Better Products for People

The world’s most affordable solar light for the 1.6bn without power. Designed by Future Product for Yingli-Namene & SolarAid.

Designers create products to solve problems and fulfil needs. Honest plays to make life easier and richer for all of us. Yet, we live in a time of rapidly-advancing technologies, low-cost manufacturing and intelligent service models — powering a climate of on-demand personalisation. It means problems are difficult to characterise and needs are increasingly short-lived.

Products we no longer want or need fill our cities and our oceans. It is testament to the awkward relationship between innovation and waste that even our solar system is polluted with junk. The upshot is a global community of people, animals, habitats and biospheres — a mesh of complex interlocking systems and subsystems — under threat.

Designers, furnished with technology and backed by global commerce, have protected people (occasionally known as consumers) from the realities and responsibilities of our ‘take-make-waste’ world.

It follows that investing blind faith in new tech to mitigate this existential threat is dangerous, since the relentless march of technology in the form of products helped get us here. That notwithstanding, we firmly believe true innovation (technology formatted by design), will play a central role in helping us live well in the future we create.

We reframe the designer’s role as one of steward, tasked with using technology to redistribute our finite resources in a more sensible and equitable way. One which helps the most people for the longest period with the smallest ecological costs.

Economic value is a uniquely-human quantification of success. It is reasonable to presume this will never change, but it is important we start to qualify the long-term social and environmental value of the products and services we create too. This precludes the design of more purposeful products that offer up better consideration for the fast-paced technology landscape into which they will be released.

Contextually-relevant products of this nature — better products for people — will help emerging technologies make sense for the world we envisage, which won’t be characterised by the same resource shortages and disparity ours is today.