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Consequences of the Rise of Design

On Tynan

I was walking through the mall a couple days ago. My path took me past a bunch of stores and kiosks, including the Nike Store. I walked past it and looked at their window display. They had a really nicely photographed poster and some cool looking shoes in a bunch of different colors. The store was beautiful and looked like a fun place to be. At the same time, their shoes aren't particularly great, they aren't actually innovative, and they're made of cheap materials. There are many shoe companies that are way lower quality than Nike, but I don't know if there are any with such a disparity between their presentation and the actual product.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this isn't just nike or most of the clothes in the mall-- it's how our culture works now. Back in the day, if you wanted a pair of shoes you'd go to a cobbler. He would design a pair for you, or use one of his existing designs, pick out some nice leather, and make you a pair of shoes. His design work, his execution, and his materials could all be leveraged about equally, so I'd guess that you'd tend to have either poorly designed shoes that are poorly executed and made of poor materials, or well designed shoes that were well executed and used good materials.

These days, things have changed. Design can be leveraged almost infinitely, which has changed the whole equation. Mass manufacturing ensures decent execution, but supplying top quality materials is difficult. A cobbler who makes a hundred pairs of shoes a year can take the time to pick out the best hides to get the best leather. That doesn't scale to making thousands of shoes a day, so material quality drops. Execution has become more consistent, but the benefits of cutting corners is magnified. Saving a penny on making a pair of shoes didn't matter to the cobblers, but it matters to Nike.

So these days, most of what people buy is well designed, decently and consistently executed, and uses relatively poor quality materials. In the mall I walked past a kiosk of phone cases. There were some that were blinged out. Pretty good design in that they fit perfectly on the phone the're meant for, the rows of fake diamonds are all uniform, etc.. Each one looks the same and is okay quality. But the materials are crap-- cheap plastic painted to look like metal covered in lackluster plastic "gems".

TWELVE

On ONEYEARANDTHIRTYTHREEDAYS

A few notable things have happened in the past couple of weeks. Firstly, I went for a horse trek- a wild, wet, windy canter along the sands following a splash in the surf and a beautiful stagger through the native bush, over little streams and across wide open paddocks. This was with Wayne and Penny, our neighbours, kind of, at Wildcoast Ruapuke. Lucky to be invited, and excited to be back in the saddle, riding reminded me of how wonderful it is simply to walk and to look, to not really think, just sit back and go with the movement, in this case of Blue, a handsome and sturdy roan.

Also, I spent a day working for a clever friend of mine, Ben, who makes groovy shoes from upcycled materials under the name Trash Footwear (www.trashfootwear.com). This earned me an awesome pair of boots, ready for Winter wanderings. He's off to Oz to do some work, so needed a hand tying up loose laces and fattening up the website, which was real fun.

Then there was the storm. A mighty weight of wind, whipping and smashing through Ruapuke, taking trees, power lines, tipping, tossing, tumbling all kinds of objects as if rubbish, leaving then strewn across lawns like an obstreperous teenager, who's in fact still waiting, sulking around the mountain and shouting gusts of air, though for us now from a more amiable distance. It came in the night and felt like it could kick the bus down... Fortunately, it's reasons lacked conviction and it seemed to stomp off after an extended tantrum, leaving, well, just a bit of a mess. Which afforded us a lovely day at the bus, with no power and a good reason to cook delicious food on the fire, dream up cool ideas for the bus and of course, siesta.

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