The anti-trendy design object

As mentioned on several occasions I am in the finishing process of writing and illustrating my new book Anti-trend – resilient design and the art of sustainable living. And, as a part hereof I am concretising the characteristics and properties of the anti-trendy design-object in comparison with the trendy design-object. In this post I will share some of my thoughts regarding these differences.

The anti-trendy design-object The trendy design-object
Resilient Fleeting
Super long-lived or super short-lived (permanence or sustainable planned obsolescence) Perceived as obsolete after a short period of usage (despite being made from materials that can last for almost ever)
Heavy Light
Alterable, adaptable, in flow Static
Flexible Fixed
Repairable Un-repairable
Rawness Smoothness
Open, ever evolving Closed
Undone or underdone (usage “finishes” it) Declines or worsens when used
Circular, iterative Linear
Friction, texturesque Evenness, “glittery” surfaces
Challenging expression or functionalities (might offer new ways of life or nudge the user to alter her habits) Convenience (easily understandable, usable and decodable)
Uneven, variated textures (tactilely nourishing) Picture perfect (even the slightest blemish ruins its appearance)
Diverse Homogeneous
Encourages wholesome rhythms Praises newness
Embraces and celebrates decay Decay makes it obsolete
Upcycled or crafted Made from virgin materials
Sharable Made to be consumed (and hence replaced)
Cherishes innovation (made to encourage sustainable living) Conventional (made to “fit in”)
Challenges status symbols Made to be admired by peers

As the table shows, the anti-trendy design-object is generally characterised by being resilient, flexible, alterable, and repairable. But it is also interlinked with more abstract characteristics such as heaviness and rawness (which are features that I in my upcoming book investigate as both philosophical qualities as well as concrete design guidelines). These features are interlinked with the friction and openness of the anti-trendy design-object, as they revolve around an object’s “ability” to nourish the receiver’s senses by introducing a degree of ductility and “graininess” or coarseness to the user’s daily life; they are not easily or quickly digestible or consumable, and hence they require time to consume.

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Signature Shirt (2020) by Danish Sustainable fashion brand La Femme Rousse. The shirt is made from discarded, upcycled bedlinen. It is hand-painted, and the buttons are made out of 80% food waste. A shirt like this can easily hold user traces and stains, and hence, usage doesn’t make its value demolish. Furthermore, due to its patterns that ensure a degree of rawness, repairs will not appear as blemishes.

The anti-trendy object is furthermore underdone in the sense that when it is released into the world by the designer it is not yet completely finished; usage finishes it (i.e. if it makes sense to talk about it ever being finished), as the object is created to develop, to be open, and to embrace decay.

Moreover, the anti-trendy design-object is characterised by gently pushing or “nudging” the user towards sustainable living; whether that means inviting more textural stimulation into her life by e.g. investing in handcrafted artefacts that are anti-smooth or texturesque, engaging in nourishing daily rhythms that can provide her life with a sense of direction and with the beauty of continuity and perseverance, or by allowing for more rawness, inconvenience and heaviness (in the wholesome sense of these word, which I discuss thoroughly in Anti-trend).

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Products made by hands for hands to touch nourishes the tactile sense by offering an aesthetically pleasing uneven anti-smoothness. Photo from the Sudaji Weavers in North Bali.

The trendy design-object is made to develop from being new, shiny and attractive at its peak (i.e. when it is brand new and newly acquired by the consumer) to slowly, or perhaps even very quickly, being experienced as unattractive and obsolete. In that sense the trendy design-object is linear: it moves from a starting point to an end point, and the development is designed to be a downgrade. The trendy object is in other words created to be consumed in the most literal sense of the term; to get all its nutrients sucked out of it (so to speak), and to then be discarded. The anti-trendy design-object on the other hand is circular, or rather, it has a circular lifespan, or maybe even more correctly; an iterative lifespan.

Using the term iterative rather than circular is done to emphasize the anti-trendy design-object’s inherent ability to develop. An iterative process involves doing something time and again, usually to improve it. And, this is exactly what happens when the anti-trendy object is being used. The more the object is used the better it gets; it matures and develops, and it supports the functional and aesthetic needs of the user.

Nevertheless, despite all the notions on longevity the anti-trendy design object can also be created to be super short lived, as highlighted in the about table. But unlike the trendy product, the sustainable short-lived, anti-trendy object is not created to fulfil the late-modern consumers’ ever-changing need for attention and approving gazes from peers. Rather, it is based on planned obsolescence and intentional fleetingness or natural deterioration. Whereas trends nurture and cultivate a linear desire for the newest looks and likings, anti-trends encourage longevity and flow.

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