Design is a renewable resource
03/27/2014 - 08:36

Mention the word ‘design’ and I’ll tell what you want to see and hear. That’s the extent of the design debate in Finland, it seems. We are passionate about design, but we don’t like to show it – most of us do in fact have a view about what makes an object attractive, surroundings stylish, everyday life more efficient, or a chair comfortable. And that’s how it should be. But not everyone is a designer, of course. What’s more, the job of the designer has not progressed very far since the early industrial age.

The goal of design training is that designers should design objects for mass production, for the production of profit. The digitalisation and technological modernisation of industry has made things easier in all sorts of ways. Reproducing objects is simpler, their prices have come down and the designer’s imagination is much less restricted. As long as the objects are in demand, their supply can be increased almost limitlessly.

But there is a danger to this. Landfills, warehouses and all other places besides are brimming over with an excessive amount of rejected stuff, leftover raw materials and unsold objects. Humanity is fouling its own nest at an unprecedented rate.

"Greenwash" has become a negative concept. As a result, the word ‘ecological’ can even alienate consumers, who may be much more interested in acquiring a long sought after design object for the home than giving any thought to environmental values. Despite this, sustainable values should constitute a fundamental goal for all industrial production if we wish life on earth to continue 100 years from now.

In 2011, the English designer Jasper Morrison (b. 1959) refused to take part in a furniture exhibition in which the theme was the eco-friendly chair. He said this was because the most eco-friendly thing we can do is not to design any new chairs at all. The most resource-efficient way of acquiring a chair would be to buy it second hand and carry it home on foot. This would avoid the adverse environmental effects produced in manufacturing and the costs of transport, and would mean reusing an object that was otherwise likely to go to a landfill.

Despite the cynicism of Morrison’s reaction, the idea is that even a partial realisation of this approach would lead to a slowing of the environmental degradation caused by human activity and by its footprint.

A convenient, standardised, modern way of assessing the environment impact of manufacturing would be very useful when it comes to the design sector and industrial design in general, and especially if it were a phone app. It would also be a great concept for service designers to develop and introduce.

Moderation in consumption and a return to the virtues of mending, servicing and questioning one’s needs are, it seems, becoming fashionable. What’s more, the combination of new technical applications and a well-considered design process will bring consumers design that has a meaning beyond being just another product. I think a good example of this are the ceramic, digital Unmonday speakers. These combine high technology, design and classic materials in a novel way.

"Little but good" could serve as a guiding principle for every designer.

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Workday designer
Workday Designers
VP, Customer Supply Management
Martela Oyj
Director, Education
Vice President, Innovation to Market

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