Fair Design: Excess, 2018, A Designer’s Perspective
This article was first published by Gocha Szostak in the App’n’roll Publication on Medium.
I’m a UX and industrial designer working for App’n’roll — a Warsaw based venture building company. I currently have the opportunity to be a part of the development of physical products in one of our latest ventures, Mudita. Mudita aim to restore the balance between technology and true presence in our daily lives.
Our team encounters a number of interesting challenges during the development process and I think it becomes especially exciting when it comes to the creation of material products.
It’s very complex and there are many factors influencing the success rate. All of the decisions have to be very carefully made — once the production line for complicated mechanical devices is open there is not much space for changes.
Earlier this year, looking for the verification of some of our assumptions, I decided to take part in the Fair Design conference organised by the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, specifically the Department of Design History and Theory. I found it especially interesting as it touched on the topic of excess which is one of our concerns at Mudita.
Speakers at this conference come from all around the world and are experts in their respective fields. The conference brings to light the actions designers can take in the modern world as they create more and more new products.
How do designers deal with the idea of excess?
Designers are largely part of the problem, in terms of material choices, the life cycle of the product, fulfilling or even creating the users’ needs. The dean of the design department opened the conference and noted that when thinking of excess, we imagine not only material and non-material goods, things partly created by designers, objects, services, etc. but we can also observe excess in religion and culture: movies, books, exhibitions, articles etc.
There is no way that we will have a chance to listen to, see or read everything we are interested in. Although we could try, realistically it’s impossible.
“Excess is the word that describes the condition of the modern man. Alongside the satiation felt by the citizens of ‘developed countries’, billions of others are oppressed by poverty, famine, and homelessness. Though feelings of satiety and non-satiety are subjective, on a societal scale the presence of these phenomena indicates the extent to which the modern world lacks harmony — it has fallen into extremes. Famine, poverty, and garbage are also on the rise.” (Fair Design, 2018)
As well as an excess of goods, there is also an excess of people. It’s a vicious cycle, more people, more goods. This isn’t just a case of supply and demand, there’s a surprising amount of waste.
When looking at the inverse of ‘too many’ or ‘not enough’, we can see that there is something missing, kindness. It sometimes feels as though there isn’t enough truth, calm, or time spent in contemporary design. Some companies want to change this.
How can we make a difference as designers?
Dr. Daniel Zieliński described the Balancing Feedback mechanism illustrating civilisation development (see above) and how people have been interacting with their surroundings over the centuries.
Spreading various visions about what’s in store for us in the future, he luckily rejected a dystopian or destructive scenario and wanted us to focus on that important ‘now’ or ‘present moment’ which is to retrieve the balance in our lives, in our surroundings, in our social inequalities, to bring us back to harmony.
The role of the designer
Not all designers choose to design for the sake of designing. Some make conscious decisions and take appropriate or responsible actions towards designing with purpose. Designers who think about the negative repercussions of excess are more likely to design in an ethical manner.
Professor Bruce Brown (Royal College of Art, London) proclaims that together with the evolution of people who have changed from autonomous citizens to contented consumers, design has evolved from a servant of industrial design. Design used to focus on tangible forms, taking care of efficiency, functionality and quality. It has now developed into a complex, multilayered ‘device course of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones’.
The intangible effects of creating things which are in their essence artificial contributes not to monetary issues but rather environmental and ethical ones. We get more and more used to things which are unnatural, or alien to us and we begin to accept this as commonplace.
However, we obviously shouldn’t fight against development. Staying in the same place would be against human nature and “that would be probably a bigger threat than for example dying from electronic clothes” claims Professor James Woudhuysen while arguing with one of the conference participants.
He demonstrated in his presentation that there is never an excess of scientific breakthroughs, announcing a very long list of new sectors of production which should be developed. It went together with a very important call to designers which might be easily forgotten due to the momentum of today, instead of designing for emerging technology, designers should guide engineers towards the kind of technology they should develop.
The current state of things
Thinking of the excess in material goods in developed countries, it’s a balm that soothes our hearts when we hear about continuing progress in the field of sustainable material development. More importantly, large corporate declarations to replace hopeless, catastrophic plastics with these new, more ethical materials, gives us some hope for the future. Another speaker, Agata Nowotny, presented us with some statistics.
