Design Speak > The landfills of wants and desires.


We, the urban elite, are today much more aware of the term ‘design’ than we were twenty years ago. In olden times, objects were attached to the expectation of value. Today it is foremost the accumulation of style, the act of surrounding the world around us with beautiful things. And that is the new meaning of value for us, an imperceptible cloud of wants.

The designer has taken on a hallowed role, more akin to an artist, and the profession is generating a tornado of importance around itself. The word Design, as journalist Rob Walker says in Objectified, has become amorphous with good design. He adds, that’s like saying writing is good. But the real question is, what are you trying to say?

Designers want to be immortalised by what they design, they would love for us to use their product all our lives. But at the same time, they design things that attract and hence make us want more by replacing what we already have. Thus creating the need to always have the next beautiful/cool thing. How many chairs and toys and gadgets will it take for us to finally realise that the fickle thing about cool is that there is always something cooler around the corner.

If we jotted down every object we interacted with, from the time we wake till we sleep, what would that number be? Designer Karim Rashid says over 600. If we look closely at all the things, what is their real value for us? The debate on good design or bad design is unfortunately more often an aesthetic query first. Perhaps we should also ask, is it necessary design? Does the world really need it? Where and how will it end up after it has served its time? The earth is a fantastic piece of design. And we have never been able to replicate anything as cheap, sustainable, self-sustaining, creative or full of life than it. It has gifted us life, and we return the favour with junk and now, beautiful junk.

I remember reading about a girl, who when she found a beautiful object she desired, instead of buying it, took a picture of it and put it in a scrap book. At the end of the year, she had a lovely collection, and found that many of the things she simply had to have, she didn’t miss at all. A beautiful thing is a joy to see, our eyes are attracted to it, we like being in the proximity of it. But at what point did it become essential for us to own it, have it, make it our own. What does owning a designed thing mean to this? What does it say about us?

Designers Dunne and Raby talk of how they feel more satisfied at having their design exhibited at MOMA where more people have a chance to interact and see it than to have it mass-produced. Perhaps there is much wisdom there. One of the biggest challenges to living sustainably in the world today is the self-serving circle of consumerism – the designer’s desire to constantly create and our constant need for something new.

Since the advent of time, ordinary people have shown creativity in hacking/recycling design to better suit their needs. Because a lot of products/machines/processes were designed to work with as made, not necessarily made to be worked with. Post WWII, ergonomics and human factor engineering paved the way decades later for Human Factor Design – design based on the understanding of human beings; design that enhances life, makes interaction easy. Thus, it is still about creating more products, just ones that suit us better than the last ones we had. But perhaps the study of the human factor is one that is deeper – it is of our invasive, want-all nature.

Today, more than any other time in the history of Design, there is much talk of sustainability. Ironically, to be truly sustainable, perhaps most designers need to stop creating more. We are at a juncture where we are seeing it all pile up – the landfills of wants is on display, and collectively, it is neither cool nor beautiful.

6 Responses to “Design Speak > The landfills of wants and desires.”

  1. 1 Mee

    Sometimes modern design beats me, I cannot break it and imbibe it simply. I wish for clean uncomplicated beauty the kind that the ye falls in love with and finds it difficult to tear its gaze away:)

  2. 2 Laith Wark

    Thank you for articulating this. Can play a role in helping us consume less? Design is really our servant, not master. Now big changes ARE happening in the world. Perceptions and expectations are changing. Can consumerism by design become contentment by design?

  3. 3 Suman Mishra

    Spot-on! well said. I’m glad you’ve articulated this. It’s something that’s been playing on my mind.. I often feel the irony when I sit down to design/create my next collection of jewelry and I say, hmm.. does the world really need this or does it just want this.. ? where and how does the balance get created in this crazy cycle of the designer’s need to design and the consumer’s need to consume new/different/fresh product? it’s funny, but just yesterday (before I’d read your post) I was talking to my husband about how we used to be happy with simpler things and fewer things. It’s quite crazy now how nothing seems to satisfy us. This, in my mind, is poverty.

  4. 4 Anu

    Been following your blog for awhile and love this post which captured the contradictory philosophies in play in modern design. Abbey McCulloch (an Australian painter) had a recent interview where she said that survival as a species was no longer our main concern so it has to be art, the need for creativity that drives us a species which I think is sort of a more positive spin on human wants and needs. And as a technologist, it’s great to find a post that touches on technology in art and design – in most technologies in fact the holy grail is a zero waste process – but it’s hard to achieve. But I feel optimistic that it is moving there.

  5. 5 mamta

    Definately we have a responsiblity to prevent ecological waste and also not to clutter our homes which is a reflection of a cluttered mind, but design as an expression of creativity has been recognised as an evolutionary civilizational feature. It also provides occupation but again all designers should cut the flab and streamline into a reponsible creative field promoting aestetics with a balance.

  6. 6 Swati Vaid

    Wow! I totally agree with the post. I have been thinking along the same lines for a very long time. I go window shopping to satiate my desire and almost always resist buying.

    We have made waste reduction a way of life – be it water, plastics for that matter, even bio-degradable things – cos ultimately, if a million people are using bio-degradable, eco-friendly, sustainable, what-have-you, even that stops being all of those things – one at the level of where the raw-material is coming from, two at the level of production, three at the level of maintenance and then finally, at the level of disposal.

    Thanks for the very pertinent post.

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