Another for What?

In college, studying ID I was blessed to have a mentor many years older than me that assisted in my design queries along the path to mass industrial manufacturing education; ie; Industrial Design. Through those years I learned a lot! One thing I continue to reflect on challenged a standard school of thought when it came to ID and mass production. Namely, planned obsolescence. Historically speaking I couldn’t challenge this place that ID held regarding the hand cuffs of mass production, but I did.

My novice, yet introspective view to ID was this; ok, so, I’m supposed to design something that’s cool, schnazzy, flashy, has all the whistles and bells → get paid → and don’t ask questions. Don’t engineer it. Don’t worry about the guts. Don’t, don’t. But, I couldn’t help but pry into the a deeper need to understand how and why we design products and how that not only shapes industries, but cultural paradigms. After all, Victor Papanek once said, (paraphrasing) “designers have the moral obligation to design for the people through their design for the greater good of humanity…”. So there it was. That one single statement sent me off into a chasm of design questions and methodological enterprise.

You see, designing a thing with forced solutions for the sake of pushing profit and margins for an organization has become the quintessential boon unto which ID’ers are poked, prodded, and strapped. Understanding context in design is ambiguous when you have Shawn White touting your sweet new crappy winter product that has a designed planned obsolescence of one season, or Claudia Shiffer pimping your makeup line based on cheap Chinese driven market of acetone, or some other unregulated industrial chemical known to cause cancer. The premise being, buy me. You can be like me if you own this. You will suddenly arise to a purchased social status by vicariously owning this piece of merchandise.

So, I say, "Another for What? Another to perpetuate the socially jaded paradigm of capitalistic culture? Another to prolong some investors stake? Another to finesse and challenge the watersheds filtering the affluent manufacturing pollutants? Another to stake design claim on what will inevitably crest and trough with standard trend analysis and the go-with-the-crowd mentality? Another to inject one last hope of GDP into the economy when we end up increasing the nations debt by purchasing imports even when they’re “designed” in America…come on. Really?

No more aesthetics for the sake of aesthetics! I WAS under the impression that ID professional are actually quite astute and poignant when it comes to execution. Don’t get me wrong, I love tying fine art in with function! It brings a certain juxtaposition and serendipitous serenity to a space and I love that. Where’d the true innovation and ingenuity go? What? don’t get paid to be truly innovative? Seriously though…kidding!

So I leave you with this thought that the next time you sit down to design some superfluous whidget, or whingding, remember you are shaping human well-being and the perception of life! You leave your legacy whether your try or not.

Ambitious post.

Show us some concrete examples of how you have implemented in production the advice you give to others.

Another for what? To survive, pay the bills and grow as a designer. You build things for consumption. That is your job as an industrial designer in a consumer economy.

I have been designing products for over twenty years, including one used by Shawn White ( his personal choice, un-sponsored) Never once did we build in, or were we asked to build in obsolesence. We build for durability, trying to guess what will fall apart at 16 months is just asking for 15% of your product to fall apart at 6 months and be returned. You always build it as good as the constraints allow you too.

There are real world design constraints on all products, lightweight, performance, cost, production technology, market expectations. You can make something last forever, you over-build it so it is 50% heavier than you competitors product, costs 75% - 200% more, and does not perform as well. You won’t sell more than a handful, but you can sleep well at night knowing you didn’t bow to market pressures.

The sentiments your put forth are all valid concerns, and as a designer you try to weigh them and come up with a personal balance. However, if you are concerned that the work you do makes a corporation money, you are really in the wrong line of work.