More examples of designing while Rome burns.

The Guardian's Andrew Clark reports that some clever rogue has lit upon the idea of overcharging for rubbish by wrapping it up in some nicely designed packaging.

If the package looks pretty, people will buy just about anything. So says an advertising executive in New York, and he has proved his point by selling boxes of rubbish for the price of an expensive bottle of wine. Justin Gignac, 26, has offloaded almost 900 carefully presented plastic cubes of trash from the street of the Big Apple at between $50 (£26) and $100 each. Buyers from 19 countries have paid for the souvenirs. The idea has been so successful that he is thinking of franchising it around the world.

Although this is obviously a rather extreme example, it's not particularly surprising. In fact, I seem to recall Billy Connolly once voicing a similar idea.

Of course, the traditional way to sell people shit has been to call it art, so perhaps design is just catching up. There is also the rather distinct possibility that Gignac's customers find it all rather amusing and 'conceptual' - the hellish and empy-headed spectre of post-modernism mated with vast excesses of wealth, so to speak.

There is also the even more distinct possibility that said advertising executive has thought up a rather clever way to market himself as a brand and get lots of newspaper and blog coverage - in which case, I would like to apologise to readers for being so thoroughly sucked-in to the artificial, twilight world of media whoredom.

Being serious for a moment, of course packaging sells the product. As does advertising. As does branding. All otherwise known as design. Commercial design is a central fact of economic life in the modern world and, as such, whether you approve or despair is little more than 'boo-hurrah' emotivism, for which I can direct you to the department of applied philosophy: cf. non-cognitivism. As the woman with the tasteful hair rinse said: there is no alternative.

Of course, there is also the very real issue of the commodity fetishism which props up our very existence as designers and, in my case, commentators.

In a decadent economy, by which I mean one that engages in speculative and surface activity rather than actual production, it's hardly surprising that we place more value on boxes than their contents, is it? Life as a nightmarish Christmas day, every day...

Meanwhile, Architectures of Control in Design points out how design is increasingly used against people, rather than for them:

Increasingly, many products are being designed with features that intentionally restrict the way the user can behave, or enforce certain modes of behaviour. The same intentions are also evident in the design of many systems and environments.

Expect this issue to crop up increasingly as electronic devices, software and their cleverly disguised evil interfaces increase in importance in our daily lives. It's enough to drive me to Linux. Almost.

Nevertheless, the issue runs deeper than that, even. Think about control by design the next time you're out and about and need some space to sit for a moment. Is a commercial space the only option open to you? Or how about when you're in a train station and the only 'seat' is actually a perch and is located in an uncovered area, open to the rain?

Thanks to the Design Observer. And to you, dear reader, for sticking through this to the end.