What on Earth is “Great Design”?

Great Design

As you will have gathered from the title, this blog is all about what defines ‘great’ design. To be honest with you, I am not entirely sure what I would class as ‘great’ design. My passion for the environment definitely has a strong influence over my views. However, I will try my best not to let this blog just become a rant about how everything we create eventually ends up in landfill or even worse the oceans!! But I do believe it is a very important and relevant issue to explore when looking at the design of an object.

My biggest dilemma is my concern about the negative impact that the creation of unnecessary products is having on our planet, versus my love for beautiful, hand-crafted objects that may not have an obvious function but bring joy to people.

I think there’s a tricky balance between only buying products you really need and occasionally treating yourself to objects that bring you joy. I believe you’re allowed to enjoy life, just don’t be excessive in your consumption of the earth’s precious resources.

As you can probably tell, I have conflicted views… I am hoping throughout this blog I will come to some sort of conclusion on what I view as ‘great’ design.


Planned Obsolescence

Planned obsolescence has been around for almost 100 years. The environmental damage and questionable ethics involved became clear soon after it was first implemented and the method has been under serious criticism in recent years. This is why I am so disappointed that Apple, who claim to be a forward- thinking, environmentally conscious company, are so guilty of planned obsolescence.


Apple have been releasing a new iPhone every year for most of my lifetime. The hype over the release has been getting more and more intense with rumours about the new model circulating months in advance. This annual event is intended to encourage consumers to buy a new phone every 2/3 years or even on a yearly basis.


The stylistic obsolescence involved is very obvious and Apple doesn’t shy away from this. A big feature of any of their new products is the sleek aesthetic which they happily show off through flashy advertisements. Apple have created a unique brand with their clean, user friendly and quite frankly beautiful products. This has enticed many people, including myself, to pay significantly higher prices than you would for their competitor’s products. People buy into the Apple brand. I don’t actually have an issue with this, I understand that branding has a big influence over which product you buy. However if you are paying a high sum for a new iPhone or MacBook pro you would expect its lifespan to reflect this.


This is where I start to question Apple’s motives. Anyone who has owned an iPhone will be familiar with it slowing down as it gets old. When this happens we will find ourselves in the Apple store chatting to someone in a blue t-shirt and next thing you know you’ve spent £600 on the new iPhone. Fast forward a few years and it’s like deja vu – your new iPhone is now ‘old’ and you find yourself once again splashing the cash on a new one. We have just accepted it as a way of life. But why does our iPhone get slower? And why does this always seem to coincide with a new iPhone being released? This doesn’t happen just by chance… the product cycle you find yourself in is all part of Apple’s strategy.


Apple have been using their forced upgrade tactic for years. It started with a very simple alteration. In 2009, Apple started to use a five-point ‘security’ screw on some of their products. This screw fitting was unique to Apple so you couldn’t use a standard screw head to loosen it. As a result, consumers weren’t able to get inside their product. This caused a big issue in terms of battery replacements because you had to go directly to Apple to get a new battery. Apple offered battery replacements for a ridiculously high cost, in fact to replace the iPod shuffle battery cost the same as buying a new one. It often seemed like a more financially sound decision to just buy a brand new device rather than paying to repair the old one. Of course eventually people just made custom five-point screw heads and other companies offered to replace batteries for significantly cheaper. However this was not the end of Apple’s strategy, it was only the beginning.

Apple's New iPhone 4s Goes On Sale

In recent years there has been an accusation that Apple is using software updates to slow down your iPhone to the extent that it becomes obsolete. Apple customers across the globe have been finding that their older devices actually operate slower after a new update. This forced them to give up on their old device and buy the newest version – following the Apple product cycle.

Initially this was just a theory that sceptics came up with but the suspicion slowly spread and in December 2017 Apple was forced to admit that they actually were deliberately slowing down ageing iPhone models. However they pushed that this was carried out in the interest of increasing the devices lifespan. This seems counter-intuitive, but Apple say they were slowing down the operating system of iPhones to prolong battery life. I have to say I am not convinced by this. It seems too convenient that this strategy will also encourage people to just buy a new iPhone. Consumers are impatient and will quickly get fed up of using a slow responding phone.


