Design is Dangerous

What do these objects have in common?

130909-cr-prehaeder TOO

The History of Sustainable Design is the title of a book, which my friend Nici recently recommended to me for two reasons; the first reason being its profound relevance to any creative endeavor aimed at creating a new product or service. Everyone who is or will be involved in product development should read it to compensate for poor consumer behavior – or, as one of the authors, Davide Brocchi, describes the problem in brilliant lucidity:

Humans behave like stupid dogs.
Not only do they graze all available food off the earth’s surface,
but they simultaneously cover it with their own shit.
140916-cr- GdnD Front LQ

If we want to live beyond the year 2030 – the year in which the size of the world population will demand the extraction of twice the resources from this planet than it did in 2009 (SERI), logic dictates that we will be forced to consume not only a little less, but precisely half as much than we do today. If we aimed for a fair distribution of resources among all nations, the ‘developed’ world would even have to cut their consumption by a factor of 10. That sounds like a sacrifice and a loss of comfort. It is not – all that is required is a shift of paradigms.

In an era of industrial mass production, everything requires blueprints and planning, thus design has become an important instrument for humans to shape the world around them and essentially themselves. A social and moral responsibility weighs heavy on the designer’s shoulders; even more so as the functionalization of the industrial designer’s creativity today no longer finds its expression through the formula “form follows function” but rather through the formula “design follows market” or more precisely “design follows money” (Alberto Bassi).

The Austrian designer Victor Papanek put it this way: “Although not many, there are professions which cause more damage than industrial designers do. Most likely there is only one other profession that is even more hypocritical: advertising, to convince people to buy goods which they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people who don’t care – that is probably the most evil of professions. […] Grown up people spending time to design electrical hairbrushes, diamantéd shoehorns and mink carpets, then developing complicated strategies to produce and distribute them to the millions, are a symptom of our times. […] New kinds of resilient trash that defaces our environment and processes, which pollute the air we breathe, have rendered the Designer a dangerous professional.”

Design with a high degree of functionality and aesthetics alone does not lead to a good product. The briefing must indicate ecological, social, cultural and emotional qualities to lead to a sustainable outcome. Such strategy does not require the design process to become a subordinate to moral responsibility, it rather requires the emancipation of the intrinsic human nature: the designer as part of society must embrace his civil duty and do what’s best for his tribe instead of pea-brained bowing to his client’s demands.

The second reason for Nici’s recommendation of this book are the exemplary products featured witin: Dyson, Apple, Freitag and Papernomad. What these companies have in common is their strategy of constructive scepticism for existing paradigms.

Dyson, Apple and Freitag did not just improve upon earlier designs but invented new solutions that solve existing problems and comply with the principles of social, economic and eclogical sustainability. Dyson dries your hands many times faster than other hand dryers while using 80% less energy, Freitag makes their messenger bags from materials that previously were discarded as scrap (and unleashed a trend in which almost any sturdy material is being recycled and given a new purpose) and Apple re-invented the power plug to eliminate a known vulnerability of laptop computers, which previously required complex repairs.

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 18.39.29

And there is Papernomad, of course, who developed a soothingly analogue counterbalance to the digital world, a canvas for your memories and a sustainable home for your electronic device. This product is not intended to live for 200 years, but just as long as you need it; and as soon as its companionship with your electronic device has expired, it will – unfortunately unlike your device – return to where it came from in the first place: nature.

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 18.42.18

140916-cr- GdnD Back LQ
Publisher: Karin-Simone Fuhs, Davide Brocchi, Michael Maxein & Bernd Draser
ISBN: 978-3-88864-521-1 | 2013 | 384 pages

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s