Traces of Touch

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Sustainability in tangible products

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Today the word sustainability is used very often in many different settings. We have sustainable food, cleaning, heating, travelling and I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon see sustainable gasoline being sold at the local gas station. This over use, in my eyes, of the word sustainable dilutes the value and makes it hard for the end user to really know what it means and what it entitles. Is locally grown food more sustainable than ecological food grown 1000 of miles away? Is using recycled aluminium better than freshly harvested wood? There is so many levels of complexity with naming an object sustainable that I feel I need to explain and define what I mean when I’m talking about it. The below list shouldnt be seen as the all knowing truth but more as what guidelines Im working with in my project currently. Different kind of products has different kind of need and the points below need to be adapted and evolved correspondingly.


  • Use of material that leaves the lowest energy footprint, this means taking into account that some material have a longer working life than others and might be better fitting than lower energy footprint material. Think over an 20 years perspective instead of 6 months.
  • Low energy consumption taking the full life cycle of the product into account not just the production or the use but also the transports and the recycling of the materials.
  • Encourage and support strong and evolving emotional connections between the users and the object. This is to maintain the stories being developed over time and to maintain a longer interest from the user avoiding an to early trip to the landfill.
  • Create objects than can and wants to be expanded, modified, combined and hacked so that the users can evolve and personalize the object if they so desire.

Written by sjunnesson

July 18, 2010 at 19:49

Posted in Thoughts

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Repair and modifications of object in todays society is often made impossible by the manufacturer by purpose. Putting big blobs of glue on ICs and using special screws is today more standard than an exception. Also the fact that many objects cost to little and is to easy to replace when they break a minor details also weigh in on the one time use society we live in. What incentives could there be for people to keep using their object over longer time letting the object mature and grow with them?

Back in Japan the art of fixing broken pottery called Kintsugi was highly honored and instead of trying to throw away the broken pottery cracks was enhanced with gold letting the use to be visible and appreciated. It went so far that people was breaking their brand new pottery just to get it fixed and get the desirable patina.

Melanie Drane writes this on the subject referencing her dad and the way he mended the  objects

My father accorded tenderness to the objects that served us. He monitored every wheeze, gasp and clank from appliances. He set the broken legs of tables, re-wired lamps, radios and toasters, and when I returned from college, I’d wake to find my shoes and purses polished and lined up in the hallway outside my room — as if he were preparing me, in the only way he could, to set forth again alone. His repair work was meditative. The methodical rituals of repair seemed driven by a bone-marrow memory of times when family survival depended upon keeping things whole.

As his daughter, I am still drawn to objects that bear the touch of human hands. In Tokyo for a decade, I foraged at flea markets, collecting imarii porcelain and pottery. I became fascinated bykintsugi, the Japanese craft of mending ceramics with gold lacquer resin, so cracks and fissures are transformed into a web of tiny golden veins. Exquisite gold maps spread across the landscape of a bowl. Kintsugi repairs leave the history of breakage visible, while rendering the piece unique and more precious. At times, I’ve wondered what might become possible if all experiences of breaking could be honored this way — if the wounds and wear of time were recognized as survival’s beauty.

Huffington Post

Also the Smithsonian made an exhibtion of this Kinjugi items

This notion of fixing and doing yourself (DIY) is growing steadily in todays society and I wonder where it will take us. We have places such as the Fixers collective where people can come and upcycle their objects or just repair them back to their original functionality. Is this a lash back on the stream of messages  we get covered in each day saying “Buy New and be COOL”. How does this relate to Dumpster Diving which is spreading as a virus in the class? Just looking around the studio Im sitting in just now I see more recycled and dumpster dived items than new ones and it is not just the fact that dumpster is free and we are students that creates this facts it is something of creating an environment of feeling at home which used objects radiates. Not sure where to take this but I think there is a  lot of things to bring with me when designing objects not just for the next 18 months but for the next 18 years.

Written by sjunnesson

July 6, 2010 at 15:05

Posted in Inspiration, Thoughts


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I have started to look into signs made in material by purpose. First we have the hobo signs which is small markings hobos used to leave when travelling the road to alert people of the surroundings and how the people are responding. There is markings for things such as “kind woman”, “man with a gun” and “wealthy” which gives the person entering the area a good idea of what to expect but also more interesting kinds of markings,  in my eyes, such as “tell pitiful story” which tells the reader of the signs on how to behave to get the best outcome. I wonder of there is similar markings in today’s society which tells the reader on how to behave to get the best outcome. We have the dress code for certain clubs which tells the rules on how to dress to be let in but this is relative obvious signs and is open for anyone to read. I think it misses, and doesn’t try to be either, the secret society feel of  the hobo language where just the invited is able to read the signs. This goes back to many different groups of people and organizations that used this secret language to spread their knowledge. Just look at the insanely popular books by Dan Brown which circles around finding, leaving and interpreting signs in all kind of form and sizes such as architectures, city planning and paintings. I think the idea of leaving signs is really interesting. Something about showing what you have done, what you should expect and also preserve it for the future. It also adds the mystery of trying to interpret a sign and to get the underlying message to join the unique group of those that know. It is something about presenting information out in the open but still let it remain hidden.

With this markings and signs I draw a parallel to the way people use object. Even though it might not be by purpose that people leave marks in the object they use they still do and it tells stories about the use of the object. Maybe not as elaborate as the one telling that that the house coming up down the road host a angry dog but it might tell you about what parts of a device the user most frequently use which tells about how the persons sees the object and in what kind of context he might have been using it  and so on. This layer of information is maybe lost in today’s  digital interfaces where for example on the iPhone the use of the different apps doesn’t leave any traces. Are we missing out on something or is that a good thing? Would we interpret, use and maybe think twice on how the device is held and consumed because we don’t want to leave unfavourable traces?

Link to some more hobo markings

Written by sjunnesson

May 31, 2010 at 15:01