Apple have apologised for this and have promised to be more transparent in future. They say that they take their customer’s trust very seriously which I struggle to comprehend when they are still denying any implementation of planned obsolescence. I am not the only one not sold on their excuses for making their phones have a shorter lifespan. There have been a number of law suits against Apple for their involvement with planned obsolescence. Last year, French prosecutors launched an investigation into planned obsolescence in Apple products. In France it is a crime to intentionally shorten the lifespan of a product and this is the first time the accusation is actually considered a criminal offence.


Apple are definitely trying to shake off their association with planned obsolescence. The environmental section of their website is certainly making them appear to be conscious and actively improving their environmental impact. They really push recycling at all stages of the product cycle. They are now using 100% recycled aluminium for the casing of the new MacBook Air and Mac Mini and recycled tin for the circuit boards in the new iPhones. Recycling of old devices is strongly encouraged and Apple actually offer discounts on new products in the exchange of old ones.

This is a step in the right direction, however it’s worth remembering that we should reduce, reuse and THEN recycle. Recycling should be treated as a last resort. The Apple website also claims that their products are “built to last as long as humanly possible”. That is a big statement and I’m not convinced that it is entirely true. Yes they have produced products that have impressive impact and water resistance but their short battery life is still a big issue and stylistic obsolescence is still in full swing.


As one of the biggest companies in the world, it is frustrating how much planned obsolescence is built into Apple’s products. How are we meant to fight planned obsolescence if a company with such high influence is involved in it. The sad fact is Apple’s entire financial system is built on planned obsolescence. They RELY on people constantly buying new devices. In order for Apple to reduce their environmental impact they would need to adjust their entire approach. This is a big ask and with the current climate crisis we can only hope they will make the right decision before it’s too late.



Salvador Dali

Great Design

Salvador Dali is well known for his completely bizarre, surrealist artwork. If you want to step into the eccentric mind of Dali himself, there is no better place to visit than the Dali Theatre and Museum which holds the largest collection of his major works. The museum can be found in the heart of Dali’s hometown, Figueres in Catalonia, Spain. The creation of the museum was Dali’s single largest project.


Dali was very passionate about how he wanted the museum to be perceived, saying “I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be a totally theatrical museum. The people who have come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.” This is exactly how I felt after going to the museum as a young child, and when I visited for the second time recently, I experienced that same feeling once again.


It is not like your average art museum, it feels more like a theme park than a gallery. When you enter you find yourself in a  courtyard enclosed by curved stone walls with gold figurines standing in the window ledges four stories high. However the first thing your eye is drawn to is the taxi in the centre. This is one of Dali’s three-dimensional artworks, known as “Rainy Taxi”. There are two mannequins inside the taxi and as the name suggests, when you put a euro in the slot, it rains inside the taxi. When I entered the courtyard, the sight of the taxi took me back 10 years ago when I had first witnessed this installation. The interactive element made this artwork particularly memorable to me and I remember being taken aback when it had rained inside the taxi the first time. I believe Dali’s ability to throw aside normality is what makes his work so unique.


Wandering through the maze of corridors and rooms, I came across a wide range of paintings, sculptures, jewellery and some things I could not even categorise. A classic painting that I feel represents, what I can only describe as the absurdity, of Dali’s work is his ‘Soft Self Portrait with Fried Bacon’. This utterly bizarre painting depicts Dali himself, sporting his famous moustache. There is a lot of mystery as to what message Dali was trying to put across by making his face look like it’s melting or sliding off, with crutches seeming to hold it up. He often used ants as a symbol of decay but the ones crawling around his eye socket seem to be attracted to food sources. It’s as if Dali is offering his skin to be eaten, just like the bacon in the painting. Some say this may be in reference to him opening himself up for the media to feed on. Dali’s paintings are notoriously puzzling and this is what makes them so engaging.


In one of the larger rooms in Dali’s labyrinth museum, I looked up to see a magnificent painting covering the whole ceiling. Known as the ‘Palace of the Wind’, this painting depicts Dali with his wife, and lifelong muse, Gala. Dali has used forced perspective to make it appear as though the painting continues high up, beyond the ceiling. I find this effect really impressive as you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the illusion of its enormity.


