The long game – why we must design things that are built to last

The long game – why we must design things that are built to last

By Ben Parker

There is a lightbulb in a fire station in Livermore, Northern California that has been burning for almost 120 years. It was installed in 1901, the year Theodore Roosevelt was given the keys to the White House. During that time, some 19 presidents have come and gone, but the lightbulb has remained a functioning constant. In 1925 in Geneva, Switzerland, a group of lightbulb manufacturers came together to form the Phoebus Cartel to ensure that never again would a lightbulb last forever. And so the age of planned obsolescence was born.

All around us our world is no longer built to last. But how could this be?

Our world is alive with infectious creativity. The human race is innovatig like never before. We identify a problem. We solve it. And within days the whole world can benefit from the solution. Babies born today will live longer, make more money, and have more opportunities to explore the world around them that at any point in human history. There is no better time to be alive on planet earth. 

Not a day goes by when I don’t get excited about what tomorrow will look like. In the future my children will take for granted those things I can barely dream of today. As humans we will be healthier, wealthier and better able to connect with the world around us. We are constantly evolving, asking questions, and redefining what is possible. We treat convention with disdain, laughing in the face of those who say we can’t. We never stop changing. We never settle for second best. 

But our insatiable appetite for a better world today means we rarely take a moment to step back and realise what life will be like in a decade, 50 years, a century. We want a better life for ourselves and our children. But what about their children and their children’s children? What will be the impact of how we innovate today on how we live tomorrow? How can we live today in a world that will nourish us tomorrow? 

Our never-ending search for material fulfilment has left global nature in a perilous state. We design things indestructible enough to remain as a curse on the earth for centuries after we are gone yet not durable enough to remain useful to us for more than a matter of days or months. The most durable plastic items, such as bottles, disposable nappies and beer holders, can take 450 years to biodegrade - over five times the average life expectancy of someone born in the UK today. The result is we have done more damage to the planet in the past half a century than we did in the 4.5 billion years before that. 

For decades in design we have failed to create things that sustain rather than deprive us long into the future. But it doesn’t need to be this way.  Just because we are surrounded by convenience and short-term solutions today doesn’t mean we have to be in the future. I believe passionately that the most profound creative challenge facing us in a generation is to make things that are built to remain useful and beautiful for decades and centuries to come. We must create things that are a blessing, not a curse on the future. 

Bad design has got us into this mess. And only good design will get us out of it. Minim epitomises the kind of true durability that has been in short supply in the decades since plastic has become a staple of our day-to-day lives. Minim is built to last. Built to sustain. Built to endure for much longer than what has gone before. Minim is a powerful statement of responsibility, and is the end result of a much wider global design movement that is putting tomorrow at the heart of what we do today. Minim is beautifully simple yet inherently powerful. 

The fire station at Livermore shows us that beautiful, durable design needn’t be a pipe dream. It offers a vision of a brighter future where things are built to be useful long into the horizon. They will be beautiful. They will be simple. They will be built to last. 

We are more creative, more ingenious, more fearless than we’ve ever been before. It’s high time then that we set to work in making real the future we imagine. 

Ben Parker is Creative Director of design agency Made Thought.

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Imogen smith-evans
April 29, 2019 09:33

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