I recently attended an inspirational lecture by Jonathan Chapman, Professor of Sustainable Design at Brighton University, one of the key points he makes is that people buy into meaning, not matter. Here’s the full lecture for you to watch on Youtube.
Here are some scary numbers: 184.108.40.206.0
Scary……. but why?
As Professor Chapman states 40 tonnnes of materials are used to create just 1 tonne of domestic products. 98% of these products are thrown out of our homes after just 6 months, meaning production is just 1% efficient, leading to 0 future for materials.
So if you want to make design more sustainable, products should mean something to the end user for longer. They shouldn’t just be designed to become obsolete. But just how do we do that?
The question designers should be asking is ‘Why can’t a gadget be an heirloom?’
Well Sony is looking into the business model of a new product called the Wandular as an alternative to fragile devices that break in a year – the type we’re used to. It’s half way between concept and object – a philosophy envisioned in a technology product.
The Wandular – a personal computing device designed to actually get better with age. It would use cloud-based software improvements and plug-in hardware, so you could add new technologies as they emerged, such as sensors or projectors. It also features long lasting materials such as wood, leather and titanium so it can both be repaired and forge an emotional attachment with the user – emotional durability, or as some like to say, ageing gracefully.
And there is a convincing business model to accompany the concept focusing on moving from selling one off products to ongoing service provision – a familiar change that we’re seeing among many technology companies today. A longer-lasting product at a more competitive price, serviced over a lifetime with improvements and software upgrades generates loyalty and longer term profit.
Built to last
The concept of Wandular can be interpreted into the design of home ware too. Students at the University of Brighton came up with shoes which reveal a hidden pattern as they wear out, and a mug which reveals a pattern as the tea stain gets deeper into the ceramic. Good furniture and clothes develop a ‘worn’ quality and with it, an attachment to the individual too, so savvy designers are highlighting it in novel ways.
But what about creating Wandular on a larger scale? Can buildings improve with age? Can we design our spaces for emotional durability, efficiency and modularity? Or simply acknowledge the power of interior design to convert an old space into a beautiful new space – while using insulation and energy saving measures to make it efficient and comfortable too.
A number of manufacturers have realized the benefits of this service based model. Ercol, the furniture manufacturers, have been making timber furniture since the 1920’s, designed to be easily reupholstered using their own service.
Think about the products or items that you really love at home – the ones you have a strong emotional attachment to, and how they bring a great level of happiness to your life. For me it might be my Charnwood wood burning stove, the sweet chestnut cladding on the front of my home, that improves with age or a leather armchair that softens and deepens in richness and colour.
All are the type of objects or materials that people forge attachments with and consider worth repairing. They are objects that bring us happiness. Perhaps it’s time to have the opportunity for repair, upgrading and improvement actually designed into the products and spaces that we occupy as a forethought rather than an afterthought – the world around us would become a better, happier and healthier place in all sorts of ways.