My personal favourite of Dali’s artworks is “The Persistence of Memory”. Unfortunately this is not displayed in the museum as it has been in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1934. It is one of Dali’s most recognisable works and is often called “Melting Clocks” or “The Soft Watches”. Dawn Ades, the British art historian and academic, wrote that the soft watches are an “unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time”. However when asked if this were true, Dali denied it, saying the clocks were a surrealist perception of a Camembert melting in the sun. The strange human form in the centre of the painting, which appears to have one closed eye shown with eyelashes, suggests a dream state. Therefore the clocks could be representing the passing of time you experience in dreams, fluid and indefinite. I really like the originality of these clocks which has led them to become a kind if emblem of Dali’s work. 

When walking out of the museum, I felt like I had been in a dream state myself. I had just experienced the unforgettable world of Dali, captured within the walls of his theatrical museum. It is unlike any other art museum I have been to. I found the museum’s unique and unforgettable design successfully mirrored Dali’s weird but wonderful artistic style.


Sagrada Familia

Great Design


When visiting Barcelona, I could not resist going to admire the famous, towering cathedral, known as the Sagrada Familia. This was the second time I had been to see the magnificent structure and once again sections of its grand exterior were concealed with scaffolding. Although the construction of the cathedral began over 130 years ago, it is not yet complete. I was bewildered by this, I understand these things take time, however the Taj Mahal only took 20 years to build so I was intrigued to find out why this was so much longer.


As it turns out, The Sagrada Familia has a long and eventful history. In 1874, Josep Maria Bocabella began campaigning for a new cathedral to be built after being inspired during a trip to Italy. Architect Francisco Paula del Villar made plans for a standard gothic revival church and the cornerstone was laid in 1882. However he resigned just one year later and Antoni Gaudi took over. After receiving a notably large anonymous donation, he drastically changed the original plans to create something much more extravagant. From 1914 onwards, Gaudi gave up all his other projects and dedicated his time to the construction of his magnificent cathedral. Unfortunately in 1926, he was tragically killed in a tram accident. At this point only a quarter of the structure was complete. He was buried in the crypt in the Sagrada Familia and his body still remains there today.

After his death, it was up to his close collaborator Domenec Sugranes to continue Gaudi’s vision. However this task drastically increased in difficulty after all of the original plans were destroyed in a fire in 1936 started by anarchists during the Spanish Civil War. There have been several head architects over the years, each attempting to give Gaudi’s vision justice. It’s a bit like Chinese whispers though and there has been some controversy over if this has been done successfully. In 2008, over 100 members of Barcelona’s art and architecture community signed a manifesto protesting what they viewed as errors in the direction of the design. Also the director of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, Manuel Borja-Villel, said “What they are constructing has little to do with the spirit of Gaudi. It has more to do with building a tourist attraction and for propaganda purposes”. I can see the point he is making, it is easy for projects like these to become all about making money. The Sagrada Familia hasn’t exactly been a cheap build either. It is estimated that it costs approximately €25 million a year to continue construction. However, surprisingly, it has always been privately funded and never received any financial support from the government.

Sagrada Familia 2000x1125 2

The cathedral is to have 18 spires when complete, currently only 8 have been fully constructed. These spires are to represent the Twelve Apostles, Virgin Mary, Four Evangelists and Jesus Christ. The height of the spires vary and relate to the hierarchy of each religious figure. The spire that symbolises Jesus Christ is to be the tallest, reaching 560 feet. This will make it just smaller than the tallest point in Barcelona, Montjuic Hill. This was deliberately specified as the architect believe that nothing man made should surpass what was made by God. I think this is a beautifully considerate approach as it really appreciates the importance of the natural world over man made structures. 


I’ve never made it inside the cathedral, the day I visited the tickets had already sold out by 11am. This is no surprise, it is the most visited tourist attraction in Barcelona, with more than 3 million visitors every year. However I have read about the magnificent interior. The ceiling has been designed to represent trees, which is classic for Gaudi who was often inspired by nature. The 200 feet vaults create a space which symbolises a spiritual forest, with the columns mimicking tree trunks that branch out into the ceiling. Not only is this visually stunning, this design is also practical as it removes the need for buttresses which are a common feature of Gothic architecture.


In terms of maintaining Gaudi’s vision, from my perspective the structure does have strong visual links to Gaudi’s architectural style. If you compare it to the Casa Milà, one of Gaudi’s earlier works, the aesthetic similarity is hard to ignore. I have a lot of admiration for the visual impact that these buildings make, they may be a little grander than my usual taste but I can’t deny their architectural beauty. 

