Design Scorecard: Who’s Winning and Losing the Recession?

The economic upheaval has wreaked havoc on the world of design. Which brands are thriving despite the financial woes and which have been decimated, perhaps forever?

The belief that the recession might be over didn’t last long in the United States after yesterday’s bad news regarding July’s weak retail sales and weekly jobless claims. The cruel rebuke, after so many signs of optimism, led us to a measure of introspection about the State of the Design Economy. As the Great Recession chugs on, at least for a bit, who are the design industry’s winners and losers?

Moss LA

Loser: Rarified Design Retailers Do you smell something? It’s the whiff of death coming from design emporiums such as Moss that rode the coattails of irrational exuberance, but failed to adjust themselves to the new consumer reality. The economy may come back, but the appetite for limited-edition gold-painted centerpieces and hand-molded clay dining chairs will not. In fact, they already feel like relics from a bygone era.


Winner: Etsy If anything came out of the recession it was a fresh appreciation for the kind of homespun items sold on Etsy, the four-year-old online marketplace for handmade goods. The site had record sales on Sept. 29th, the day the stock market plunged sharply, and it continued to break records as conditions deteriorated during last year’s holiday season. The post-crash consumer seems to want to feel a direct personal connection with the designer or craftsman, just as she does when she buys carrots or milk at a farmer’s market.

domino magazine

Loser: Shelter Magazines The recession required glossies to cultivate their lifeline to luxury advertisers while bowing to readers’ budget concerns. It was a delicate balance–too delicate for many. Domino, House & Garden, In Style Home, Blueprint, Home, Cottage Living, O at Home, and Country Home all closed. The bell may toll for more: Dwell has lost almost half its advertising in the last year, according to The New York Times, and rumors circulate that Architectural Digest, the grande dame of shelter, may soon be shuttered.


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Winner: Design blogs The lust for design porn didn’t disappear; it just migrated to design blogs such as Apartment Therapy, Materialicious, and Remodelista (above) where houses, rooms, and furnishings are shown in a more personable, less institutional tone than magazines. Page views for Apartment Therapy, for example, have more than tripled since the beginning of 2008, according to Alexa, a tracking service.