Market Values: Mapping design values from post-Soviet markets

These three posters take a look at the aesthetics of ‘cheap’ stuff, sold at markets in Estonia, both online and on the street. From these markets, I have collected images of objects that are low-price, therefore often presumed to have low design value as well. It is quite telling that a crochet tablecloth on platforms selling second-hand is not called ‘design’ at all. Or the fully decorated living rooms on real estate sites were not arranged by ‘designers’. And the dresses I have photographed around fruit vendors can’t be bought from ‘designer stores’. 

I’m interested in what kind of design values this cheap market aesthetics does embody, even if still invalidated by both market capitalism and the Western design canon. 

Market 1: the online second-hand

The few times I have moved to another country, I quickly looked for the local ‘ebay’. I think most countries have at least one of those ‘monster’ second-hand online markets where you can buy and sell anything. Such places are very messy and complex, but over time I came to extract a feeling for the local material world: the aesthetic history of the area, the emotional geography of what’s currently hot and what’s not.

To deep-dive in these markets – as I did with my research on Estonian – it takes a lot of scrolling, but I have seen things that I wasn’t accustomed to, that surprised my image-fatigued eyes as a rare treat in my otherwise screen-full life. 


It’s fascinating how disoriented I felt in the middle of the different patterned fabrics and clothing I saw on these sites when at the same time, I’m capable of judging a pair of jeans on a webshop only by the colour of its seams. Patterns have quietly been around me all my life, yet my eyes are so untrained in looking at such ornamentation, that I could only guess which of the patterns are outdated or currently trending. When starting this research, I wouldn’t even know if or how to prefer one pattern over another.

Now I’m starting to see how decorative practices of covering blank spaces with patterns, adding ornaments, adding knick-knacks, all of these, ultimately form a practice of stitching together people, places, and time. Decoration has the power to do so, bypassing our brains and, instead, talking straight to our senses and memories.

Looking at all the ladies sitting in patterns inspired by nature, I’m reminded how they are making themselves porous to their environment, voicing their relationship to the outside world by a covering that goes over and beyond themselves and their things. Looking at this decorated world long enough, an empty white space can suddenly appear as a statement of silence and detachment more than anything else.

Market 2: online real estate

I like to scout online real estate markets for interior design inspiration (I mostly browsed the Estonian I admit it, some of the images have given me an ironic pleasure, I have gasped at many stucco-covered fake marble bathrooms. But there are also interiors with so much heart and expression that I truly admire, interiors that I cannot find anywhere else. In the lowest price section, it is obvious that the interiors are not adding anything to the price of the place. There wasn’t any real estate agent to ‘clean up’ and style the rooms according to an assumed popular taste.

These kinds of spaces I’ve never encountered in design magazines. Nor on Pinterest boards. Not documented by any museums as far as I’ve looked. I’ve only met similar spaces in physical reality, undocumented by public design discourse.


With this project, I’ve thought about the transitions that can only happen in decorated spaces. I see things trying to merge into each other, adding stickers and wallpapers and objects creates a buzzing space where the different elements hold each other in place. Crochet tablecloths on every flat surface are like mediators between the furniture and the vases. These seemingly unfunctional objects are like the distant cousins of rococo spaces where you almost can’t distinguish the couch’s margins from the beginning of the wall, and vice versa.

In terms of graphic design, this makes me think of how the assumed use of an image is that of one without any frame.

There is a display of sincerity attached to that, keeping things clean to give a sense that nobody is toying with the viewer. But what if the decorations are more meaningful, more honest about the designer’s role on the page, about the photographer’s role in framing the image, about the person’s role in dressing the interior – the inevitable subjectivity all of these roles carry.

Market 3: street market

There is a market across the street from my home in Tallinn, where I go for seasonal food products – the market season explodes with fresh strawberries in June and wraps up with jams and sauerkraut before Christmas. The racks of clothes change their patterns with the season. There is a smell of fresh bread, always infused with the fish smell coming from the kiosk next door.

This market looks so unkept and ‘dirty’ compared to the gentrified markets but has become dear to me precisely because it is one of those rare places in the city that is not yet designed by any one person or one team. It has grown organically and sporadically over time, with DIY kiosks and little shelters to sell from. It is not (yet) sterilised and designed, not yet a market for ‘political consumption.’[n] It is still too ugly and dirty for that, unfiltered; not a lot of inspection seems to be involved, sellers only validated by the trust they’ve built with their customers.


Referencing Bauhaus or ‘scandi’ design has a high currency in the culture that I come from. Relating to the heritage of modernism adds value, maybe even more so culturally than economically. By comparison, the messy decorated material world I see at my local markets must be carrying a very different, almost rebellious and subversive value system in order to continue being that cheap.

There is some valuable knowledge hidden in that reluctance to surrender to the Western ‘good taste,’ which I think is worth unlocking, for the humble purpose of imagining a more self-confident, sustainable, and optimistic future for the role a designer plays.

[n] In Do we have a moral obligation to the market?, Marija Nemčenko describes a ‘Westernized’ and sterilised version of a street market, which is “presenting a hyper-ethical way of participating in capitalism that is masked as political action … one can consume in a sanitised and modern fashion, while fully embedding the practice … in the Western understanding of trade. One consumes not only the product but a glossy shell of political connotations attached to it.” (Kajet Journal, Issue No. 3 – 2019, p.138)

See the whole project at: or @pafkabrit on instagram.
Brit Pavelson - I was born on the island of Saaremaa in Estonia, and I’m currently based in Tallinn. I have studied at the Estonian Academy of Arts, got my BA in graphic design from the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, and my MA in Visual Communications from the Konstfack University in Stockholm. I have worked as a graphic designer in various roles that went from designing city signage systems to making catalogues and visual identities for art projects. Recently I have developed a more independent artistic practice while still using the tools of graphic design. My work has been exhibited, for instance, in Tallinn Art Hall and Kumu Art Museum.