Product design is failing its problem-solving purpose

category - covid-19
category - design
category - sustainability
sector - luxury
type - opinion
In the era of circular economy enthusiasts, designers should stop rehashing pre-existing products and begin designing true era-appropriate goods

Product design, once a problem-solving profession, has been reduced to a shapeshifting craft. In today’s product design field, there are absolutely no regulations or requirements for newness. If your product is aesthetically pleasing for a certain niche of consumers – or in some cases, competition judges – it is eligible for production.

In light of the climate crisis, the zero-carbon pledgers and circular economy enthusiasts are attempting to 'do their bit' through design. Nike recently released its Space Hippie sneakers, which have a carbon footprint of around 3.7kg per pair, and are designed to 'celebrate the potential' of a more sustainable product.

Elsewhere, Nendo's N02 chair is entirely recyclable and made of 100% upcycled plastic that's been sourced locally from household waste. But as much as it's vital to think about the materials used in today’s products, is this really the best solution designers can come up with?

At a time when consumer culture is fuelled by choice – the ability to choose from myriad different colours, shapes and sizes of the same product – isn’t it more relevant to address this shapeshifting problem (and that of sustainability) by re-evaluating the suitability of designs that already exist, rather than merely change the materials?

In order to step away from this aesthetic nightmare of reshaping pre-existing, perfectly functional products, designers must challenge themselves to properly research, analyse and attempt to understand the requirements of today's societies, before designing anything new.

Published by:

20 August 2020

Author: Leila Saad

Image: Wake Up! by Leila Saad discusses why designers should stop rehashing pre-existing products and begin designing true era-appropriate goods


Wake Up! comprises ten perfectly functional alarm clocks - each aesthetically different to please consumers' changing taste

Let's consider how, since the beginning of the digital boom, furniture has been given some technological add-ons, yet the functions of these objects – be they lamps, chairs or tables – have stayed the same. In future, however, products can no longer promote a passive interaction of the consumer with the object.

The way we interact with each other and the world has also transformed in the digital age, so isn’t this enough reason for designers to reinvent the way we live and consume? Our main focus in changing the perception of the product design profession is to thoroughly study human behaviour and recognise patterns in the ways we interact with the world around us and consider what's next.

For example, constantly evolving technologies mean that many design manufacturers now offer on-demand production alongside personalisation for each consumer. And as 3D-printing technologies develop at a profound speed, what’s keeping us from envisioning a world where each person has a limited amount of material they can use to print the items they need?

Will it be that future consumers only own a limited amount of materials, which they can insert in an advanced 3D printer and download new sunglasses, a vase or the latest Adidas shoes, reusing the materials to reprint a new version the year after? This could see the integration of a circular system in the future home or in the community. And so, when people get bored of their products, instead of disposing of them, they simply reprint them into something new.

Our world is giving us an incredible opportunity to rediscover who we are as humans, our needs and how we function as species. Our responsibility as product designers is to guarantee that future generations will be equipped and prepared to function, thrive and navigate the challenges of the world we’re currently leaving behind.

Leila Saad is a graduate of Lucerne School of Art and Design. Her final year project explores how product designers must dispose of the outdated mindset of reshaping pre-existing products for consumerist satisfaction, while redefining the purpose of the profession.

For more insight into the future of design, join LS:N Global today and explore our Design Directions.

‘Consumption will exist through downloading and printing your latest Adidas shoes and reusing the materials to reprint a new pair the year after.’
Leila Saad, graduate, Lucerne School of Art and Design

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