thinking about :: design democracy

Katie | July 5, 2010

As part of the MyDeco Design Democracy Blog Awards process, I have been asked to write a blog post about what design democracy means to me.
I started by thinking about what the words ‘design’ and ‘democracy’ mean separately.

Design democracy definitions

From those definitions, I got to a definition of ‘design democracy’ that is about creating things around the needs of any user, regardless of who they are; which made me think of the Modernist movement…
…and their ideal of creating design for the masses:


…and more recently the concept behind IKEA, which revolutionised access to good design in the UK…

IKEA concept

But I think there’s been a backlash against mass production and the identikit IKEA-furnished interiors of the 90s – we now seem to be moving into a culture of individuality and mass customisation instead. Look at the resilience of the craft sector during the current recession (see highlights of recent report from the Crafts Council). And taking that even further; the trend for ‘hacking;’ in which users are getting involved in the design process. has some great examples on their site and says; “hacking refers to the act of modifying or customising everyday products to improve their functionality, repurpose them or just for fun. Product hacking isn’t new either, in fact this practice is a basic expression of human ingenuity. Anyone who has tinkered with their telephone or turned an old chair into something else is a product hacker”

My favourite example is Martino Gamper; the ultimate hacker to my mind. He makes some beautiful pieces that really challenge the way you think about everyday objects. This is a film he made for the Design Museum; “Confronting the Chair.”


The idea of involvement in design being opened up to anyone, not just a design-elite, is what design democracy means today, and I think that’s what it really means to me.

For me, design democracy is my twitter feed, it’s sites like and ponoko that give users involvement in designing the products they buy, it’s the public day at 100% Design, it’s furniture design courses at CSM, it’s a little geek like me with no design credentials whatsoever having not only access to all the glorious design out there, but also the chance to engage with it and even comment on it; to me, design democracy is this blog.

I was very reluctant to get involved with social media – I didn’t see its relevance to my life. I’m not particularly interested in mainstream trends or popular culture; or what someone I went to primary school with had for their breakfast.
It was my Social Media Director, Paul Armstrong, who really convinced me to get involved (well, it is his job!). One night after work, I was off to Adrem: Off the Wall, a private view of the East London Printmaker’s latest wallpaper collection, when he suggested I start writing a blog. I thought he was being sarcastic, so I didn’t take him seriously.
But he pointed out that there are other people out there geeky enough to travel halfway across London to see some wallpaper – and that social media could connect me with those people. He also pointed out that there are people who would love to see the wallpaper but just can’t get there.
At the time I was struggling with how to store all the design finds I’d come across in my tiny flat, and thought actually a blog might be a good way to record the things I’d seen, or found, or wanted to see. And it might help me to learn more.
So I did it – and he was right. There are people out there like me, who are interested in what I’m doing (919 and counting!). And twitter has connected me to some fab people, like Jenny Voyce, who also loves PWANP and got married at the Pump House! And writes a great design blog.
This blog has helped me to learn more about design, to develop my ideas and opinions, to connect to like-minded people, to exchange thoughts and ideas with those people and to have a say. And I am in no way an expert; I’m not even a designer – so if that’s not democracy, I don’t know what is!

Further Reading for the Especially Geeky ::

Founding Editor – Katie Treggiden

Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.

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