Target's Design Democracy

Blogger: Jackie Fox, Media Relations Manager | Omaha, NE, USA
September 16, 2011

I was walking through our kitchen at work recently when design literally stopped me in my tracks. My colleagues Susanne and Trish were chatting by the microwave and as I glanced over, something on the counter caught my eye and I stopped cold.

It was Susanne’s nifty new thermal lunch bag. It looked like a purse with an owl’s head as the flap. When I remarked on how cool it was, she said she had taken her kids back-to-school shopping at Target and couldn’t resist the “owly” purse—I mean, lunch bag.

I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that her new fetish, I mean, lunch bag, came from Target, widely known for democratizing design through their “Design for All” product line.  Their shot across the design bow came in 1999 with the Michael Graves line of home products. Anyone remember the tea kettle? I do, and they’re still selling it. I can’t tell you if the teapot has changed much in 12 years, but it stands out in my memory as an honest-to-goodness designer item anyone could buy, compared to the pricey Alessi tea kettle it resembles.

This was a genius move on Target’s part. While other discounters had enlisted celebrities to sell things, Target was first to emphasize the actual product design, and they still do. You can learn all about their philosophy on their website.

The other thing Target does that’s genius is the way they partner with hip designers on limited edition items. They are able to inspire cravings better than anyone I can think of. I raced out and bought a cute little Rafe straw handbag as soon as another colleague, Joslynn, told me what a big deal Rafe is in Pricey Handbag World. I didn’t have a clue who Rafe was but as soon as I found out, I had to have one of his bags.

Same thing happened with the Christopher Radko Christmas tree cookie jar. I remember when they launched his line of Christmas dinnerware. It was every bit as charming as Spode, a heck of a lot more reasonable, and I yearned for that cookie jar the way I usually just yearn for cookies.

Right now, they’re teaming with famed Milan designer Missoni on more than 400 1960s-inspired  items. The limited-edition line went on sale yesterday and promptly crashed Target’s website. I stopped by the nearest Target after work. Women’s clothing was already picked over and dinnerware was down to a handful of lonely plates on an otherwise empty display.

So here’s to Target; long may they prosper by catering to those of us who love design as much as we love bargains. Nobody does it better.

Image courtesy of Jackie Fox

Reader Comments (6)

Cheers to this post! I'm a fool for Target products as well. Much like Apple, they seem to have a spot-on understanding of their consumers. Everything from the  products they sell to the way their products are packaged complements my design/life style. It should also be noted that Target sells food products by Giada De Laurentiis--yes, I drive 25 minutes out of my way just to buy her pasta sauce.

Jackie's delightful post celebrates a far-sighted retail company that has democratized "Design at a discount." Target, based right in our own Midwest, has raised general design awareness and does a fabulous job of promoting the people behind the products. And some of them are architects! (OK, to brag:  when Target initially contacted Michael Graves, about an architectural project, I was the Communications Director at his office who took their call -- for me, a historic moment.)

How fun, Callie! Thanks for sharing that memory.

Thanks, Michael. This whole Missoni thing has been fascinating--it's a great example of capitalism, or perhaps greed, at work. I read a Denver woman's blog about how her Target outlet was sold out of everything within a half hour of opening. We're a little slower in Omaha; the one I shop at still had rain boots and ballet flats yesterday although the clothing was wiped out. A young woman checking out in front of me purchased two pairs of gloves that I assumed had been sold out. If Bruce hadn't been with me I probably would have turned around and raced back to the glove section!

The Denver blogger talked about how people had camped out in other cities and how people in her store had carts piled up with stuff. A cashier told her people were buying $2,000 and $3,000 worth of stuff and you know they were planning to hawk it on eBay. Sure enough, eBay is loaded with Missoni for Target items. The green corduroy trench coat I purchased at Target for $69.99 has "Buy It Now" prices hovering around twice that much (and one dreamer asking $231 to buy it now. Good luck with that.)

I remember when Target was a discount store on par with WalMart... and then, suddenly, the advertising got really hip, the product lines were much more designed, and people were legit shopping there, just to shop. That took some real savvy to make that transformation so successfully. Good on ya, Target!

I'm so glad you posted this Jackie! Target has always been my go-to store for EVERYTHING - even some groceries. When I visited Omaha for the first time and didn't realize the weather changed on a dime (all I brought were long sleeved shirts for work, naive - I know), guess which store I stopped by first even before checking into my hotel? So, now everyone knows my entire wardrobe that week was from Tar-jay. And I really don't mind confessing that.

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