Object Lessons Enduring Artifacts %0Aand Sustainable Solutions

Object Lessons Enduring Artifacts %0Aand Sustainable Solutions

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Design Issues: Volume 22, Number 1 Winter 2006 20 Object Lessons: Enduring Artifacts and Sustainable Solutions Stuart Walker Introduction The relationship between sustainability and product design has been the subject of extensive debate in recent years, and is clearly complex and multifaceted. It is frequently presented in terms of product life cycle, materials, manufacturing, and environmental issues. 1, 2 There also has been considerable discussion about the design of longer- lasting products, and of the links between products and services. 3, 4 These approaches make important contributions to sustainability. They can help reduce product impacts and improve production effi- ciencies. However, they also tend to be rather prosaic and dominated by pragmatic concerns. As such, they seldom ask more fundamental questions about the meaning and place of products in our lives, and the contribution of material goods to what might be broadly termed “the human endeavor.” Therefore, these approaches neither address the crux of the problem nor do they allow us to fully appreciate the magnitude of the shift in attitudes and expectations that is demanded by “sustainability.” Here, a different path is taken in an attempt to address this deficiency and, hopefully, to increase our understanding of sustain- ability and product design. Artifacts are considered in terms of their characteristics and meanings. The artifacts have been specifically chosen because they have existed in one form or another in human societies for millennia, and are still made and used today. When objects have been produced over such long periods of time, span- ning diverse cultures, languages, and understandings, then we can be sure that there are lessons to be learned from them about our relationships with material things, and our contemporary efforts to tackle sustainable issues in product design and manufacturing. In pursuing this line of thought, objects have been classified into three broad categories: (1) functional, (2) social/positional, and (3) inspirational/spiritual. The characteristics of objects in each of these categories are described, and their relationship to sustainability is discussed. These broad areas overlap, and objects that combine these characteristics also are discussed; and it is suggested that the “functional” plus “social/positional” combination is the most problematic in terms of sustainability. Furthermore, there are some objects that combine all three classifications. One of these in particu- lar has been present in human societies for thousands of years, and 1 W. Sachs, R. Loske, M. Linz, et al., Greening the North: A Post-Industrial Blueprint for Ecology and Equity (London: Zed Books Ltd., 1998), 110. 2
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This note was uploaded on 03/18/2008 for the course FS 301 taught by Professor Wood during the Fall '07 term at University of Texas.

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Object Lessons Enduring Artifacts %0Aand Sustainable Solutions

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