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Man with mirrored mask in front of a fountain.

Product creators, pond makers

“Happy endings are a luxury of fiction.” — TRUDI CANAVAN, PRIESTESS OF THE WHITE

By Kwame Ferreira

You create products or are somewhere in a product supply chain. We all are. As we create products we deplete our home planet from its biodiversity whilst warming it to an unsustainable average temperature. We’re not being pessimistic, we’re just calling it the way it is. It’s important we continue to do so, because we need to figure out how to make our products more planet centric in order to be part of a solution rather than the problem. An unlikely source of inspiration is the luxury sector.

Latest studies suggest narcissistic people are happier. Narcissus was fixated with his own image, but more importantly, with the public perception of himself. Nemesis, having heard of his misbehavior toward the mountain nymph Echo, lured him to a pond where he fell in love with his own reflection and realizing that that love could not be reciprocated, burned inside. Some say into a flower, other versions just mention suicide. I think suicide.

Whenever I hear this story, what first triggers my interest is the journey toward the pond. How did Nemesis lure Narcissus? Fair enough, perhaps it’s not that difficult to lure narcissistic folk into a mirror. As product creators is this something we think about or do we leave it to the marketing department?

First rule of product creation: imagine you have no marketing department. The world I inhabit is a landscape riddled with ponds and people being lured to them, not by marketeers but by us, product creators. We are the pond makers. The ones digging the holes and filling them with water. We are the ones productizing in irresistible ways. We’ve become obscenely good at it. Marketeers are channel optimizers. We are the mirror makers.

We don’t need more products, we need better products. Products that can be easily repaired, upcycled or recycled. Products that weave planet centric values into them. Luxury products, counter-intuitively, tend to do this better than other product segments. That is why it is vital for us product creators to understand the visceral nature of luxury. By understanding that we are able to craft a new generation of products in a completely new light.

For the purposes of how we create products, luxury is not defined as excess, but a set of properties more correlated with quality, craftsmanship, longevity and clarity in supply chains. If you’re thinking of creating a product, what is the luxury version of your product? What would it entail? It’s always an interesting point of departure towards solving for the narcissus in us, but equally the planet surrounding us. It forces us to look at the story we are creating in a different way and look past the mirror.

Man in expensive outfit looking at himself in a full length mirror.

How do we measure the added luxury value of a product?

In two different ways. Qualitatively in the individual emotions that get converted to interpersonal stories and in the story longevity. In a space that rewards quick satisfaction, longevity is what we are looking for. Luxury products tend to be easily differentiated through price, but what truly differentiates them is their mirror nature. These are products that aren’t just mirrors. These are mirrors that help create and elevate our own image of ourselves. That’s no small feat.

It’s hard to tell good stories quickly. Stories, in the digital age became fast, discardable headlines like tweets. In luxury products, stories are conveyed and reinforced a lot slower and more consistently. The product acts more like a key to access an easily identifiable world where these stories can be reinforced as the product is used.

There’s no place like the future

Luxury does not dwell in the problems of the present. It solves for the future. You can measure it in appreciation, whereas other product segments depreciate. If you are creating a product, now you must solve for the future, otherwise you are creating trash. How can your products become more valuable over time? — is the question we need to ask ourselves as product creators. This way we are not borrowing from the future but investing in it.

In product creation, it all starts with a visceral set of emotions stimulated by the product. Stop relying on a brand umbrella to give your products meaning. Products must stand in their own right and create stories around value for people and planet. Brand will simply drink from this.

When you measure Added Luxury Value, the product is not part of it. What matters is the brand’s related social effects. In other words, do I come across as an expert? Does the brand reinforce and protect my social status? Until recently this game has been played outside the product arena. Products have been the enablers, but not the value drivers. The value driver has been purely social. It comes down to us product creators to change this. Allow products to stand on their own. How much is Veja advertising? They don’t. The product value quickly becomes the story and the story elevates both humans and planet.

The new product stories, i.e. stories of how we use products and how these fit our lives, must help us reconnect with nature (our heritage) and paint a clear picture of a desired future. Very different from an inevitable future. Luxury products have always done this — allowed for the quality to shine through the mirror.

Luxury products have tended to surround themselves with a very human service layer. Humans are omnipresent in their servitude to the product. The space of interaction, where the customer touches the product either in store, digitally or through customer service, is expertly designed to cater to the human ego. At the root, the luxury layer in a product makes people feel more desirable. The new desirable however must be the product’s ability to speak through you and say “I care”.

There was a time when most products were a luxury. There was less of them and therefore their value was greater. The cast iron pot was handed down from generation to generation. Clothes were mended again and again. Some of the older construction workers I worked with as a child in my family’s business, had had their first boots when they turned 18. Before industrial product replication, most products were exclusive, lasted longer and carried an inherent status.

The industrial revolution brought about the democratization of luxury. We argue it actually did the opposite. The creative process, from problem to product became faster and more efficient. Products became easier to manufacture. With lower prices and easier access, most products became less valuable and so why fix them, why keep them for longer? The whole market economy underpinning our social fabric became about increasing the pace of production and consumption towards perpetual profit growth. We did not increase repairability, heritage, or how we value products. Luxury, in this carbon based market economy, became associated with Narcissus as opposed to Aphrodite. It became the layer that allowed other people to tell a particular desirable story about themselves and lost touch with its true roots. Product creators out there, make your products luxurious because they are precious.

Planet centric products take advantage of a different value system that shines through the product as opposed to the brand. Products created in this manner are saying: I care about something beyond myself, and in doing so, become awareness expanding. This is the opposite effect of creating products that act as mirrors, luring the Narcissus inside ourselves.

Through the expanding of awareness, the very qualities that come to make a product planet centric, i.e. alignment to higher goals, transparency, openness — will bring about the mindset shift we need to create balance, in our individual lives as we struggle with meaning and social lives as we connect with others through purpose.

Businesses and communities need new thinking more than ever.

Image credits: Alex Iby and Hannah Reding on Unsplash.

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We are a team of designers, engineers, consultants and communicators who have a passion for preserving our world. These are our stories.