What are the guiding principles of this movement?
As a movement Slow Design is a development of sustainable design and has evolved from the Slow Food Movement and more generally from the Slow Movement. Like these two, it promotes slowing down as an attitude and a change of habits and behaviours connected not only with the use of sustainable materials and processes but also with the creation of a sustainable way of living and society.
The concept of Slow Food was born in Italy in 1989 as a cultural movement ‘to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.’ (1)
Slow Design invites designers to carefully choose their materials and processes, to further a prolonged use of their products and to consider their end of life and possible recycling or future reuse. (2)
In 2008 Carolyn Strauss and Alastair Fuad-Luke presented the six guiding principles of the Slow Design Movement as a tool for designers to assess their processes and products:
‘Reveal: slow design reveals spaces and experiences in everyday life that are often missed or forgotten, including the materials and processes that can easily be overlooked in an artifact’s creation or existence.
Expand: slow design considers the real and potential ‘expressions’ of artifacts and environments beyond their perceived functionality, physical attributes and lifespans.
Reflect: slowly-designed artifacts and environments induce contemplation and reflective consumption.
Engage: slow design processes are ‘open source’ and collaborative, relying on sharing, co-operation and transparency of information so that designs may continue to evolve into the future.
Participate: slow design encourages people to become active participants in the design process, embracing ideas of conviviality and exchange to foster social accountability and enhance communities.
Evolve: slow design recognises that richer experiences can emerge from the dynamic maturation of artifacts and environments over time. Looking beyond the needs and circumstances of the present day, slow design processes and outcomes become agents of both preservation and transformation.’ (3)
Do you believe this approach to design and making could have a positive impact on our consumption of products? Would you place more value on a product that has been created with this principle in mind? Why or why not?
I think that this new approach to design is certainly changing our relationships with the products we buy but also the other way round: the shifting of attitudes among consumers has generated the need for innovative design processes among designers. In economically mature societies like the ones we live it seems that the wind has really changed: people are getting tired of fast, anonymous, mass-produced products, have more or less realized that the compulsive purchase, possession and consumption of new objects is no guarantee of well being and personal happiness, far from it can cause anxiety and even depression, that time is precious and valuable and that it may be preferable to use it to make meaningful experiences and establish connections instead of shopping.
There is also a new focus on the value of ‘local’ as against ‘global’: locally sourced food is tastier and easily traceable, local artifacts are connected with people and their lives and so are emotionally significant. Also more and more people are aware of environment problems and climate change and all these factors are certainly having an important impact on consumer behaviours and habits: it is getting important to know how an object has been produced, by whom, which energy resources have been used.
The shift is from the product in itself to the network of meanings, stories and relations connected to it and I think that this is certainly a positive trend and has also a therapeutic value for our mature or post-mature societies.
But the Slow Design approach can also pose problems. Just a few: how to economically reconcile the need for the quick manufacturing and turnover of products with criteria of high quality, durability and sustainability; how to adapt ‘slowness’ to industry standards and conditions; how to keep prices at bay to make slow designed products generally affordable and not only restricted to the most affluent; how to convince people to not look for cheap but for ‘fair’ prices. These are complex questions and there are no easy or ready answers.
Personally I shift between fast and low attitudes, between coveting and buying new products beyond my real needs and conversely being emotionally attached to only a few and old ones to the point of not being able to discard or recycle them. I think that this vaguely schizophrenic behaviour belongs to our time and our world: we often simply cannot resist the impulse to buy that is deeply ingrained in what is still basically a consumer society but we also long for deeper values and connections that we are afraid to lose.