Design for Depression

image_depression.jpg

Several of my posts discuss the question whether the recession/depression will change fundamental consumption patterns, now designers themselves are asking the same question. Allison Arieff writes in the NYTimes:

The impact of the economy on design has generated a lively round of journalistic debate. In “Design Loves a Depression,” a piece in The Times in January, design writer Michael Cannell argued that designers need to be taken down a notch and shift gears from creating luxury high rises and limited-edition Nymphenburg porcelain cows and “actually find a new sense of relevance in the process” . . .

Looking positively at the slowdown in work, Arieff sees this period as an opportunity for reflection and learning. If the clients really do stop coming, the reflections will almost certainly come without any conscious effort to produce quiet moments. She continues:

Maybe one way the recession as good for design is to see it not as a form of punishment for frivolous designers but rather as an opportunity to allow for a rethinking of design itself — and the role of the designer within it. . . This rethinking needs to come not just from designers but from the manufacturers, companies and other clients who decide what products and projects will be produced. There’s no excuse not to examine and re-examine what’s made, how it’s manufactured, what materials are used (and which are recyclable), what benefit it’s giving the consumer (or lack thereof) and what contribution, if any, it’s making to anything other than landfill.

And all of us who purchase these things should be thinking — and no doubt are, more and more these days — do I need this? Is there another one that’s more efficient? That uses less packaging? Will last longer? Has less square footage? Looks better? Is more fun to use? Is something I want to pass on to my grandkids?

It is very encouraging to see designers recognize the importance about thinking about the impacts their works have on the environment. What’s missing from this story is mention of the impacts the artifacts have on the people that “consume” them. To the extent that this article can be generalized to the whole design community, this sentence capsulizes the blindness to what I define as sustainability. "Instead of creating a need for things, designers can now focus on responding to things we do need." Do we need "more fun" as mentioned above. Maybe as the economic situation creates signs of clinical depression. But this is a pretty banal response. People don't need things as I see it. They live to take care of concerns for themselves, others, and the world. Erich Fromm asked a key question through the title of his book, To Have or To Be. Recovering "being" is essential to human flourishing, the quality central to the concept of sustainability. People do "need" to have things in their pursuit of taking care, but not for the things, per se.

How can designers create artifacts that help people satisfy their concern for relationships? Is Facebook the best way to do this? Do beauty products in fancy bottle really create beauty? When designers stop focusing on need and start thinking about the existential concerns of our species (being), then they will be able to contribute to sustainability.

|