If construction stays on schedule then the structure is expected to be complete by 2026, 100 years after Gaudi’s death. I’m sure I am not alone in saying I look forward to seeing Gaudi’s masterpiece finally standing free of any scaffolding so that it’s great design can be fully appreciated.



Planned Obsolescence

Torn pantyhose

When it comes to planned obsolescence, there is one particular case that really infuriates me. I wear tights most days and I’m all too familiar with ladders forming in them. This can happen on the first time wearing them and even if I try to minimise the damage by coating the edge of the ladder with clear nail polish (if you’re not familiar this is a handy technique for stalling the growth of ladders), inevitably I will find myself having to throw them out. Being too young to know any better, I have been under the impression that this is just the way tights are, the thin material means that they are susceptible to tears and there’s nothing you can do about it.


However, after some research, I discovered to my horror that this is not the case. In 1940, the french manufacturers Dupont invented a revolutionary fibre. Nylon. This was a game changer for woman around the world. This new, flexible and STRONG material was perfect for stockings. These nylon stockings were in fact so strong that they could tow cars! I would love to see someone attempt to tow a car with the tights available on the market today. These stockings were simply too good and stocking manufacturers started to panic. If these tights were so durable then no one would be back to buy replacements any time soon. 


Now this is where the shocking part comes. Dupont actually sent their scientists back to the lab to adjust the chemicals in the nylon so that they would become weaker. This would make them more susceptible to tears and ladders and therefore force woman to keep buying new stockings when their old ones became unwearable. I think this is utterly ridiculous. It’s such blatant planned obsolescence. 

Also to save money, tight manufactures make tights in the form of tubes, not considering the actual shape of a human leg. This makes them much less ergonomic and more likely to rip when putting them on.


The french association Halte a l’Obsolescence Programmee (“Stop Built-In Obsolescence”) recently carried out a study which found that 72% of woman said that their tights would break on average after only 6 uses. The study blamed this lack of durability on 2 factors: the low quality fabric and the use of additives that make the fabric weaker. It accused companies of soaking the tights in chemically-treated water, which they claimed made the tights softer, when in fact this also makes them more fragile, significantly reducing their durability. I think this is so unethical and should be banned. The idea that manufacturers can manipulate the chemicals to ensure their tights will break sooner is outrageous.


In recent years, there has finally been some uproar about planned obsolescence, with tights being one of the products put under the spotlight. In France, which is a leader in fighting planned obsolescence, a new government initiative is being put into place from 2020 which introduces a voluntary label, indicating the expected lifespan of a product. Hopefully this will make companies increase the durability of their product as no one is going to buy a product that says it’s likely to break after only a couple of uses. I think this is a great idea but it is not enough. In order for companies to be forced into changing their ways this needs to be made compulsory. 

Tights are just one of an extensive number of products that have been altered to be less durable. In fact I would argue that most mass produced products have been tainted by planned obsolescence to some extent. The time has come for more governments to tackle this injustice and put in place legislation that ensures the consumer isn’t being cheated when buying a product.


‘Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence’

Planned Obsolescence

You may be wondering when and why the concept of planned obsolescence emerged. In 1929, the Wall Street crash happened in America, signalling the beginning of a 12 year economic depression, known as The Great Depression. Unemployment rates skyrocketed and people stopped buying things. This had a devastating effect on the manufacturers as there was little demand for new products. The introduction of modern technology was significantly increasing the productivity of factories but this wasn’t being exploited due to the lack of active consumers. People were desperate to find a solution to this economic disaster.


In 1932, Bernard London, a Jewish-American real estate broker, wrote the paper “Ending the depression through planned obsolescence” to push forward his ‘solution’ for the economic depression. He is considered to be responsible for coining the term ‘Planned Obsolescence’. I have read this paper and I am astonished at his perspective on consumerism. I strongly disagree with his proposal but did find it very eye-opening to hear such an opposing point of view. His paper was rather controversial back then but reading it now I was shocked by how oblivious he was to the environmental concerns associated with planned obsolescence. 

When introducing his idea he emphasises how fields and factories are ready to produce “unlimited quantities”. His disregard for the fact that the planet has finite resources is quite clear and highlights the lack of awareness of some people had back in the 1930’s. He goes on to accuse people of “disobeying the law of obsolescence” as during the Great Depression people were trying to make their belongings last longer in order to save money. I find it very frustrating that the fact people were maintaining and repairing products is considered negative. It is clear to me early on in the paper that London was a very profit driven man. 


