Design like you give a Shit

Published by James Tooze on 17 September 2015

Following on from my manifesto principle; Design and make like you give a shit, I strongly believe that all makers must embrace the consequences of what they make, what materials they use to make with and how long the things they create are designed to last. It may seem like an onerous burden to place on one person making one thing but if the potential of open design and open making reaches a critical mass then each maker may in effect be one actor in a complex decentralised system of mass manufacture. This really matters, as each individual’s actions will be hard to govern and will require shared values, practices and processes to ensure both separately and as a whole people making things strive to limit the negative consequences of their actions and choices.

What I hope for and others do too, is a culture at all levels of society and business that is aware of and responsive to the the adverse consequences of making, using and ultimately disposing of stuff. The great Richard Buckminster Fuller is a mine of advice for those involved in design and making, I recommend all to read his sage words, or at the very least Google his most famous quotes as many are extremely pertinent and none more so than his call to arms “We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.”

We know that some materials are finite, we know that the majority of products on the market are not designed in a way that prioritises sustainable material use, we know that the electronic devices / components that are today’s must haves are tomorrow’s waste, we know that urban waste is a massive problem, we know vast swathes of the globe are being wrecked in the process of extracting materials, we know that pollution is having a profound effect on delicate ecosystems and global weather and we know that there are people trying to find alternate and benign ways of producing what we need and desire. We know all this and much more but what we supposed to do about it? I suggest the first thing to do is to reframe what we are engaged in as designers and makers. If we see ourselves as architects of the future then we are engaged with the redesign of all that need reconsidering in light of what we now know.

There is no magic pill, or single solution, it is best to tackle the challenges one step at a time. Start by
being curious, discover where your materials come from, what it took to make them and get them to you. Then challenge yourself to use the best available options and be efficient when using them. Design so that their value can be easily recaptured for future use (either as material of feedstock) and then share what you have learnt so that others can follow in you well placed footsteps. This way we may collectively arrive at a place where we have shared values, practices and processes that ensure both separately and as a whole people designing and making things are integral to a more sustainable future.

I have attempted to do this with a project I started while studying at the RCA - Yes it is another chair, but I hope it also acts as a vehicle for the kind of thinking I outlined above. It is not a grand solution by any means and any and all constructive critique is welcome. The point I hope I am making is that tackling the challenges of collective sustainability is a project that we all need to be engaged with and that starts by firstly giving a shit about it.