Is care in design exclusionary and elitist?

The monograph last week generated much conversation. And some observations that caring in design and craftsmanship was all about expensive pieces made for the few, not for the masses. Seeing the examples that I cited, it is not entirely inconceivable to think of caring and craftsmanship as the preserve of the few.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Because to think of care as something that only the few, the elite deserve is to believe that the relatively poor, the everyman does not deserve the respect that such care implies.

But isn’t such care expensive? I’d posit it is not.

Is it feasible to create an organisation whose fabric has caring woven into it? Yes, it is.

Mujifounded in 1979 — on the principles of minimalism in design and in wastage in production and packaging, recycling and no branding is a beautiful example. The philosophy is summed up as “no brand quality goods”.

Muji makes and sells a range of products from stationery, to utilitarian goods such as ear-buds and portable mirrors, basic clothing such as cotton dresses and t-shirts, storage such as bottles and boxes, kitchen articles and electronics. The products use very little, just sufficient packaging. The stores themselves are marked by a simple layout, minimalist shelving with goods on display, the absence of colourful or loud banners and “offers” or any other point-of-sale tools.

And the goods last, delivering the promise of low wastage (wrought often by the need for frequent replacement of often-used goods) and caring and respect in design.

A portable, foldable mirror in aluminium I bought from Muji 8 years ago, and the loyal companion in my handbag on all my travels every day, is still intact and looks good as new. An average Muji cotton t-shirt has last me 5 years. I feel a twinge of sadness when I have to retire a Muji t-shirt from active duty.

Muji mirrorThe mirror, seen in the picture, if bought today, would cost me a princely sum of £3.95. Two plain t-shirts can be bought for under £10.

This is inclusive, affordable and respectful design.

Of basic goods that anyone — you, me, anyone — can afford and be confident that it won’t unravel or break within days of our buying them, leading to further expense and material wastage.

The philosophy scales beyond small household goods too. While Muji keeps private the names of its designers and manufacturers, in line with its no-brand policy, it has collaborated to produce a fuel-efficient, low-emission car with Nissan.

Can anyone create products with care and respect, for anyone, not just the few, to use and enjoy?

I believe so.

It does take commitment though.

Commitment to asking “what if this were me?” at every step of the organisation’s design.

Commitment to treating the other human, as well as materials we derive from the planet and through manufacture, with respect and consideration.

Commitment to engaging mindfully with what we do, create and deliver.

Is that too much to ask?

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