Design: Rethinking our Needs

design%20image.jpgI should take time out to sit down and think more often. It is almost inevitable that when I do so, the clutter in my mind disappears and I get a better sense of what I need as opposed to what I think I need while I am caught in the hyper-pace of what has become my day to day.

Yesterday, my day turned out to be another hectic scramble to meet the immediate needs of tasks that tend to arise faster than I can address them. Somewhere in the midst of the afternoon, I found myself in need of a quick fix meal and ran off to grab a Clif Bar. I inhaled the Clif Bar (along with a cup of coffee) and continued my foray into an ever escalating state of madness. Similar situations arise throughout the day and I often spend time and energy trying to quell one need after another. As I write, it is apparent that I did not need a Clif Bar (or the coffee) or any of the myriad quick fix solutions I pursue. What I really need is a better approach/system that will allow me the wherewithal to be proactive rather than reactive in my daily activities. However, I devote relatively little time and/or energy to satisfying my true need in this regard. Thus, it is important to note that needs which are derived from actions/situations/endeavors that are unnecessary in the first place are not needs. Rather, I would be best served by assessing the true nature of the desired outcome for any endeavor (large or small) prior to undertaking action. Doing so would not only eliminate unnecessary actions, it would likely decrease overall activity and reduce consumption of energy and goods.

If I look beyond the mundane needs of my everyday, this can be applied on an aggregate scale. A recent article in the NY Times suggests that the great majority of the world’s “design capital” is focused on developing the latest and greatest widget, widget label or widget promotion for sale in developed economies.

This says nothing of the “design capital” devoted to developing the latest and greatest widget weaponry. What if we were to actually assess the true needs of both our society and the developing world rather than designing a snappier wine label or reacting to the next health or humanitarian crisis when it evolves? In doing so, what if we were to devote just a fraction of our collective “design capital” toward meeting the needs we determine to be most important? The possibilities seem unlimited.

It sounds as if these questions are beginning to be asked by many and I imagine that the results of such questions will be beneficial to all who ask them…..and, hopefully, to the human community in general.

****Joe Madden
Director of Business Development, DriveNeutral

3 responses

  1. The concept of human community is seen as being at odds with capitalism and free market enterprise (sounds like communism). I really shouldn’t be. We should work together as well as compete with each other. There’s nothing wrong with collaborating to make this world a better, more user-friendly place. But we’d rather cut each other out of the game so we can have a bigger piece of the pie.

  2. For another perspective, here is a recent article by a Kenyan author on these “pure products” and his opinion on how they eventually fade from sight/use; a small excerpt and link:
    “Biogas. A windup radio. A magic laptop. These pure products are meant to solve everything. They almost always fail, but they satisfy the giver. To the recipients, the things have no context, no relationship to their ideas of themselves or their possibilities.”
    It is great that this exhibit has been brought to the public and equally important it is necessary to discuss why some of these amazing technologies may never be used to their full potential (infrastructure problems, poor design, politics, etc. etc.).

  3. Products fail when they are not created with the consumer in mind. If a product is given and received, rather than purchased, it implies the product has little or no value to the recipient.
    Products that are designed with local partners who know the needs of the local market are much more likely to succeed. Check out a story on NPR’s Marketplace for a great example of product design meeting local need.

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