simulacrum of design

A week or so ago several newspapers and on-line journals had short articles about IKEA ... there had clearly been some sort of press release … and apparently over 70% of images published by IKEA are now computer generated. Basically, all the articles took the same line - isn't it amazing what computers can do now.

Curiously, the more I thought about this the more disconcerting I found it. Rendering of colour, texture and shadow in CGI can be amazing ... just watch any recent film from Pixar ... but why should it be necessary for images, in a catalogue of furniture and household items, to use a computer programme rather than a camera? One statement quoted from IKEA implied that it reduced costs and speeded up the process as items did not have to be sent from the manufacturer to the studio to be photographed.

Several possible problems occurred to me. I do actually look very carefully at photographs to try to judge colour, quality and even construction and proportions to decide if it is worth going to look at the real thing to make the final decision about buying or not. CGI, however good it may be, is one step away from reality. If the food inside a package is not like the picture on the outside we shrug and accept it but surely it is slightly more serious if it is a large or expensive item ordered on line that arrives and really doesn’t look like we imagined it would.

Some would argue that a photo shoot for a magazine, directed by a stylist, is equally removed from reality but, although a magazine or catalogue photograph may be fanciful, it can, never-the-less provide real inspiration. Seeing a slightly different design or a striking new colour which can help when many buyers find it quite difficult to see how that item would or could work in their own home.

If the time from concept and design to the item appearing in the shop is so short that IKEA does not have an opportunity to bring the items to a studio for photography it implies that we are even further down that line than I thought of selling furniture like many companies now sell fashion … encourage a habit of rapidly replacing items that are cheap enough to discard without worrying too much. Are chairs or sofas really no different to T shirts in terms of design, production, marketing and sale?