London then summarises his plan, that he claims would put America on “the road to recovery”, saying we should assign an expiry date to every good at the time of its production. The idea is that the the goods should only be used up until their expiry date, after which they would be declared “legally dead”. Once an object has ‘died’, the owner should return it to a government agency who will exchange the product for a receipt indicating the value of the object. The owner can then use this receipt to subsidise the cost of the new replacement product. London claims this will ensure a constant production of new products which will keep “the wheels of industry” going. The government will use the money collected from a sales tax to pay the consumers motivating the public to get rid of old and buy new products.

The worst part of this proposed system is that people were to be fined for continuing to use ‘dead’ goods. Consequently people would be forced into constantly buying new products even if what they currently owned was working effectively. Now don’t get me wrong, I am aware of the obvious economic benefit to this plan. If people are forced to constantly buy new products then there will always be a demand for new goods which would  provide secure employment in these industries. However, there are two big issues with this proposal that highlight how it is ethically wrong. Firstly, although there would be more people employed even those with a job wouldn’t be able to afford to buy the new products. They would be  be stuck with their “dead” belongings for which they would be endlessly fined. They would be caught in a vicious circle of debt. Then there is the obvious environmental issue. 


London talks about the “abundant supplies of raw materials” that we have. That is simply not true. I’m sure you are well aware of the serious issues we are facing with our finite resources like fossil fuels. A big elephant in the room is what happens to all of the goods once they are declared “legally dead”. Throughout his paper, London uses the word “destroy” multiple times to describe how we will get rid of these “dead” goods. This vague description shows London’s naivety, or blatant lack of interest, in how they would dispose of this constant stream of goods. He takes this one step further when he talks about obsolete buildings and machines simply ‘disappearing’. This disregard and lack of responsibility for the disposal of his legally “dead” objects is bewildering to me. His referral to things being thrown into a “junk pile” has a depressing likeness to how we deal with our obsolete goods today. We have all seen the pictures of landfill sites that are growing at an unmanageable rate across the globe.

The idea of making planned obsolescence a legal requirement thankfully did not take off. Bernard London’s proposal was rejected, which does give me some faith in humanity. However this was not the end of planned obsolescence. 20 years later, in the 1950’s, it resurfaced. This time the concept was widely accepted due to one vital difference. Consumers were not forced to buy new things under law, instead they were seduced. Clever marketing and advertisements lead to the emergence of a consumer based society. People were sucked into the idea of buying new things even though they didn’t need them. This is still the case today, we are all victims of planned obsolescence, even if we don’t realise it.

The Lightbulb Conspiracy

Planned Obsolescence


Glowing in the heart of fire department in the city of Livermore, California, the oldest working incandescent lightbulb in the world stands strong. Known as the ‘Centennial Light’, this lightbulb has been burning for 118 years. So the obvious question, which I’m sure you are thinking too, is why don’t all lightbulbs last this long? We often have to deal with the hassle, and financial burden, of replacing our lightbulbs on a fairly regular basis. So why do our lightbulbs break when there is evidence that they could last beyond our lifetime?

The lightbulb was the very first victim of planned obsolescence. In 1881, Thomas Edison produced the first commercial incandescent lightbulb which had a lifetime of around 1500 hours. This continued to improve and by the 1920’s lightbulbs were advertised to last up to 2500 hours. You would assume that increasing the lifetime of the lightbulb could only be a positive thing, however this improvement was not welcomed by all. If lightbulbs were lasting longer, people would buy replacements less frequently. This had a very negative impact on lightbulb manufacturers as the demand for their products had reduced, resulting in a serious loss of profit.


In 1924, a group electric businesses across the globe formed the first world-wide cartel. They were known as the Phoebus Cartel. The aim of the cartel was to take control of the longevity of lightbulbs to ensure that they could continue to make profits. In 1925, the ‘1000 hours life committee’ formed. Their job was to adjust the technical design of lightbulb so that it would fail after 1000 hours of operation. The cartel actually took it so far that they imposed fines on members whose lightbulb’s average lifespan exceeded 1000 hours. This forced planned obsolescence did translate into increased sales for the lightbulb manufacturers however the negative environmental impact is hard to ignore.


