Emotionally durable design

Jun 16, 2013 in Chris Tribe Blog | No Comments


em durableThis blog first appeared on my previous site on 14/2/13.

I heard an item on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on Saturday talking about ‘Emotionally Durable Design’. It’s a concept that I hadn’t come across before, but when I heard them discussing wooden coasters that were designed to ‘improve’ as they became stained, my ears pricked up.

The idea of emotionally durable design was introduced by Jonathan Chapman, Professor of Sustainable Design at Brighton University, and it has two main features – narrative and surface. If we have a personal connection with an object then the object can be said to have a narrative; when, how and where we acquire an object can help to create such a narrative. So, for example, an oak box inherited from one’s parents has more ‘emotional durability’ than one bought on Ebay; a coffee table chosen for its quality and bought from a craftsman has more narrative than a coffee table bought from Ikea.

Surface is significant because items change as we use them – they wear, fade, become stained, acquire a patina. These changes become part of the object and link us to it. How many of us have marks on a dining table that remind us of children growing up or of minor domestic catastrophes ! Chapman argues, if I understand him correctly, that we should acquire objects in a way that creates a narrative, and should choose objects (or, as a maker, should make objects) that will age gracefully. The design is crucial, because we must design objects that will not only last for years, but that people will want to keep for years; emotional durability encourages us to keep things for longer. So, to return to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ interview, handmade, bespoke wooden furniture is a prime candidate for emotional durability. However, I’m not sure how many of us would consider the coffee stains on a coaster to be part of a significant narrative !

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01qgr3z/Today_09_02_2013/ (43:52)

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