Today’s relationship between the production of a product and the consumption of it is mostly built on the heritage of industrialisation that originated two centuries ago: a system characterized by division of labour, marketization, standardization, specialization, scale and the separation between production and consumption. According to Alvin Toffler (1980), this split caused by industrialization “drove a giant invisible wedge into our economy”.
As a result, our society has turned into a consumption society more and more. In fact, today, people have gotten used to and got addicted to buying stuff instead of putting effort in making or mending. People’s resulting ‘passive’ consumption behaviour is in contrast with some of the most essential and unique characteristics of humanity; people’s creativity (Ehrenfeld 2008, Sennett 2008). At the same time, people’s connection with the world and nature that surrounds them seems lost: commerce and globalization have worsened our awareness of where things come from, how things have been made. Both tendencies, which are obviously closely related as they both refer to people’s ‘Being’, Ehrenfeld’s sustainability, could be regarded as un-democratic: the majority of people are simply not involved in the conception of objects and tools (or systems) that surround them.
The traditional field of product design and development mostly isn’t of any help in solving this problem; clients and companies keep focusing on maximizing turnover and profitability, and on marketing for selling their abundant produce, since that is the only way businesses know how to do business.
A solution should for that reason not be expected to come from small and superficial changes while maintaining people’s behaviour and the system we live in. The change should come from questioning and altering the distant relationship between people and the things they use and need. In other words: we need to support Toffler’s ‘sector A’; making for oneself, bring together ‘making’ and ‘consuming’ in one person.
Designers should take responsibility and educate, encourage and provide opportunities to people to design and make things themselves (Do-It-Yourself), to become skilled, connected and aware of what it takes to manufacture the things we use. Such a ‘design for DIY’ scenario would change things positively: (1) ‘Design for DIY’ would help the designer to better serve the end user, and (2) it would create better circumstances for the amateur to fulfil his or her needs, both literally and referring to the fundamental human needs, that include (e.g.) creation, autonomy, imagination and freedom (Max-Neef 1992). Although today’s society is still clearly characterized by companies’ so-called ‘planned obsolescence’ (Boradkar 2010) and by consumer’s conspicuous consumption, some clear opportunities for improvement are emerging (Hoftijzer 2012, Atkinson 2017).
J. W. Hoftijzer
Delft University of Tecnology