Reducing the lifetime of a product has lead to the throw away culture we find ourselves in today. The fact that such a universal, everyday object has been affected by planned obsolescence is very disheartening. However, all hope is not lost. In the 1980’s, the Compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) was made available, you’ll probably know it as an ‘energy-saving lightbulb’. Not only does it use significantly less energy, but the lifespan is also well above the 1000 hours of its incandescent equivalent. CFL’s claim to have a lifespan ranging from 6000 – 15000 hours. That’s almost 2 years compared to 41 days of traditional lightbulbs. In recent years, LED’s have trumped the lifetime claims of CFL’s. Lasting for at least 40 years under average use, these lightbulbs are fighting against the Phoebus Cartel’s planned obsolescence policy. 


Although improvements are being made, planned obsolescence is no longer limited to the lightbulb. The influence of the Phoebus Cartel’s ideology has impacted the way products are made and sold today. Throughout history, lightbulbs have been a symbol of ideas and innovation. Ironically it turns out the lightbulb was the pioneer of planned obsolescence, something that I believe contradicts contemporary design.

Does technology define humanity?

Design & Technology

Does technology define humanity? I was asked this question the other day and my instant response was yes. I am very wary of the influence technology is having over the way we behave. However when I thought about it a bit more I started to question my initial response. Yes technology has a great impact on how we live our lives, but I wouldn’t say it defines our humanity. Humanity is on a much deeper level that technology has been able to reach. I wouldn’t rule out this changing in years to come though. I feel we are on a dangerous path that may lead technology controlling us rather than us controlling technology.

I am not alone in this concern. There have been many predictions on how technological advancements will impact how we behave in the future. What I find fascinating is the predications that have been made in the past about the future we live in now, particularly in films. Blade Runner (1982) is a great example of this as the film is based in a dystopian Los Angeles in the seemingly distant future of 2019. Now don’t get me wrong, some of the predictions are a little off, as far as I’m aware there aren’t any synthetic humans wandering the streets… However the film did get some things right. Video calling makes an appearance which plays a big part in the way we communicate today. Digital billboards have a big visual impact in the film and certainly reflect the aesthetic of our modern cities.


Blade Runner had a very pessimistic way of predicting how technology was going to impact us. It presents LA as this dark, gloomy place that is only lit by the harsh lighting from the digital billboards. I think it’s interesting that the film has taken a dystopian view of the future rather than a utopian one. We are often promised that technology will lead us to a future of paradise and prosperity. However I am sceptical of this, I think technology is not all positive. The constant presence of technology in our lives is having a detrimental impact on the way we behave and interact with each other and I can only see this getting worse.


The biggest cause of this is the mobile phone. If you ever stop and look around, at any given moment, there will be a sea of eyes glued to the screens of their phones. I feel this problem has crept up on us. I couldn’t pin point when this started to become such a common sight. Having these devices on our bodies at all times are causing them to almost become part of us and this is where I worry about technology having an impact on humanity itself. 


Until the end of the world (1991) is another film that predicted the way technology would evolve and in particular our addiction to a handheld device. In the film there is a device that can record people’s dreams and one of the main characters, Claire, is drawn in by this. There is a scene at the end of the film which I feel has a hauntingly accurate vision of the way things are heading. Claire is found sitting in a cave manically staring at the screen of the dream device. When the device runs out of batteries and she is refused any replacements she has a complete meltdown.


I think this is, although maybe slightly dramatised, a scarily accurate prediction of how dependent we are becoming on our mobile phones. The addiction Claire has to the device has resulted in her losing her sanity. Watching this did make me further question the impact technology has on our humanity. At this stage I would not yet say it defines us but if we continue to rely on technology the way we are now I think it could reach a point where it is so integrated into human life that it is hard to determine where the human ends and the technology begins.


Handmade Products

Design & Technology

Traditionally, before the industrial revolution, everything was handmade. Nowadays, especially with the introduction of mass production, it is rare to come across solely hand crafted products. I think this is such a loss as objects made by hand have an individuality that could never be reproduced by machinery. Every handmade product is different and has its own story which is represented in the maker’s marks. Mass production has resulted in generic, identical products being churned out with very little care or consideration.


