron
Lampadaire-horloge_Arad Ron
 
The challenge for designer is now to bring together in a significant form both the innovative aspect of the functionalities contained in the product and their ease of use, as well as arousing a particular emotional response. The first criterion can be appreciated on the basis of the product’s performance - they can be measured. The second is evaluated according to how practical it is and how easy it is to use. The third and last depends on how attractive the buyer finds the product, because it makes him feel good, or because the brand’s reputation appeals to him.
It is the formal expression of these different values that mean that the potential buyer, if he is attracted by the product, will appreciate and weigh up its price.
It is nevertheless the case nowadays that the immaterial factors are of greater importance than the material components. The latter are considered as a given and the responsibility of the brand that produces the product. If two products have the same technical characteristics, then it is this reputational value that convinces people to buy a product, however expensive it may be.

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