Friday, April 20, 2007

Stop making crap

That's not a hip-hop cover of the talking heads! I've been saying that (sometimes with other words like "kitschingitis", sometimes in those same words) to my students (and here on this blog) for quite a while. From the time that I was a student, I realized that we manufacture too much useless junk. I always disliked the idea of "styling" simply because it is not a good reason to bring a new "stylized" product into life. Improvement is a good reason, and styling is not improvement. Why waste our energy and talent as designers to make a stylized ashtray or coffee mug? Aren't there enough lamps, trash bins, chairs, tooth-brushes, etc ? Sometimes there are innovative items in those categories, but most of the time we (around the globe) create literally thousands of new designs just to get one that stands out. I have no idea of economic theory, but it seems to me that it is a waste of resources, time, technology, and materials. Just look at some examples of useless inventions at patentlysilly or these pencil patents or these designer gadgets from designboom.

There are many other areas that are almost untouched by designers, like the one that I work in: design for people with disabilities. But there are many other areas that need some serious re-thinking and re-design... some require good innovation, and some others have to stop making crap! I just don't understand how young designers (from all times) are so fascinated with interior decoration and small appliances, when it is an area with so much competition, and so much junk already! The dream of many designers is to make a cell phone, or a car, or a chair that makes it to the MOMA permanent collection or at least appear on sites like gizmodo, boing boing and the like, when there are so many other needs like purifying water, packaging, shelter, etc. Take the Index award for example:

Allan Chochinov wrote in 1000 words: A Manifesto for Sustainability in Design. I guess it won't be the last manifesto on the subject, but his 100o words go exactly to the main issues and reasons why we designers should be Hippocratic Before Socratic and remember that industrial design equals mass production, and that every move, every decision, every curve we specify is multiplied—sometimes by the thousands and often by the millions. And that every one of those everys has a price. We think that we're in the artifact business, but we're not; we're in the consequence business. We also should Stop Making Crap and that means that we have to stop making crap. It's really as simple as that. You may ask: how? well, he also gives good tips on how to be (or become) a responsible designer: We need to think systems before artifacts, we have to start teaching sustainability early, we have to use more screws and less glue, we have to design for impermanence, and my favourites:
Balance Before Talents : The proportion of a solution needs to balance with its problem: we don't need a battery-powered pooper scooper to pick up dog poop, and we don't need a car that gets 17 MPG to, well, we don't need that car, period. We have to start balancing our ability to be clever with our ability to be smart. They're two different things.

Context Before Absolutely Everything : Understanding that all design happens within a context is the first (and arguably the only) stop to make on your way to becoming a good designer. You can be a bad designer after that, of course, but you don't stand a chance of being a good one if you don't first consider context. It's everything: In graphics, communication, interaction, architecture, product, service, you name it—if it doesn't take context into account, it's crap. And you already promised not to make any more of that.

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Blogger Raul said...

I agree with you... but if aesthetics (styling) is taken away completely just because "we do not need another chair" we may be loosing the pleasure of the new Arnios to come, or the new Rashids or Starkcs. I know you may hate the last two, I just love their designs exactly for their futility and sometimes blatant frivolity.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Fernando Vallejo said...

My father says that you need 100,000 crappy artists to have 10,000 mediocre artists, 1,000 average artists, 100 acceptable artists, 10 good artists, and 1 excellent artist. That's a pyramid of 111,110 supporting only one extraordinary artist.

I guess the problem are not the 11,111... but the 100,000 crappy ones.

This issue is comparable (I guess) to those millionaire lists. In Mexico we have some of the top millionaires (like Slim, Salinas Pliego, Azcarraga, Zambrano and others) while having some extreme poverty. While other countries (like NZ) have a more "socialist" approach: there's no extreme richness or extreme poverty (in principle)... the result is that more people are at a middle class level.

I guess that a "sustainability manifesto" would have to be some kind of "social(ist) design manifesto". We would have to sacrifice our design freedom to do as we like, in order to have better middle class designs. Where a better kind of products are accessible to more people, and the number of junk designs or extremely high-end products are more limited than they are now.

I mean, not everyone can afford to have "$2,000 USD Stark's tap-ware" on their bathroom sinks, or high-end refrigerators. Thinking globally, many people don't even wave running water or electricity to plug the refrigerator!

The problem with sustainability is not that we can't afford economically to manufacture all that crap, the problem is that we can't afford socially and environmentally to manufacture all that crap.

Besides, throughout history, the best artist were not always millionaires or "design divas" like Stark. In fact, many great inventions have been made out of necessity and hardship. So, I guess we would still have good (nice) things being created under any economic circumstances. Let's just be a bit more environmentally conscious.

Sorry for the long reply.


11:11 PM  
Blogger Raul said...

I think sustainabilty is not an optional issue, its just about survival. Nevertheless we can not deny the fact that Apple's success (and survival) is based on design (styling) AND excelent products. Let's talk about the soon to come IPhone, it is more an object of desire (by design) than a useful phone, if you wanted just a phone any generic phone would do.
My point is not to argue against sustainability and socially responsible designs, but to mention that enven those futile diva designed objects fullfill a part in society's needs. At the end everyone should count and everyone should get what they need, althoug you can't always get what you want.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Fernando said...

You are right... that's exactly the paradox. We can't ban kitsch by decree, or have a design police saying which objects get to be produced or not... simply because there are people who want things like that (just look at the name of places like

I guess there will always be people asking for kitsch, hummers, and PCs. The thing is to get them to start thinking differently.

You are right, many apple products are very good examples of how design should be: simple, refined, aesthetically and technologically sound, considerate of their context and users, etc. Styling or aesthetics IS an important part of any good design. I guess it wouldn't be good design without the aesthetic component.

And right again: products like iPod or iPhone, etc... are considered examples of "emotional design" A term used by Don Norman (former usability designer at apple). The whole concept of emotional design is quite interesting, but then again it should be a plus on nay good design, not the only reason for it.


12:38 PM  
Blogger Fernando said...

Your "friends" from green pis actually "think different"... have a look at this micro site:


12:50 AM  

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