Design and Self-Expression – Should the future of sustainable design be more vivid instead of less?

For the last year, I tried getting to know minimalistic culture. This worked out well, since I only had a backpack, when I moved into my new apartment. When I decorated my apartment, I took into account timeless and feeling based design. My idea was that, when I decorated it in such a way, I would never want a change. I tried to apply this concept to my interior style and clothing.

A year passed by and one evening I watched the movie “Cruella Deville”. The movie illustrated aspects of fashion, identity and self-expression. It also illustrated aspects of being who you really are as oppose to pretending and therefore live a life most true to yourself. The movie also illustrated the many facetts one has and it made me question, whether timeless design or feeling-based design can always stay the same, when feelings and facets change?

Life’s not just about smiles only and always, but about being who you want to be. There’s no wrong to who you are, what you feel, what you like and what you want to become or not. There’s only wrong in denying yourself to yourself. Embrace yourself and your individuality.

As the movie ended, I realized that by creating a minimalistic and “timless” interior and clothing design, a part of me was missing. The next day, I went to visit a local fleamarket and decided to re-clutter my home with colourfull designs, anything in which I could express my many facets and feelings. It was fun and it made me realize that by focusing on the most basic colors and designs over the last year, I had neglected other colours and therefore feelings that make my life unique to me .

Self-Expression

Can’t we always feel the same?

It sounds at odds to convince ourselves (in that case – myself) that feelings won’t change or that I’ll always feel a specific way, when I look at a certain design – either interior or my clothing. Although, I might associate my soft oranged toned couch to a specific feeling- I may not always feel that way. Because of that I may desire a new couch, with a new design and a color to match a different feeling – Feelings aren’t limited to a limited amount of colors and patterns.

Is the concept of timless design flawed?

To me timelessness implies that certain goods will still be “in fashion” in the next years to come and that I’ll always like the design. I think thats not possible, first of all because of we evolve and as we evolve a desire for change may happen and secondly, timeless design likely depends on trends.

It was the same for Ray Ban Aviators; “They had a medical use in the beginning, protecting your eyes from the sun, but they became the sunglasses for those who wanted to look like rock stars, when real rock stars actually started to use them for protection from the flashing camerasโ€ (NotJustALabel, 2014)

How don’t know what design is timeless, because we don’t know the future.

How should design be promoted?

For the moment, design could be vivid, and encourage the individuality of consumers. Consumers – or at least me- want to express themselves in the moment and as they change. Not every day, but every once in a while.

Are changes in tastes and desire for new ways of self-expression unsustainable?

They may be unsustainable, if increased consumption ruin anyonse finances, or if products are purchased that have a high environmental or social footprint. They are also unsustainable if increased consumption levels take place because a look that is sold in advertisment is being mimicked as oppose to a look or desire for change that comes from within, or more specifically is true to the consumer self.

How can sustainable production and consumption processes support freedom of expression?

  • Create fixed product designs, of which parts can be changed or customized according to tastes and feelings.
  • Create materials to last
  • Create materials that can match a range of feelings
  • Be wild, rent, swap – but not too much!
  • (…)

What’s it worth? 6 Euros per kg – not worth it for me to buy it off from you.

Last year I inherited old drinking cups that used to belong to my grandmother. Each of them had unique images engraved into them. Thus, each of these cups told a story, no other cup would. I imagined these stories to center around the 18th century, with some vivid images illustrating themes around conflict, romance and longing for freedom.

Product value is versatile

As I inhereted them, I struggled to identify the cups’ unique value to me. First of all, I felt their sentimantal value, because they used to belong to my grandmother. I felt having them in my apartment, makes her present. Then, there was the history and stories each of these cups illustrated. Somehow, having them at home, made me take part in them. Lastly, I imagined them having a high financial value.

Perceived product value can change

After a few weeks , I noticed how I began hiding most of them in my closet. I felt bad, but they did not make me happy. The material began feeling cold to me and also did I not feel connected to the their stories. Most of all, I did not create any story with them myself and some images made me feel uncomfortalbe as well. I still felt, I needed to keep them, because of the many values I had defined, when I received them.

