This blog is about ‘conscious’ design. For me, the word conscious encapsulates more than what the more commonly used labels ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ seem to do. Too often, green design only focuses on the materials used: they are recycled or up-cycled, they are produced with less toxics than normal, there is less material used and so on.
The fact that consuming is by definition unsustainable often is downplayed. Do we really need more things, even when they are made in a so called sustainable way? No, we probably don’t. Do we need to value the things we already have more? We probable do. Conscious designs can play an important role in this process. Maybe they don’t even have to be made of environmental friendly materials, but they do have to make the user think about why he is using it and how. It has to direct users to a new and more conscious way of looking at the material world around us.
To really change how much we consume, we need more knowledge about how we relate to the material things around us. Why do we love some things and discard others with such ease? This was the question I asked myself when thinking about a subject for my master thesis. I decided to make it my research question and delved into the vast literature on the subject.
I found that researchers from various academic backgrounds at different points in time have asked respondents the question “What are your five favorite things and why?”. For my thesis I have tried to summarize the results from the seminal studies who dealt with this question. Turns out, we love things that somehow remind us of friends, family, our personal past or possible future, the most. In other words, we love things for their symbolic meaning.
So in order for people to love material things more and for a longer period of time, designers just have to attach some form of symbolic meaning to their design. Unfortunately it is not as simple as that. The studies also show that it is impossible to predict if a certain product will end up symbolising any type of personal relationship.
So, what is the way to go about then? Exactly how can design help to strengthen human-object relations? You can read more about that in an article I wrote based on my thesis: part 1 you can find here and part 2 here.