Designing in a post consumer era

Are we in a post consumer era? Are we really all producers now just because we twitter and blog, and maybe sell a few things on eBay? I’m not convinced yet, but I do like this diagram. And his thinking is persuasive. Kind of like Umair Haque talked about in Stockholm earlier this year. I’ll be honest and say that the affluence of the last few years has always struck me as being a bit gross. I remember a visit to Bluewater a couple of years ago, looking around the car park and wondering how every other car was a premium vehicle, and that all their owners were shopping for the day, at a massive retail destination. It felt peculiar and it felt unsustainable. But I never foresaw the bottom falling out.

So I’m reading these articles and mulling it over. The first thing to go appears to be the bling. People can’t stretch to it and it was always a bit silly. A fraction of the population is probably feeling severed from it, but they were setting themselves up for a fall anyway. The irony of bling was that it became a watchword for cheap, debt-driven consumerism – and not wealth.

And in its place, supposedly, rises thrift. In a sense a form of production, as rather than consume we fix – make do and mend. But the thrift is pretty much a lost craft. Note Mrs Sew and Sew’s blog by the Imperial War Museum. People can save money by stopping buying things and by down-grading or down-branding to value brands and Primarks, but they’re still consuming. David Armano’s retail sales graph is more alarmist than it appears. Sales haven’t dropped off the cliff. Retail has been growing year on year, but now it’s shrunk a bit. Calamity! No year on year growth! What I like about Umair’s talk is his questioning not just of the producer/consumer paradigm, but ten others that mark out the destructive nature of the gross capitalism we’ve had of late.

The common theme for both items is that we’re retreating to an apparently more human view of life – permanent year on year growth suddenly appears illogical and unnatural, fixing something feels sensible, yearning for wealth through debt is so obviously harmful. I like that trend. Even if it is emerging in the shadow of economic insecurity, it’s still a positive thing.

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