Whatever you may say about the marketing firms that help large corporations sell us products, they generally tap into world-class artistic talent. They also make it their business to track breaking cultural trends aggressively in order to capitalize on them. How interesting, then, that a New York City design firm, Collins, has produced a gorgeous little book, The Triumph of the Commons: 55 Theses on the Future. I find it immensely attractive and artful, if conspicuously incomplete. I also find it fascinating that a respected NYC design firm would have a fairly sophisticated understanding of the commons (at least, digital commons).
But given the firm’s blue-chip clientele, which includes such corporate giants as Johnson & Johnson, Motorola, Sprite, Dove and Microsoft, one must wonder: Is this the beginning of the corporate cooptation of the commons? Or merely a sign that the corporate world is starting to realize that it must respond to people’s palpable yearning for the commons? Another question: How much daylight exists between a marketing/design firm and its corporate clients, which tend to be more interested in monetizing and enclosing the commons than in defending it?
Collins is clearly a firm that has a grip on the Zeitgeist. It describes itself as “a multi-disciplinary design firm specializing in igniting mass collaboration.” It adds, “The next generation of great brands will emphasize not mass communication but mass collaboration. That means transforming your brand into a platform where communities discover, make and share new value in cooperation with your company.” Very astute.
Collins sees this line of thinking as naturally leading to the commons. The Triumph of the Commons, which it self-published late last year, is an “exquisite corpse,” a method of creating art pioneered by the Surrealists that relies upon the sequential, collective assembly of images or words. As Wikipedia describes it, an exquisite corpse is made when “each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule (e.g. “The adjective noun adverb verb adjective noun”) or by being allowed to see the end of what the previous person contributed.” Thus, one artist draws on one quadrant of a piece of paper, then folds it over – and another adds to the drawing without seeing what the first artist already drew. A third artist follows, and so on.