Ted Ten- Design To Reduce The Need To Consume

There is no denying that today, we buy more goods than ever. We buy all the time, and we are buying beyond what we actually need. We buy to make ourselves feel good, we go shopping as a social activity. My experience of living in London is that the opportunity to consume is never more than a five minute walk away, with what often feels like infinite choice and possibility.

“Emotionally Durable Design” is a book and theory written by Jonathan Chapman (2006). He explores the emotional connection and attachment we have with our possessions, and suggests that how well the product maintains this attachment dictates how long we will use/keep it for. He describes waste as “expired empathy” with an object.

Reducing the need to consume new goods can also be achieved by looking at how repairing we can repair what we already own. “Sugru” have developed a self setting rubber like material, marketed to “fix, modify and improve stuff”. This idea gives people control, they can alter their stuff to suit their needs and preferences. It adds a personal touch which extends “emotional empathy” with goods too.

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Reference: 17/12/2013, http://sugru.com, website

17/12/2013,  http://blogs-images.forbes.com/tjmccue/files/2011/11/Sugru.jpg, website

 Melanie Bowles and Emma Neuberg are designers who aimed to extend a products life span by enhancing the emotional “empathy” consumers had with their purchase. They did this by offering consumers the knowledge to design their own textiles using digital printing techniques. If people make their own clothes, with meaningful designs, then it reduces the need for mass produced globalised items.

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Reference: 17/12/2013, http://www.thepeoplesprint.com/about/, website

“Butter by Nadia” developed a garment called “Signature”. This is a single textile that can be worn in so so so many different ways. This means that one piece of material can perform the task of dozens, thus reducing the need to consume. I love the idea of taking one item and being creative about all the ways in which is might be useful. I think designing a product that has many possibilities for use and function is something that could translate really successfully within architecture, the space saved through only having one item over 2 or 3 three would also be a bonus when we consider that, due to affordability, many of us are living in smaller and smaller homes.

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Reference: 17/12/2013, http://www.shopbutterbynadia.com, website

                    17/12/2013, http://cdn.the-dressingroom.com/product-media/1UZ/800/1130/Butter-by-Nadia-lookbook.jpg, website

Materiality also plays a role in a products durability. Hard wearing fabrics for example, made well and put together as a garment to a high standard will physically outlive the opposite, reducing the need to buy frequent replacements. I think sometimes also the longer we own something, the more it seems to belong to us and feels like part of who we are in some small way. Perhaps material longevity also helps to slowly develop an emotional attachment too.

Barbour make a waxed cotton jacket which is really well made, with durable materials. Any customer who buys one of these jackets can return it to Barbour when the wax needs re coating, and they will re wax the jacket, extending its life for a further few years, until it needs waxing again.

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 Reference: 17/12/2013, http://www.barbour.com/uk/l/mens, website

Seb Oddi has created a product which I think is just brilliant – The “stain tablecloth” becomes an even more beautiful product when something gets spilled on it. It is inevitable that before long some clumsy diner knocks over their wine glass or a messy toddler spills their food, and the tablecloth ends up in stained and in the rubbish. Seb Oddi’s tablecloth reveals a beautiful design when something “ruins” it, so that the user might be inclined to keep it rather than throw it away.

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Reference: 17/12/2012, http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/__data/assets/image/0003/38379/SO_sml.jpg, website

Kristine Bjaadal takes a similar approach with her furniture designs, promoting wear and tear and encouraging us to keep our belongings for longer (and name good use of them!)

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 Reference: 17/12/2013, http://www.kristinebjaadal.no/portfolio/underskog/, website

Quite a new and alternative approach to reducing the need to consume is the idea of creating “immaterial experiences”.

Jenny Tillotson describes her practice as “weaving scent into technology”. Using scent capsules into fabric she hopes to develop an “electronic nose” which responds to emotions and releases appropriate fragrances. For example, if the nose detects fear or anxiety, calming essential oils might be released. I can imagine this being incorporated into our homes too. We come home from work, cold from wintery weather, and the house knows it needs to warm up, or we come home after a stressful day and the walls release calming aromas. I like the idea of exploring all of our senses through design. We are always lead visually, but our smell and touch and sound are equally as powerful when it comes to our interpretation of a space/object and our emotional engagement with it.

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Reference: 17/12/2013, http://blogs.arts.ac.uk/csm/2010/05/20/congratulations-to-csm-senior-research-fellow-jenny-tillotson-on-her-knowledge-transfer-award/, website

This strategy is one that I really want to incorporate into my design practice. It seems to me entirely sensible, not only making more sustainable things but things that simply allow us to use them in a more useful way. How much more appreciative and respectful of things we would be if they were personal and useful!