You cannot step into the same river twice

This post is an extract from my new book Anti-trend. It is taken from the finishing chapter: The Anti-trendy Design-object from a subsection on broadness, rawness and affordability, and it speaks not only of the benefit of opening up the design-object, but also of one of my favourite philosophers/artists; Willy Ørskov and his immensely inspiring concepts of time (that also inspired me to write about the benefit of “charging an object with time” in my book Aesthetic Sustainability).


The narrative of the open, raw design object is created through usage, and thereby it isn’t pre-made in the shape of delicious, seductive sustainable storytelling. It arises from the post-creation phase. It contains a great deal of time; the time spent molding, wearing, changing, or mending inherent changes that unfold. The open, raw design-object is charged with the time of usage, and as such it is ever-changing.

Danish philosopher and artist Willy Ørskov (1920– 90) describes objects as congealed or fixated occurrences. By this he indicates that an object is charged with the time that was put into it, and to an extent also with the time-period or the Zeitgeist in which it was created. The creation time and the way that the creator—or designer—has interacted with the material leaves traces in or on the object, and those traces form a narrative of the time and the hands behind the object, which adds to the value of the object.

The story of the creation is a very current way of composing storytelling about design-objects that fall into the category of slow design and is furthermore a predominant way of creating storytelling about sustainability with the purpose of convincing consumers to pay an appropriate amount of money for a slowly crafted, well-researched object. The captivating, convincing slowness of an object is connected to the story behind it; the story of the time and the hands that shaped it as well as the visions and thoughts it is charged with and the story of the creation time.

However, the open, raw design-object would imply a narrative-shift from a focus on the creation time to the post-creation time—the user phase. Ørskov operates with two other time categories besides the creation time in his writings: the time of existence and the time of being. Both of these categories concern the post-creation phase and specifically the interaction between the object and the user.

The time of existence is the course of an object, which means that it is constituted by the traces of use, repairs, alterations, the wear and tear, and the weathering that mold and transform an object that has existed for a while and has been frequently used because the owner treasures it and considers it useful and aesthetically pleasing, and maybe even has personalized it in order to enforce the subject-object bond. An object characterized by the time of existence holds a story of the user—their habits and preferences.

Opening an object up to this kind of storytelling creates an inherent, dynamic, ever-evolving story that shapes the object. Opening up an object to the time of existence implies creating space for development. The raw design-object contains precisely that kind of space; once the object is released into the world the time of existence and its story starts to develop and take shape. Working with the time of existence means embracing the beauty of rawness, of the unpolished, the imperfect, of time that passed by and leaves its inevitable traces, and the beauty of changeability. When the designer works openness into the design-object by emphasizing the time of existence the value and beauty of usage is underlined.

The third time category—the time of being—is the time it takes the user to “be together” with the object in order to detect it or understand it. Opening up the design-object involves a prolonging of the time of being. This implies stretching the peak period and postponing the interest-decrease that characterises closed objects infused with planned and perceived obsolescence. But how? As described, the raw and open design-object is not done or “rounded off ” when released by the designer. It holds an enclosed invitation to the user to touch, engage, interact, use, shape, decorate, transform, and leave traces of wear. This invitation might be shaped by its idiom or by its surface, it might lie in its colours or its print, or it might unfold as an inherent metamorphosis from time passing and—as the body wears it and the hands touch it.

The time of being is a wordless dialogue between the experiencing subject and the design-object. It creates an ongoing wordless, material story of usage.

Designing open and raw objects could be a way of addressing the immaterialist (a growing new segment or consumer type who views “used and repaired” as aesthetically pleasing). This consumer type that probably can’t even really be called a consumer because consumption is exactly what s/he is turning away from and takes pride in not being affected by fleeting consumer trends and new wants. The immaterialist is focused on reducing consumption radically in order to minimise waste, mainly by buying second-hand things. Second-hand items are by definition cast-off, and in a sense stagnated or “closed” because they belong to a foregone time and are attached to the foregone needs of a previous owner.

The open and raw design-object allows the immaterialist to tell her/ his own stories. The open, raw design-object invites the user to continuous usage and appreciation. Just as human life, it is built up around a constant, static core that ensures its quality, functionalities, and comforting familiarity. It is also changeable and dynamic though. This balance is the yin-yang of the raw, open design-object.

Allow me to finish this section by once again returning to the wisdom of the pre-Socratic Philosopher Heraclitus who is known for having said that no person ever steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and s/he is not the same person—this sentence appears to have become the chorus of the book. The open, raw design-object is just as life and our natural environment—always evolving and ever-changing. It celebrates and supports everything always being in flux, and nothing ever being static, and hence the fact that even if we always stay in the same place, our surroundings and people around us change—as do we.

Life is change and opening up to change instead of fighting it is growth.

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