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Heirloom Design


The logic behind heirloom design is that while it may take more energy to produce and more cash to purchase, the virtue of products made to last lie in their preventing throw-away culture and habits by remaining functional (sometimes improving) over extended periods of time. What's your take? Buy quality for a more expensive economic/environmental price-tag in return for diminished consumption?

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  • Adele Peters

    This is such an important part of sustainable design. Not just making things that will last—and that can be repaired—but making things that people want to keep and pass on to future generations. I think the latter is even harder, but what would happen if the marketing dollars that went into convincing people they needed to buy the latest cell phone went to arguing people should keep their quality cell phone body and just buy a software upgrade? Or, like Patagonia, companies started to tell their customers to buy less? I don't think heirloom design applies to everything (packaging, for example, should probably be designed NOT to last forever, and some people have designed things like edible packaging), but designers can consider what the appropriate lifetime is for everything they make. If it's something people don't want to keep a long time, the designer can think about ways to make it easy to fully recycle the materials into something new.

    • Phillip

      Great points Adele. I agree with Patagonia's philosophy and try to live by it myself—buy a quality product and repair it as needed. Most like, you won't need to repair it much over the years due to its build, let alone need to get a new one. We have been trained to shed the old for the latest. This is a cultural behavior that will not shift unless there is an simultaneous shift in a variety of factors, namely, as you say, the marketing, design and consumer/producer values.

      I remember having a conversation with my sister not so long ago about a handmade case she bought for my, at the time, shiny new phone. I appreciated it, but lamented on how, upon the phone's became obsolescence, the case would be rendered as such too, by virtue of the origin product's cycle.

      "Making things that people want to keep and pass on to future generations."

      That is key and I am glad you pointed it out. I believe having less, but better quality items goes a long way and continue to try improving this practice.