I can’t think of a time I’ve gone into Ikea to examine finishes or run a hand over fabric options. There is an implied understanding upon entry that the objects on offer are what they are. They don’t ask too much of us and neither should we of them. Products function more like suggestions of symbolic value than being made for daily use and valued for tactility. Ikea is not a space of contemplation but rather one that compresses and lubricates the space between browsing and buying.
Given Ikea, it’s easier to come round to the logic (while it remains unintuitive) of using podcast promo codes to buy objects created in the name of bodily comfort ie. mattresses and couches, that arrive at our homes, pre-purchased, ready to assemble - before our bodies have even confirmed the marketing claims.
Low budget, passive endorsements from podcast sales pitches are hardly romantic consumer experiences, but when the makers of our furniture come from the fields of retail analytics and finance, to run retail pain-management companies (defined by the first level priority of reducing friction between product and consumer rather than directly crafting the object itself) romance is really besides the point. These pitches are really just a redirect to web hubs where we are sure to see the product-cum-model.
If we are no longer selling X object, but X-object’s experience as communicated through Instagram and advertising touch points, where does more traditional craft come in? How does it compare against direct to consumer web vendors whose product choices are incidental so long as they’re opportune? It’s hard to see how a material master can compete with the image crafter when we’re used to sexy portraits of products cropped, lit, and retouched. Distinctions of IRL quality are indistinct and currency is assigned to trends instead.
At the heart of contemporary craft there’s a paradox - craft is about materiality, but given the sequencing of marketing-product touch-points, success looks more like craftspeople as content creators. The symptoms of this shift can be seen in the ways that fine craft has come to be justified in terms more typical of art; concept, cultural commentary, suggestion, and inspiration. The seeming self evident value of a table is no longer self evident. We want the table experience - the table should affirm our lifestyle, support our identity, and arouse our desire in ways that high quality construction and pragmatic functionality in craft workshops just don’t anymore.