durability by design: why our emotions should be built to last

What touches us on a deeper level could soon unlock some of the toughest challenges we face around sustainable consumption. So enter the latest concept to take flight in this field – emotionally durable design. A creative pitch that will tug on your heartstrings.

Emotionally durable design explores the idea of forging a deeper, more sustainable bond between people and products. It is very much tied into circular economy thinking as it could offer a viable platform for alternative business models.

This new blueprint works in various ways by interlinking our aspirations with our social structures whilst tapping into our emotional reserves. If all three value systems are aligned, the product suddenly becomes a lot harder to throw away.

Instead, it travels with us and evolves with our lifetimes. It somehow absorbs that journey, becomes a conversation piece and increases in sentimental weight. Think back to when you were a child – the teddy bear or blanket that would go everywhere with you.

Imagine trainers that, as they fade and wear, start to reveal new patterns previously invisible when new. Or a tee-shirt that could be transformed into a tea-cloth once the fibres are worn enough. If products can tell a story, they start to become more interesting.

A brief that stipulates emotional significance to be built into product durability will excite any designer. One small start-up company in West Wales, Hiut Denim, pretty much began with this brief – its jeans, which are designed to last, come with history tags that can be documented through social media to encourage a sense of community among wearers.

Scaling up such innovation shouldn't prove that difficult in practice. Sony is ahead of the curve with its Futurescapes project and Wandular theme, and Patagonia do some worthy messaging around 'buying less', but the main stumbling block appears one of mindset.

Emotionally durable design is seen by many business leaders as currently too radical and risky to embrace. Ironic when you consider that it has the potential to solder a formidable connection between brand and customer loyalty.

Admittedly, emotional durability can't stand alone within a product line, it must be accompanied by upgrade and repair support strategies. Or, at the very least, ease of disassembly.

It might take a wider realisation that our current crisis of unsustainable consumption is a crisis of behaviour, not one simply of energy and materials risk. Only then might corporations start growing attached to the idea. But lets not get too emotional – just yet.

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