Design has a new role, a new destination and a new responsibility. We no longer can make things for the sake of making them or for their beauty.
Aesthetics are important while looking at design, but equally important must be the following questions:
Do we really need this?
Does it add to the quality of our daily life and how?
What is the footprint and can we reduce that?
Social design adds to this by an extra unique selling point: the social environment in which the design is made. Whether it is made by people in special care, by people in developing countries or by people in fragile circumstances. The makers should benefit from the production. By their empowering development, by good labour circumstances and a fair price.
They make products people are supposed to want to buy.
In this case I want to focus on the products made in developing countries.
Most of the so-called fair-trade-products from developing countries are being sold in fairtrade shops. Designed by designers here, made by (mainly) women there. The base of the trade is a good one; doing good by giving the people in developing countries opportunities.
There are a few examples of how these designs relate to being sustainable. Let’s have a look at ‘return to sender’. It’s sold at the HEMA. The shelves are usually messy, the products are many. Some of them are cute, some look they won't last long. Let’s ask these questions while looking at them:
Do we need all these hangers from India and Thailand? How many bracelets can be imported from South Africa? Or small boxes in animal shapes? Why can’t we buy ‘return to sender’ products which last long and are really useful?
Do they add to a fair business for the women? Presumably. Do they empower these women? Hopefully. Do we need these products? No. Do these products add to a sustainable approach? I doubt it.
I believe that fair trade with useless products is somewhat fake. Buying silly stuff to feel good; is that fair trade? No, but it happens a lot. And silly stuff is very unsustainable.
So how can we improve the idea of fair design being fair and sustainable? I think the answer lies in the local market. For the local market is 90% of the world’s population. A much larger market than the 10% to which we belong...........