Monday, June 16, 2008

Redefining Wealth

I found the essay on the excellent design site A Brief Message (200 word essays on design - well worth a look). It reminded me of the piles of inorganic waste that is heaped at the roadside for periodic collection - for some reason those white plastic outdoor chairs always seem to feature strongly. In the Story of Stuff presenter Annie Leonard claims that just 1% of stuff consumed in the United States is still in use just 6 months after it is bought. (Think about next time you are comtemplating adding a new tchotchke to your pile).

In our post-industrial world, where “artisanal” refers to cheese and “heirloom” to tomatoes, design refers to the new, the innovative, the global. Even with all the talk of carbon footprints and environmental stewardship, design is too often about the transitive and the temporary.

Before the Industrial Revolution, artisans created heirlooms. Each object was imbued with personality and value; heirlooms were tools intended to last for generations.

Perhaps it’s a bit old-fashioned to stress the importance of the art and craft of design in today's connected world.

Imagine a cell phone that lasts like a Stickley chair or a magazine that matters like a Gutenberg Bible.

Change is the watchword of the day, driving business and politics and society. But, there's a new form of change on the horizon; we’re heading into a constrained environment where the designer's artistry and craft will have to encourage what lasts, what matters, what sustains.

As designers, we have the opportunity to use our art and craft to redefine wealth in the future. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to create a world where each object and experience is filled with value, where living with less but better is both joyful and meaningful.


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