Sentimental values can change and so came the day, in which I had to be honest to myself and decided to sell them. Neither did I know what material they were made of, nor what the price would be. But I imagined at least 200 Euros, as the material was pure and the entire cups were made only of one. They were for sure produced to last a life-time if not, many life-times.

Metals are great for product longevity, unfortunately their financial value varies and so their ability to be re-sold.

Where there is no demand, there is little financial value left

When I arrived at a buy and sell-shop specializing in antiques, the buyers’ eyes lit up. He said ” Yes, show me your inherited treasures.” I gave him the full bag, still confused, yet excited to learn about their real value. As quick as his face lit up, as quickly did his face lit up with disappointment. ” Well, you can take them back home. Their value is nothing. Its zink. That sells, if melted on the current market for 6 Euros a kg.” ” Only? What about them being very old? ” ” Yes, they are. Now, why did you bring them here? ” ” I have no use for them and their style does not fit much into my apartment.” “Yes, exactly. There is no market for them. People don’t want it. If the demand is low, it doesn’t sell. Then only the price for the raw material is left and it just isn’t worth it for zink. Sorry.”

And so I left, confused that apparently nowadays trend and therefore product demand plays such a huge role for how long a material stays in the system, and how long it doesn’t. Although, these cups could last a life-time, their value appeared to be nearly nothing, as consumers – including me – want products and materials to match, identify with.

Can sustainable design change the future?

Sustainable design, among others, implies to use materials to last, materials and products that don’t break down quickly, just like these cups. But if fashion and trend changes happen too quickly, materials can be designed to last centuries, and yet they will be discarded far earlier. To change that, so I believe, we need to create materials and products, that will still be in fashion in the many more years to come, only then sustainable design can change the future. Yet that seems difficult if external influences such as marketing etc. makes consumers want to buy something new every once in a while, or if old products just don’t fit into current styles.

What does it mean for a circular business case?

From a consumer perspective, products will more likely circle if demand is consistent over multiple years (of course ideally centuries). From a resource perspective, if the value for raw materials remains high in the re-sale market or that quantity returned of raw materials remains high for lower value resources i.e. metals

Feel it – Creating sustainable space to be

Almost eight months ago, I moved into my new apartment. I had not really rented my own apartment yet as I most often rented rooms or small studios with furniture in it. So I felt very much pumped and excited. My first thoughts wondered on how I was going to fill the empty space? Long story short; with a couch, a small and larger table in the living room and another foldable table and 2 chairs in the kitchen.

It looks okay..

Though, I was really happy with my apartment, something didn’t link with the kitchen. It felt just like a kitchen and I used my table and one chair with an average of 30-60 minutes a day ( Fast eater? ). Though the table and the plants around it averaged around 6 square meter. 6 square meter that are being heated every day and that were basically not used unless I was eating and was cooking, though my face was not directed towards the table but the cooking utilities.

Besides the space not being used much, I also felt it was empty; though filled with some furniture. Likewise I did not feel connected to the materials and neither had I created a specific feeling other then “needing to have a kitchen table and chairs” in the kitchen. But what else should be there? Are there laws on how space needs to be designed in apartments or can we go wild with it? Can we make our homes our homes, or should we make our homes the homes of interior cataloges? Or could we design homes, based on how we want to feel? Yes!

After liking the idea but having no clue, on how a kitchen space should feel like, I decided to free my mind by giving away my furniture. 4 chairs, which were quite functional could not be-resold, because ?? no interest and possibly minor material demage. Also, the material could for sure not be repaired. So they were happily donated.

The already pre-owned table, which was made of solid wood with a fantastic material quality, could be re-sold for 20 euros (as oppose to the initial price of 40 Euros). I felt it was difficult to re-sell the table, because it did not look as perfectly shiny as when I bought it. Though, unlike the chairs, it was possible to “refurbish it” due to its solid wood quality and if I had done so, I could have probably re-sold it for 30-40 euros. But then again, I would have made some โ‚ฌ losses, because of the refurbishing materials needed so.. naaah. Did not.

๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Though, I sold the table, I still wasn’t sure how I wanted the space to feel like. So for a couple of days cat and I decided to enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner on the floor. Eating on the floor, that made me feel connected to Moroccan friends; I liked it, but not too low, because well I like to sit on something. And then I thought about other space I felt very relaxed and comfortable at. And there it was “libraries, lounges a la James Bond, coffee bars, tropics, Jazz “. Though, lounges a la James Bond stuck in my head. Why James Bond though? I guess I like the feeling of mystery, smartness and strenght. So could I create such envirnoment and if yes, what would it need? A cigarre? No , but a fancy chair.

I needed a fancy chair, for sure. I was certain by 100% . But what is a fancy chair? It was defenitly a lounge chair and the very fancy once from the movies are most often made with leather.

waaa , they are expensive!

So I looked up lounge chairs, but well there were a little expensive. That likely is typical for many leather products, because depending on the the desired material quality on the leather, the processing of the cow-hide can become more cost-intensive. [Currently working in a leather project on more sustainable chemistry in the leather supply chains โ€“ h_da Hochschule Darmstadt (h-da.de)]

One could now ask: why not a synthetic or vegan leather chair? Simply, because there are no! feelings that I could possibly relate to syntethics only unless the imagination of a chemical wizzard and because I would not be sure how to maintain synthetic leather. Usually, with many synthetic or cheaply produced materials, they are difficult to maintain and last but not least to recycle and most of all to re-sell! They may also break more easily and I really wanted this chair to be the real deal. I wanted it to last a life-time . I wanted to see it age and shape my own James Bond history into that product that I did not have yet….

Dedicated to find the real life-deal – that I could afford- I scanned through a secondhandmarket platform, where consumers re-sell preowned items to others. Its more a local or regional type of site. Well, so there were some leather chairs that looked quite nice, but here I was weighing around 60 kg, doing a little weight lifting without car and there was no way I could have it transported. But there it was. The real deal, waiting for me, for 43 WOW Euros, only 200 km away from me.

And so I took my chance, called the owner, asked to send it via post, realized the many complications with the product, because the leather was not much bendible (how great!) and I decided to pick it up the next day via train. I knew it was worth it. Just when I saw it, I felt this instant connection. I loved how the previous owner maintained it , it was real thick leather, a nice upper cut, nicely aged in time- giving me that instant mystic , luxurious old and fancy feeling. Not only that, but the comfort also outweighted many other chairs I had previously been sitting in.

To be honest, I never had a better train ride, and never before had sitting and waiting been that comfortable. Also never before had I realized what an amazing panorama view one could have, if a chair was placed into the direction of the window in the train. Never had I felt such James Bond, advanterous but likewise luxurious trainride than this one. It was a James Bond (whatever James Bond at that point means) experience in itself. And so I was also congratulated by the train staff for my fancy way of travelling. ๐Ÿ˜€

And of course, the real deal and I eventually made it home, where it now fits well in my tropical lounge home. Now James Bond chair and I will have a sit and think about the feelings we wanted to create around us and based on that choose new materials that make us happy and according to my favorite interior designer Kelly Wearslter – are at the same time useful ๐Ÿ˜‰

Space and Sustainability?

Besides the fun – much space is often not used efficentily, and we may pay a higher price for rent or houses, to have that extra room or space we do not use much. For instance, in families kitchens are used actively more often then bed rooms. So there is the cost-question on what type of space you need, what for and how you can design it to fit your needs.

On the other hand, a lot of materials are produced cheaply with a short-life. Buying materials that are more durable, last longer, have a higher re-sell value and can also be more easily maintained, provides yourself but also the industry incentives for sustainable production – > Circular Economy : ) . Though there is for instance much debate around leather – leather still remains a waste product and using the material for multiple years, might be more beneficial than the use of synthethics, that likely have to be replaced more often.

Of course, I am not a designer and neither does my space now look like from a James Bond movie, but being connected, a story or a feeling, also motivates us to keep materials longer and it also helps to create homes that reflect us, our feelings – homes that feel like homes.