On Design #18 - Sujata Burman and Ali Morris
We kick off season 2 of the On Design podcast with a chat with two journalists; Sujata Burman, the online design editor at Wallpaper*; and Ali Morris, a freelance writer whose articles you can spot on the pages of Wallpaper*, Dezeen and many other publications.
Our conversations centred around design in 2019, key trends, long-term movements, and design’s influence on how we live.
Sustainability and circular design are key themes continuing in design from last year. In the past, design often focused on big designer personalities and ‘statement’ products. Sujata offers a view that nowadays you rarely see a new product without a story, without knowing how it was made, from what materials and how these were sourced. Designers are becoming increasingly aware about the ‘afterlife’ of their products too, including how they will be used throughout the years and what will happen when they lose their functionality.
The focus on sustainability also comes as a response to consumer demand. As we move away from using plastic, choose organic food and ethical fashion, we are starting to use the same criteria when we buy furniture and everyday use products. It comes as no surprise—especially if our spaces are becoming smaller and we are owning less—that we are starting to pay more attention to every item we own.
As we own less, the Millennials and Gen Z are also redefining the idea of home ownership, (or are somewhat pushed to reconsider it, bearing in mind the house prices in the UK), and being “tied” to one space. Over the past few years, this led to an exceptional rise in the popularity of co-working spaces. Sujata’s prediction is that future co-working spaces will come with their own bedrooms, gyms and offer multi-city memberships. Imagine when travelling you no longer have to find your Airbnb room, a space to work and a place to eat; because giants such as WeWork or Amazon will have it all under one roof.
What about tech? In 2019 it remains a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can become addictive on days when we spend 10+ hours looking at various screens, always exposed to the blue light they emanate, this way messing around with our melatonin levels and sleeping patterns. Thankfully, tech companies are making us more aware of our screen time and there are a plethora of tools available which are set to help us manage our digital detox.
On another hand, technology and social media have created multiple new points of entry for emerging designers. They can now—in a way which is affordable and democratic—reach consumers, retailers, and the media without having to commit to considerable budgets for marketing campaigns or trade events.
Both Ali and Sujata noticed one worrying trend linked to Instagram though. Restaurant, hotel and boutique shop designers are increasingly asked by their clients to create ‘Instagram moments’ for their spaces. These are not necessarily useful features, but aesthetically pleasing ones which will photograph well. That’s done so that each visit gets an Instagram post from a happy customer, a dozen of likes and what hoteliers believe in; new customers knocking at their doors. Is that style over substance?
Our conversation veered further into design as a problem-solving tool, the role of luxury and design as a lifestyle, with an interesting point emerging on using design as a business tool.
Ali pointed out that companies such as Instagram and Airbnb have their own design departments, with a strong belief that well-designed products and services can drive profit; an approach which led Apple to become the company they are today. There’s a long way ahead though for many corporate businesses who might be quickly seduced by the brave new world of being a design-led business. Enthusiasm can wean when it comes to making real investments and working closely with designers to introduce solutions which truly work well, are sustainable, and make products and services better for consumers. The journey towards implementing design thinking throughout traditionally non-design companies seems inevitable though, for those who want to future-proof their business and thrive on consumer loyalty and word of mouth.
I look forward to seeing how these predictions develop throughout the year. If you want to keep in touch with Ali and Sujata and see the world through their eyes, you can follow them on Instagram: Ali Morris, Sujata Burman.
Production and music by James Green