I strongly believe that every object should be treated with respect and be well cared for to ensure it lasts as long as possible. In order to encourage this respect, it’s important that the user has an emotional connection to the product. A product that has been carefully crafted by hand naturally offers this emotional connection as it is linked to the maker and their manufacture process. It is a natural instinct for someone to take care of something that they know has been made by an actual person. A good example is that handmade Christmas decoration you made as a child that still appears on the tree every year. It’s probably outlived many characterless, factory made decorations that have been bought over the years. Humans are emotionally lead and this really reflects on how we interact with different products.


From an environmental point of view, I think handmade products are a much better than their mass produced equivalent. Firstly, handmade products are usually built to last and will often come with a lifetime guarantee. This is the approach we need to be taking to move away from our current throwaway culture. Handmade workshops are small-scale in comparison to huge machinery factories. Therefore they don’t require as much energy since they are powering a human rather than a machine, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint. They also only produce the quantity of goods that are in demand rather than over-producing and then using methods such as planned obsolescence and manipulative marketing to convince people that they need to buy into their products.


A big selling point for hand crafted goods is the social aspect. When making a custom, handmade product, the maker will often build a relationship with the customer in order to make the product fit their specific needs. This relationship between the maker and customer is unique to the handmade industry, you don’t see people making friends with machines. Interacting with the person behind the product adds a social element to what is normally considered to be a materialistic based experience. I think that is something that has been lost in the expansive shopping centres and online stores we often find ourselves in where there is little to no human interaction.

There is not only benefits for the customer when it comes handmade products. The actual process of making the goods can have an amazing impact on the mental health of the maker. The skills involved in hand crafts are often considered to have therapeutic qualities. There’s something about making an object with your own hands that brings pride and satisfaction.


Unsurprisingly, the main reason for the demise of handmade products in todays market is down to money. The cost of a hand crafted product, especially a custom made one, is extortionate in comparison to one that is machine made. Handmade products are often unaffordable. This is tricky because the price is due to factors such as the quality of material, the skill of the maker and the time required for manufacture. Time is the biggest influence here, for example it takes much longer to hand stitch leather than machine stitch it. I think it is so important to pay a maker fairly for their work which is why I find myself in such a dilemma about the fact that handmade products are often unaffordable. We need to find a balance that makes handmade products more available to the general population while still ensuring the maker is able to make a living.

Stylistic Obsolescence

Design & Technology, Planned Obsolescence

When shopping for a new household appliance, the aesthetics of the product is often the deciding factor. For example, a modern, sleek looking microwave will  give us the impression that it is more technologically advanced than the more basic model sitting beside it on the shelf. However if you actually opened up both the products, you will often find very little or even no difference in the actual functional capabilities. This illusion is the result of stylistic obsolescence.


This approach to product design has been used since the early 1920s, however it was first applied to the household appliance industry in 1934 by French-American designer Raymond Loewy. Loewy is often considered to be the creator of western consumer culture. He was one of the first designers to become a ‘celebrity’, often featuring on the cover of Life magazine. His design of the Coldspot refrigerator is a great example of style over substance, a distinguishing feature of the stylistic obsolescence approach.


The fridge has a very futuristic appearance, enticing consumers to buy into the idea of the newest, on trend product. The design prioritised appealing to emotions over the actual ergonomics and function of the product. Each new version of the refrigerator gave the impression of a completely transformed model from the last, however the technology inside often remained the same. The outer shell was constantly changed to keep up to date with the current trends and as a result people felt the need to keep buying a new fridge in order to stay cool.


The Coldspot refrigerator was the first household appliance that soled solely on its appearance rather than its function and this continues to be a strong selling point today. This idea of using appearance to trick consumers into thinking they need to buy the newest version of a product really annoys me. Modern aesthetics make the consumer think that they are buying something that has the newest technology and will therefore operate better than their current appliance. In many cases this is not true. 

You may be wondering why the idea of stylistic obsolescence formed in the first place. The Great Depression was the main reason why designers decided to start to design products to deliberately go out of style. In order to boost the economy, it was important that consumers bought more stuff. Therefore they were encouraged to buy products that they didn’t necessarily need. Obviously this would be a hard selling point so they needed to trick consumers into thinking that they actually did need these products. This is where stylistic obsolescence came into play. People were convinced that they needed to keep buying the newest version of a product and as a result the economy started to recover.

Garbage pile in trash dump or landfill. Pollution concept.

