An exploration of
dirty design philosophy
by Marjanne van Helvert.
See other work here.
THE DIRTY MIND
A DIRTY WORLD
THE DIRTY PAST
A DIRTY TIME
A DIRTY FUTURE
I looked, and I saw it was clean. I looked again, and I realized it was dirty. The world of product design is the terrain of a masquerade. Things are not what they seem, they pose, they hide behind the surface, they pretend to be something they are not. I came up with the word dirty when I tried to find a way to describe my feelings of discomfort toward many design products. Whether they are of the mass-produced type or of the art gallery variety, I often feel there is a discrepancy between the way they look and what they really are, I feel like their surface is misleading. The commodity with the near perfect finish, the product that is shiny but cheap, the thing that does not work well but looks pretty, the device that contains hazardous chemicals but looks seductive and sweet. When I look at them, I am often reminded of George Orwell's novel 1984 where the Ministry of Truth is actually where propaganda is made, and the Ministry of Peace is in charge of warfare.
The main language of modern product design seems to be clean, which is intended to stand for new, perfect, anonymous, valuable, efficient, universal, pure and honest. The clean product represents something that everyone can buy, something that does not have a history, that can belong in everyone's life. This product is purposely designed to hide any traces of its origins. Its material dimensions and production methods are obscured by a glossy finish. We may wonder who wore our secondhand dress before, but a new T-shirt does not remind us of all the individual hands of Bangladeshi sweatshop workers it passed through, or the weeks it was packed in a container at sea. Our cell phone did not seem to have a life before it arrived in a box at our house, as if it was not made of oil and metals, as if it never lay on a conveyor belt in China. The shiny layer, the cult of the new and anonymous, the perfection of the seemingly untouched; they have a function in the capitalist system, they have an ideological dimension that has everything to do with the way we are supposed to consume them, to buy them, to use them and discard them.
In the following chapters I would like to explore the various ways in which design is involved in giving meaning to the domains of dirty and clean - aesthetically, ideologically, materially and ethically - and how this influences our behaviour towards products. I use the word dirty both to show the dirty reality that surrounds us, hiding underneath the clean, pretty surface of things, and as a proposal for a different set of aesthetics that allows for a more conscious approach to both the design and the consumption of products. I would like to consider that the surface is political, that the way a product looks is not a natural, logical or universal given, but that it has many ideological origins and purposes, and that if we propose an alternative to the aesthetics of commodities, we might be able to make a change in the way we use them as well.
For this rather ambitious purpose I will talk about the Dirty World we live in, in which products acquire the ideological layer of monetary value, and hierarchies are institutionalized. Then I will discuss the Dirty Past where the white layer of modernism was born, and our Dirty Mind, where we can find inspiration for alternative ways of designing and consuming, where we can make way for a Dirty Future. I will argue that today we live in a Dirty Time that allows us to take a step back from still dominant twentieth century narratives; a time that forces us to look for a more complex, objective and inclusive reality that comes with a big responsibility. But first I have to establish what it means exactly when I talk about dirty design. What is dirty?
DIRTY DESIGN - WHAT IS DIRTY?
THE DIRTY MIND - DURATION 4 LIFE!!1
A DIRTY WORLD - YOU ARE WHAT YOU DESIGN/BUY
THE DIRTY PAST - WHITE LAYERS OF MODERNITY
A DIRTY TIME - WHY NOW?
A DIRTY FUTURE - A DIRTY UTOPIA