90% of the things we buy are thrown away within 9 months.
Our cars remain unused 92% of the time and when in use, it’s usually only one person sitting inside, instead of five. In Great Britain, the average child possesses 238 toys but realistically only plays with 12. Luckily the concept of minimalism in our everyday lives is developing. It is becoming an increasingly popular trend. There is an interesting documentary about it entitled ‘Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things’.
How does minimalism effect the industrial realm?
Agata gave examples of innovative companies and their new strategies. There is less of a visible border between product and service. Renting and sharing has slowly started to replace buying and producing. Even big automotive companies realised that people will stop buying as many cars soon. Possessing a car in a big city has become a completely stupid idea! Cities are built and improved with public transportation in mind. Cars were meant to make our lives easier, now we might spend an hour in traffic only to later park that car 20 minutes walk away from our destination.
We’re familiar with the rise in ride sharing and transport apps but even bigger brands such as BMW are developing car sharing services and car renting for minutes too. Islabikes is another great example of a company which sells subscriptions instead of objects. You can exchange your bike instead of buying at least five of these during your lifetime. City bikes are also becoming more popular worldwide.
Fashion projects by students were showcased at Fair Design 2018 in which creations were either made from recycled clothes or completely new systems of production, customisation and distribution. There are a lot of limitations to ideas within the production area of material goods. We need to try to overcome these limitations.
Most of you have probably heard about Experience Economy, it’s easy to observe that we have started to prefer living experiences rather than buying and possessing objects. It’s also harder to stay different, to be distinguished from the crowd through our experiences. For decades objects served as the evidence of one’s status. Nowadays not things, but experiences someone lived, places visited and finally posted Instagram stories took this function.
The excess of information
Innovative technologies are emerging at an incomprehensible pace and the virtual realm is full of data which all serves to contribute to information overproduction. We’re overloaded with more knowledge than ever before.
With unlimited access to everything, we are having problems choosing anything which is relevant to consume and this excess of choice has also left us with larger problems relating to decision making. The digital world is stealing our attention. The wealth of information causes a lack of decisiveness.
Philosopher Katarzyna Kasia gave a very interesting talk about ‘Boredom in the age of excess’ showing that modern boredom is a social problem which might be perceived as an industrial revolution by-product which goes with the goods production change.
She mentions that in our modern world, everything happens in a second, it’s instantaneous. We don’t want to wait for anything. We get almost everything here and now. Is it even possible to get bored in the new media world? People dive into media, they turn to technology to avoid or relieve boredom but unfortunately information overload also leads to boredom.
We are not able to process so much information. There is too much, it’s not filtered, it’s not systematised efficiently enough. We’re anesthetized to the overload of information. It’s also so easy to believe everything and so difficult to check the credibility of the information we are presented with.
One great example is ‘The face of God’ exhibition shown last year in Gothenburg, where everything from the artist to their work was fake. The project aimed to enhance fiction and fictionalisation as tools for developing, transforming and visualising design. In a time where there is an excess of information, the project wanted to problematize truth and source criticism. The problem is that technology revolution isn’t accompanied by human brain revolution.
It all contributes to difficulties in finding time for thinking. Already in antiquity, boredom was seen as a condition of creativity. How does it look nowadays? When Bauman said something along the lines of ‘the state free of boredom isn’t happiness, it’s a modern disaster’, we can attribute this to our current way of living, we’re never bored, we’re over stimulated and overwhelmed by choice.
What can we do?
Too many things, too much consumption, too much information and thoughtless scrolling, not enough kindness, not enough time for thinking. People are so used to the artificial design reflected in the modern world, the technology industry can be especially forgetful when it comes to nature. At App’n’roll we are concerned about these issues and that’s why we were so excited to share our venture Mudita which aims to restore a healthy balance!
We sometimes feel overwhelmed by the technology race and have decided to help companies working on an alternative. We are developing concepts which will impose healthier social behaviours through deliberated and non conventional design.
We’d love to hear from you
If you’re interested in hiring an insightful and forward thinking design team for your latest project, drop us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) so that we can schedule a call.
How do you feel about the idea of excess? How do you think improvements can be made? If you’ve been inspired by something you’ve read here, let us know!
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