We are called as experts in our field to know more. It is no longer enough to understand space, layout, color, light, texture, structure, dimensions, germ control, use or even how to brand space. Now we look at products beyond their outside appearance. We are getting deep! Between the call for high performance products, healthy product declarations, green manufacturing and the constant introduction of new materials, designers and industry professionals are taking it down to the fiber, the micro fiber, even the nano! Few of us are chemists but we are talking about petrochemical products and their impact on our decision making, layered textiles and which one is best, lifespan of one chair mesh over another, stainless versus chrome, and it goes on and on. One material is rapidly renewable but too expensive to be practical, stains easily and does not last long; but color saturated and wonderful to touch. Another is a synthetic polymer, petro based, inexpensive, waterproof, fast drying, resistant to mold and sunlight, strong tough and durable. Somehow I feel like I am arguing over who is the better superhero, Superman or Spiderman!
Balance is the key but how do we create the formula that prioritizes the most important factors? Often the client does it by price but as the products improve, price is becoming a thinner line, and all of us realize that the choice between renewable and not, between natural and man made is multifaceted. There is one value that has not changed but one that is not fashionable among many of the tech superstars. Familiar with constantly changing technology and viewing the world as something that should remain in a state of change, they expect their environments to change frequently as well. So change they do, long before products have reached their life span. Maybe the green solution would be to move workers to new offices to keep them in fresh environments, or to swap the office furniture between locations every other year. But keep the stuff until it finishes working! That one value - how long something will last and still look new and fresh - is synonymous with quality. It is not directly related to price. If we want to keep things out of the landfill the first question should be how long does it last? The second should be how easy is it to maintain, keep clean? And then the third should focus on how to recycle it. My favorite product: one that when I am finished using it I can call up the supplier and say, "Hey, all done. Come pick it up." And they come pick it up, bring it back to the factory and make it into new product. Sounds like scifi? Yes, for some products that have multiple components that is a long way off. But for some materials it is happening already. Really? Maybe it should be the start of every design discussion!