Monday, December 6, 2010

Gifts Mom's Keep


Sitting on my Mom's desk at work is a heavy green-glazed hand-smashed turtle with a top hat that holds nothing other than paper clips. For over 15 years, maybe 20, the turtle has performed it job. My mom cherishes it. Because I made it. (Sorry, no actual photo available at this moment)

The turtle is not the only object that has held such a long life; there are countless other horrible pieces of pottery, decorations, and cards I have made all through her home. What these items hold is an emotional connection and a story. Surely a store bought paper clip holder may have been trashed years and years ago and she wouldn't have thought twice about the disposal. There is a lot of discussion about what green design means and how we can create products with a smaller environmental footprint. Handmade items hold meaning and connection that mass-produced items have a harder time developing.

I ran across an interview with Technology Designer GAdi Amit discussing green design, and his following statement made me think about that silly paper clip holder:

The problem with sustainability design today is the perception that it's pure mechanics -- let's analyze carbon impact, toxicity, and so on...Objects have a cultural meaning, and objects that are lovable, that are well integrated into culture, won't be trashed after five years, and so are sustainable. If the object is connecting emotionally, connecting culturally, people will keep it. ...The bottom line is there's no replacement for emotional connection. Sustainability promoters need to understand that without this emotional, cultural enabler, they face a very tough uphill battle.

I think we all have these top-hat-turtle objects in our life. Can this emotional connection be the driver for sustainable design? Can we design products that create such a bond that we want to hold on to, fix, and never replace? How can we create business models that can succeed with these old-fashioned mentality?


  1. Julie,
    I love the idea of emotionally connectivity making things sustainable. it seems like something marketers could really grab on to and run with. I thank about the things littering my dad's office. It is not the book I bought him last year or the pocket knife I gave him the year before. He has a 3D painting of a flamingo, a lopsided sculpture of a bear with yellow teeth and purple eyes, and a decoupage lamp covered in photos of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The lamp is a simple target lamp that would have been sent to goodwill on their last move, but they chose instead to handel it with care - i think is had something to do with Mick.

  2. It works from the other end of the equation too. Why do shop-aholics shop? Everything I have ever heard about it is the emotional connection/distraction. Contrary to many common economic scripture we are not very rational beings. Whether it is the emotions that promote consumerism, or the emotions that make us feel comfortable with what we have, it is at the core of why we do what we do.

  3. We decorated our X-mas tree the other night. Somewhere, someone gave us these like, $50 a piece ornaments. We also have handmade ones that are classic, cheap glue and paint preschool masterpieces from our family. Guess which ones are cherished and which ones fill space on the tree.