The book is organized in six chapters, each a case study of a complex relationship between makers and consumers. In each, the author goes beyond descriptions of the design and production of canonical modern products and buildings to include the histories of their promotion, display, and reception.
The opening chapter features Peter Behrens’s commission by AEG to create the company’s most public designs: luxury products and the factories that manufactured them, promotional materials and the showrooms that displayed them. While Behrens demonstratively succeeded in creating new forms in response to emerging technologies, he did so for very select objects. His luxury designs for electric tea kettles and fans catered to the norms and aspirations of the bourgeois elite, remaining entirely inaccessible to a general population as yet unable to electrify their homes. AEG and Behrens consciously chose quality over quantity production.
To the Werkbund, street-level display windows were an ideal venue for promoting quality products and good taste. Convinced by the value of these public showcases, the association established an educational initiative aimed at small business owners, supported the development of a new German Museum for Art in Trade and Industry, and opened a trade school for “display window decoration” (93). In stark contrast to the popular, over-stuffed, narrative-based displays in department stores, the Werkbund-approved windows promoted a new objectivity with their sober, architectonic displays. As part of the urban fabric, these shop windows were visually accessible to all, but the displays, like the products within them, appealed to an elite clientele.