So if you look at to from a financial perspective, stylistic obsolescence is a great thing, especially for ensuring continuous profits for a business. However, I would argue that the disadvantages seriously outweigh the benefits in this case. Firstly I believe this approach is unethical as it manipulates consumers into spending their well earned money unnecessarily for the financial gain of big corporations. My biggest concern however, is the detrimental impact it is having on the environment. Have we considered what happens to the old, rejected products that are discarded when we buy new ones? That was something that was seriously over-looked when stylistic obsolescence was introduced. The problem is when this ideology was developed, people were very naive about the strain we were putting on our environment. There was little to no concern over how our actions would impact the climate. That is no excuse though, we are now well aware of the current climate disaster we have on our hands. Now that we are more informed we need to change our approach to consumerism entirely. We cannot continue living in this consumer culture built on stylistic obsolescence, it’s simply not sustainable.


Revolving Doors

Great Design

Revolving doors are something we encounter on a daily basis, but have you ever thought about why they were invented? If you think about it, they are quite strange. Who’s idea was it to replace a simple hinged door with some rotating panels of glass that form strange compartments for people to squeeze into and move along with just to enter a building. The idea was first patented in 1881 by the German inventor H. Bockhacker for his ‘door without draft of air’. However this did not take off. Then in 1888, American designer, Theophilus van Kannel received a patent for his improved ‘storm door structure’ that was later renamed the ‘revolving door’ we know today.


Van Kannel’s design consisted of a three-way storm door that had weather stripping to ensure a sealed fit with the outer frame. This provided great energy efficiency as heat was significantly reduced compared with a normal hinged door. However this was not the main motivation for his invention. Van Kannel’s idea routed from a social phobia. There were two social interactions that he passionately hated: having the awkward ‘no, you first’ conversations with other men when approaching a door and the expectation to hold doors open for woman. It is no surprise that he never married, however he did dedicate most of his life to the invention and perfection of his design.


Other than tackling his social nightmare, there was a much more impressive benefit that Van Kannel’s revolving door offered. By installing a revolving door instead of a hinged door in a building it is estimated to have energy savings of 30%. This is because when you open a regular door, there is high air flow exchange, making it hard to maintain consistent indoor temperatures. Revolving doors significantly reduce this as there is never direct exposure between the inside and outside of the building. They also prevent the transfer of noise, dust, rain and snow entering a building. These benefits make a revolving door seem like an obvious replacement for a hinged door in any building, however there are some key flaws with Van Kannel’s energy saving design. 

Firstly there is the concern of fire safety. Using a revolving door is not a speedy procedure and only a limited number of people can fit in each compartment. This makes it a useless fire escape and additional swing doors have to be installed on the side. However, the biggest issue with revolving doors is simple. People don’t use them. Funnily enough, having been designed to deal with a phobia, revolving doors themselves seem to cause many phobias. It’s not unusual to be afraid of revolving doors. Why do people find them so terrifying? Well the most obvious reason is the concept of having to enter a small compartment which does not suit anyone suffering from claustrophobia.  Also having rotating doors can cause you to trap your arm, leg or even clothing in the door. Then there’s the possibility of getting confused whilst being spun around in this glass structure and ending up missing your exit and finding yourself standing outside again looking like a complete idiot. Not going to lie, that has happened to me before… Finally there’s the social fear of getting stuck in a small space with a stranger, a bit hypocritical considering the whole idea was to avoid awkward social situations.


However, considering how how much energy can be saved from using a revolving door, which offers both environmental and financial benefits, surely there is a way to encourage people to use these intimidating devices. There was a study carried out in 2006 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which found that only 25% of students chose to use the revolving door when there was a normal door beside it. The researchers then put up a sign that encouraged the students to use the revolving door by emphasising the energy saving benefits. The revolving door usage subsequently increased to 58%. This experiment was repeated a few years later at Columbia University in New York by graduate student Andrew Shea. Initially only 28% of students were opting for the revolving doors. Andrew’s thesis involved the subject of designing for social change and as a result he created an aesthetically pleasing sign, again informing the students of the benefits of using the revolving door. Usage increased to a staggering 71%. 


I think it’s fascinating that something as basic as a simple sign can make such a difference. Although some of us do claim to be legitimately afraid of revolving doors, I think most of us are just sub-consciously avoiding them for no real reason. I have to admit, I’ve never really considered the environmental benefit that revolving doors offer and I think awareness of this does need to be increased. So if you have a revolving door at your uni or office, why not put up a sign and encourage people to use this great energy saving design.