Sustainable design.

Nice Design
Originally uploaded by Klis

Apologies for the outdated subject but I just found an old “Consumed” article that I’d ripped out of the NYT Magazine and shoved in my black hole of a handbag. It was the one titled “Emergency Décor,” about Home Depot’s HomeHero fire extinguisher which, yes, I’m aware has been covered extensively and exhaustively. Like Target’s “why didn’t I think of that?” redesign of the prescription pill bottle, Home Depot created a product that’s more intuitive to use, better to look at and as a result of both, will likely be used more often and more accurately. The hope for both products is that design innovation will ultimately save lives.

All good things, of course. But this time around I was struck by the idea of good design as a key to sustainability. It came out of this paragraph:

“Once viewed with suspicion as source of planned obsolescence, a product’s looks have gradually come to be seen as creating value, pleasure and even quality. (Donald A. Norman, a Northwestern University professor and author of “Emotional Design” and other books, has famously argued that “attractive things work better.”) More recently, Prasad Boradkar, who teaches design at Arizona State University and was a member of this year’s IDEA judging panel, says he has noticed more designers, from students to professionals, positioning style as a form of “sustainability” — that is, if something looks good, we’re less likely to throw it away. Under this theory, pure style not only dodges the critique that it causes a superfluous-consumption problem; it actually solves that problem. Of course, Boradkar adds, designers know that such claims won’t be taken seriously unless they are backed with substance. Still, this is the design argument that the HomeHero fits into: that good aesthetics can make a claim on virtue.”

I just thought that such a smart new spin on sustainability. Think about the last load of stuff you happily handed over to Goodwill. I bet most of it could be called… well, not beautiful. There was that misshapen, acrylic-blend sweater, those square-toed boots, the bulbous hand-me-down lamp from your mom with the texture of a stucco ceiling. It’s the stunning Italian glass bookends and structured wool coat you’ll never part with, even after you’ve sold all your books and moved to Miami. Sure, other product “virtues” come into play here, quality being a not unimportant one; brand name being another interesting, illusory one.

My junior prom dress was a black, gauzy Dolce & Gabbana I got off the rack for $99. It’s cut beautifully and still fits perfectly. The big satin bow in the back with tails longer than the dress itself means I’ll probably never wear it again but nevermind—it’ll hang in my closet until I have a daughter who can play dress up in it. Months of babysitting money went to buy my Justin cowboy boots and Tumi planner and I’ve had both for 10+ years. Beautiful things have a way of sticking around. It makes sense: a quality over quantity philosophy means I buy less and throw away less. All of a sudden I’m saving the planet through a love of good looking stuff. I can live with that.


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