By Dawn Danby, posted October 12, 2005
My first design teachers were a small group of New England toolmakers and woodworkers (plaid-dressed elder craftsmen with strong yankee accents) who would insist that the best things improved with wear and age. It was always difficult to find examples of this idea that hadn't been hand-tooled in metal or wood, so the ethic has skipped at least a generation or two, and is one that barely applies to most of the things that we use or make. Still, durability and endurance create interesting enough challenges that they preoccupied the Eternally Yours Foundation for eight years, and Eternally Yours: Time in Designis the result: a luxurious, rarified little publication aimed at a particular sphere of geekdom (and which you can finally order through the more obvious
Time in Design is really several books in one, following 1996's Eternally Yours, which is reprinted in full, at microscopic quarter-scale, at the back. It includes the transcript of their final event, a 24-hour conference in 2003 that explored time, endurance, and fast and slow design. It's the culmination of eight years of thinking big problems through, and wrestling with paradoxes: making things last means we need less things, right? Or, as Bruce Sterling points out in his rant from the conference, what if we make the wrong things indestructible?
Ecodesign is a pretty recent idea, and you can't approach its brief history without a nod to the Netherlands-based network of thinkers that generated the o2 network, Doors of Perception, and the Netherlands Design Institute. Ed Van Hinte is one of my favourite writer-editors, the main force behind books like Trespassers, Lightness, and Smart Architecture: all of which are equally characterized by radically innovative engineering as well as the sort of delicious Dutch product design that edges into conceptual art. They celebrate the things that are green-ish on account of their lasting value, the objects we want to keep because they make us think.
Objects are all on different timescales from one another. How do we draw the time out, so we use less? How do we embed an emotional reaction into things, so that they're kept? Is this even a rational goal? (Recently, Joel reviewed It's About Time, another book examining humans' relationships to time and change).
Other bits to look out for include John Thackara's piece (preceding his excellent In the Bubble), Ezio Manzini and Francois Jégou on sustainable product-service scenarios, and Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham's Lifetimes research on the timescales of clothing.
So we'll miss Eternally Yours. Their website is 'under deconstruction'; I recommend you to their descendants at slowLab - good company with Droog, Manzini and Jégou, Natalie Jeremijenko, Serge de Gheldere and others, all of whom are vamping on the Slow movement in relentlessly creative and interesting ways.