Letters. Updates. Advice.

Design’s Next Diva

Linda Tischler’s article “The Future of Design” (July/August) was great. Design does matter. In my business, designing and branding retail environments, we see great retailers increasingly interested in great design. In the ’90s, consumers were obsessed with value. This trend gave us Wal-Mart and other big-box retailers selling large assortments at seemingly good prices. Today’s consumer wants differentiation. Even Wal-Mart shows signs of responding to this with new design initiatives. Your article validates what we’re seeing in the retail marketplace.


James R. Tippmann
Cincinnati, Ohio

I am the director of CEDIM, a school of design in Monterrey, Mexico. Fast Company is one of my favorite magazines because you always feature articles about design and innovation. These powerful ideas are some of the main forces behind the economic, social, and cultural developments of our time. I strongly believe that design offers great hope and opportunities to developing countries like mine, so it’s great to see a business magazine creating awareness about the power and importance that design has in our lives and in our organizations.

Michael García Novak
Monterrey, Mexico


Thank you for your recent article focusing on furnishings design. In jest, I sometimes call furniture our “silent servants,” because furnishings are literally everywhere we go and support almost all activities we perform, yet rarely get the attention or credit they deserve. Your article helps raise awareness that objects can enhance our lives.

You mentioned that the output of High Point, North Carolina, was bland. Although much of the furniture purchased by the public is inspired by design influences that are centuries old, I wondered if you have actually walked the showroom floors of the High Point market? Or the new Las Vegas show? Furniture is a global business: North and South America, the Far East, and Europe all influence the design, manufacture, and marketing of these products at these shows. It seems as though your article really only took into account a relatively small portion of the furniture world.

The world is a big place to furnish. Let’s enjoy the variety that’s out there and not take ourselves too seriously.


Steve Wilcox
Columbus, Ohio


As a person who has read a whole lot of articles about how to fix the city of Detroit, I really enjoyed “Rise of the Aerotropolis” (July/August). Americans are used to having the rest of the world look to us for what to do. Your story shows that we could learn a thing or two by looking to the rest of the world. Economics teaches you over and over again that it’s not what you think, but what works. Thanks for publishing this innovative option for revitalizing one of the great U.S. cities.

Andrew McFarlane
Leland, Michigan


Your aerotropolis story raised a compelling question for urban planners and developers: Is it possible for these megacities to embody the livable-city and New Urban theories of Jane Jacobs and Andrés Duany? The aerotropolis has the potential to be an incredibly vibrant destination. The sheer population density creates the demand for retail, restaurant, and nightlife options that could rival those of New York or London. However, if these megacities are not planned well, they could become a larger version of Stamford or downtown Miami–convenient places to work, but not somewhere that you would want to live.

As a Boston-area developer and consultant to municipalities, I would also be concerned about the noise that would come with living near any airport, let alone a global hub. As aerotropoli get built, I would expect the value of real estate in nearby, traditionally scaled neighborhoods to escalate as residents continue to see the charm of a livable, human-scaled community.

Constantine A. Valhouli
Bradford, Massachusetts


“Rise of the Aerotropolis” does a good job of explaining Professor John Kasarda’s interesting ideas. However, he falls into all-too-common tropes about New Urbanism. Kasarda is talking about structuring cities for business; New Urbanists talk about making cities livable for people. These two ideas aren’t exclusive. Put an airport in the center of town? Fine, but make sure that the areas where the people live are walkable, dense, and mixed use. Or are these ideas too “retro,” as writer Greg Lindsay implies?

Tim Halbur
San Francisco, California

I note that the words “peak oil” and “global warming” appear nowhere in Greg Lindsay’s “Rise of the Aerotropolis.” As I see it, an aerotropolis is a multibillion-dollar infrastructure balancing precariously on a petro-dependent air-freight industry, to accelerate the creation of a planetwide sweatshop producing gewgaws for Wal-Mart.


And it is doomed. Oil-fueled, growth-dependent megacorporations, militaries, and governments are dinosaurs, frantically mating in their desperate attempts to survive, and producing monstrous offspring such as aerotropoli. Wasting our precious time, money, and energy on nightmare projects like the aerotropolis is criminally insane.

Rick Ostrander
Columbia, Maryland

Measuring Cool

Is cool really important for brands (“A Craving for Cool,” July/August)? Absolutely. A cool brand gives you loyal customers who become product evangelists. Part of their identity becomes association with using a cool product. Why wouldn’t they talk about something that in a transitive way makes them cool? Unfortunately, you can’t measure cool–heck, you can barely define it. Also, cool for one target user segment may be totally uncool for another. All of these things make the pursuit of cool a tough endeavor. Still, either with an outsider or going it alone, cool is worth it.


Sean Ellis
Boston, Massachusetts

Talking to Customers

I really enjoyed Ian Wylie’s article on what David McQuillen is doing with Credit Suisse in “experience immersion” (“Talk to Our Customers? Are You Crazy?” July/August). We also find that many executives tend to insulate themselves from their customers and are horrified when they actually experience the customer journey first hand. However, I don’t think he’s right that “you can do this stuff in two or three days.” These ideas should be tested against customer opinion to determine the true relative value and importance to the customer.

Dann Allen
Atlanta, Georgia


Open Debate About China

China will not be able to dispel its image as a producer of “cheap, low-quality imitations” (to quote Professor Ming Zeng) until its companies learn to market themselves as the leaders they–often rightfully–see themselves as being. It’s not about being internationally competitive, as Elizabeth C. Economy argues; it’s about globalizing China’s innovations, advantages, and brands. Most Americans can’t name a single Chinese brand. From Haier to CNOOC to Geely, Chinese brands continue to demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of successful branding and positioning in the United States. Until that changes, policy shifts and political evolution will never be sufficient to launch China into economic superpower status.

Josef Blumenfeld
Natick, Massachusetts

You Wish You Slept Here

I travel 200-plus days a year and stay in oh-so-many hotels (“Space Shot: Hyatt Headquarters,” July/August). They try to outdo each other with fluffy beds, yet fail on other design and service features. I also negotiate contracts for clients who book meetings at Hyatt and other hotels. I have two wishes for Hyatt as it sharpens its focus on design across all its properties: Institute some neat, clean design features like it did in its headquarters, and bring all its sales and service staffs to the home office to open their brains to some creative thinking about how to work with customers. Such a superb space has to inspire some new thinking.


Joan Eisenstodt
Washington, DC

AIDS and China

I was interested to read about the AIDS poster photographed in Beijing’s subway as “evidence of [China’s] economic and social transformation” (“Underground Movement,” July/August). Such ads are the party’s way of conveying this belief without actually acknowledging the severity of the crisis or taking the necessary actions to solve it. In this ad, AIDS is written big in English for the benefit of foreign readers, who see the ribbon and candle images that are associated in the West with fund-raising and other social action. But in China, this is purely a cosmetic effect. The poster reads, “It is all society’s responsibility to fight AIDS.” That’s an empty message that neither directs nor educates readers on how to protect themselves or partners. When China begins to teach contraception and safe sex in high-school health classes, screen blood donations, and test all migrant workers for HIV, that will be a true social transformation.

Chris Barclay
Guangzhou, China


Fast Fix

In our September article “Plastic Planet,” the products’ markets did not appear correctly due to a printing error. They are (from left to right) Indonesia, Korea, and France.

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