Stop making new stuff.jpg

How to do we reconcile our desire to create and make new things, with the full knowledge that we are killing our planet?

I tried to answer this question in graduate school with my studies. Though my answers didn’t satiate the thirst of my questions, I concluded that the work we do as designers is really about identity. We make stuff and things. And stuff and things are a necessary part of meaning making in our life.

I still think that is true, but I don’t think it helps the landfill problem.

In Design and Crime, Hal Foster aptly describes this moment (even though he wrote it 20 years ago):

“Our own time is a witness to a qualitative leap in this history: with the “flexible specialization” of post-Fordist production, commodities can be continually tweaked and markets constantly niched, so that a product can be mass in quantity yet appear up-to-date, personal, and precise in address. Desire in not only registered in products today, it is specified there: a self-interpellation of “hey, that’s me” greets the consumer in catalogues and on-line. This perpetual profiling of the commodity, of the mini-me, is one factor that drives the inflation of design. Yet what happens when this commodity-machine - now conveniently located out of view of most us us - breaks down, as environments give out, markets crash, and/or sweat-shop workers scattered across the globe somehow refuse to go on?”

Fortunately, start ups today are building more sustainable products on the production side of things. But it’s the mechanism of distribution, the deeper cultural system at work - “desire is not only registered in products, it is specified there.” Nowadays, the desire isn’t only registered in the product, it’s registered through the marketing mechanism. Digital marketing tools are able to swiftly and accurately deliver those goods to our devices, so that we practice, daily, even hourly - “hey, that’s me” or “that’s not me”. It is the continued tweaking of the commodity matched with the continued tweaking of consumer profiling.

In the recent article, “Why Startups Are The Driving Force Behind Design Right Now”, almost all of the brands in the article speak to cultivating a direct feedback loop with customers. Whether or not that is actually true is up for debate. I remember when Floyd started asking customers what they wanted in a sofa on Instagram 3 months before it came to market. But Floyd also says the sofa took 2 years to develop. Either way, the net result is the same - consumers get to fee like they are part of the process, and that is meaningful. And meaning making is about identity.

But hey, what are we going to do about those landfills?

Published on by Eric Trine.

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