What Do You Value?

I was tidying up some uni. stuff last night, and I came across a little assignment about “What I Value”- both in general and in regards to industrial design and products:

What do you value? 

Make a list of what you place a high value on.

 In no particular order:

  • Happiness;
  • Health;
  • Time- it is the only resource you can not buy;
  • Personal relationships and community (my family, friends, acquaintances);
  • Satisfaction- being content with my efforts. This includes professional pride, reliability, punctuality, providing for my wife and children and ensuring their happiness and safety;
  • Fairness- natural justice and opportunity;

Make a list of what you value in a well designed product.

  • Quality- someone has made a product with care and attention;
  • Durability- a product is both an investment of my time and money, and the producers (all those involved in a products manufacture) time and money;
  • Maintainability- I like products that can be repaired, parts that are available and can be replaced, a company willing to provide a ‘lifecycle’ approach to their products (rather than concluding the relationship with the user at the point of sale);
  • Consideration – Evidence of thought and reflection in a products function and use, rather than just cost/ price (this is why I want to be an Industrial Designer);
  • Risk- Evidence of innovation and problem-solving, and a company willing to back themselves when there is a risk of a new approach not succeeding;
  • Companies whose priority is not profit- Producers who are in a certain business because they have a passion for that business, and are willing to generate a lower return because they are passionate about what they do. For example, if you love bicycles buy products from a company who are in business because they too love bicycles, not from a company who buys a generic frame and puts some stickers on it, because this year bicycles are fashionable for Christmas. This is not to avoid the reality of profit making in business, too many companies however take a short-term view to maximising profits, which translates to competitor duplication, marketing driven offerings (that by their nature avoid innovation and risk) and ultimately bad products;
  • Humour- not essential but always appreciated. A product can be emotional, whimsical, clever, and remind us of other things.

Make a list of products that you feel waste the resources used to create them.        

This is a difficult question to answer. My first response is any product that has an attribute that could not be defended by the producers, according to my moral/ ethical standpoint. By this I mean I do not have to agree with a particular producer’s point of view, but I respect that they have made a conscious and defendable decision.

This point of view takes care of most products that do not function as intended. It does not matter what it is, how it was made, what it cost; if a product does not work or its function is a source of frustration, it wasted the resources used to create it. I have a mobile phone that has a touch screen that just does not work (it was an early ‘iPhone’ clone). I gave up using it out of frustration, too many wrong numbers, accidental hang-ups and texting mistakes. In my opinion it is a terrible waste of resources.

Anything that is made of plastic and is designed to be disposable, especially if there exists a more environmentally friendly alternative at a similar cost. My suburb has a hard-rubbish collection every September, and the footpath is stacked with cheap poorly made broken plastic household goods. These things are often only a few years old, and are destined to spend the next five hundred years before they break down as landfill. What a terrible waste- why do we need plastic laundry baskets when wicker baskets are only slightly more expensive? The same can be said for plastic clothes pegs, toys, furniture, cutlery and crockery. However, all those plastic products were made by people in factories, probably in the emerging third world, and their employment could have lifted them out poverty, educated their children and improved their health.

It is a complicated issue; every product has benefits and disadvantages, even something abhorrent as the manufacture of landmines. In post war societies undetectable landmines cause innocent suffering, many children in countries like Cambodia and Afghanistan are injured and killed by landmines laid decades ago. This is of course terrible, but did those landmines prevent bloodier conflicts? Impose peace treaties? Allowed warring parties to meet and resolve their conflicts? Who decides if a product is ‘bad’, the primary user or the secondary user?

In recent years my local hard rubbish has included many televisions, most with hand written notes stating that they still work, thrown away as their owners upgraded from cathode ray tubes to flat screens. I think is evidence of poor consumer behaviour rather than producer negligence (for example, lazy affluent rich people who would rather throw something away than donate it) but how many producers seek to recover goods at their end of life? How many were thrown away as they can not be upgraded to a digital signal, because the producer designed them not to be opened, with ‘no user serviceable parts’ inside.

A product is designed to be used up, the resources spent on the creation of that product, for the most part, can never be fully reclaimed- it is a cost. If the product has fulfilled its purpose, then the use of those resources can be defended. A good example of the ‘cost’ of a product being well spent is the domestic electric washing machine. It not only made a chore easier, it also improved the heath and education of society as a whole:

“What was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution? Hans Rosling makes the case for the washing machine…Rosling shows us the magic that pops up when economic growth and electricity turn a boring wash day into an intellectual day of reading.”

from http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine.html (accessed 31st July 2011)

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