DIRTY DESIGN
An exploration of
dirty design philosophy
by Marjanne van Helvert.
See other work here.



Content:
WHY DIRTY?
DIRTY DESIGN
THE DIRTY MIND
A DIRTY WORLD
THE DIRTY PAST
A DIRTY TIME
A DIRTY FUTURE

DIRTY DESIGN -
WHAT IS DIRTY?


One of the domain names that I tried to buy, dirtydesign.nl, is owned by someone who designs erotic websites. Obviously, dirty means a lot of things. It usually has a negative connotation: it is nasty, naughty, gross, not clean, not good, not pure, but it can also be used in a cheeky manner, as a euphemism such as the above web designer implies. What I propose is dirty as the opposite of clean design, in the material, the ethical, the aesthetical and the ideological sense. Dirty as the opposite of the illusion of the perfect commodity, the whitewashed idols of modernism, the status of the smooth, shiny and new, and the overwhelming obscenity of the fetishized object.

When I talk about dirty design, I am not arguing for making design look dirty. I mean that we should take a closer look at design and realize it is dirty. First of all, it is dirty in the material sense. However ethereal and glamourous a design object might be when you look at it in a shop, it is inevitably made out of chopped down trees, toxic minerals mined by the less fortunate workforce in our global society, stuff that grew on (or in) animals, chemical solutions devised in laboratories, and lots of oil, that ever so precious but ultimately disappearing resource. Everything is made out of earthly materials, masterfully and violently harvested from nature with whatever necessary bluntness or precision, with widely varying degrees of care and understanding of the social and natural environment.

The production process is not much cleaner, both in the material and in the ethical sense; taking many materials, parts and objects all over the world before they reach their destination, getting some work done here and there, where environmental rules are less strict, taxes are non-existent, wages are low and unions are forbidden. These dirty affairs cannot be separated from our material wealth. Local and global inequalities are generally exploited and maintained for the benefit of the prosperous.

Opinions might differ on the question of whether all this is essentially wrong, but I think it is a bad starting point if we forget about it, hide it, and do not want to know it. Since the industrial revolution made consumer goods widely available to all of us, we have lost touch with the making of things, with where things come from, what they are made of and who was involved in the process of making them. And it is no mystery why that happened. Production processes have been decentralized, globalized and have become increasingly complex and sometimes purposely obscure. Your cell phone, coffee cup or t-shirt may travel more than you in your whole lifetime.

As several researchers in the last decade have found out by tracing the origins of a t-shirt for example, the cotton might be grown in Texas, spun, knitted and sewn into a t-shirt in China, only to be printed and labeled back in Europe or the US, distributed to a local store, and after a season of wearing it, it may be thrown in a used clothes bin, sorted, baled and shipped to Africa, sold via different traders to a local merchant who in turn sells it on the market to one of his customers. For over a century of large scale globalization processes these production and trade roads have developed and have made us lose touch with the material and social reality they make up, and only in the last few years, in view of a growing environmental awareness, people have begun to show more interest in unveiling these structures.

Another meaning of dirty design can be found in the more aesthetical and ideological sense of the word, specifically in opposition to the conventions of modernist and contemporary design. The aesthetical and the ideological are closely linked in this area, and perhaps nowhere in the history of design is this more clear than in the beginning of modernism. Many aesthetical and social changes in the modernist era developed as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Mass production and the automation of production processes changed both the way people worked and what and how they consumed. The era of craftsmanship, where products were made in a single workshop, often by a single man or woman from beginning to end, made way for the era of the factory, where countless hands and machines work in the production line, each performing a small part of the production process. Efficiency and mass-production became both the economic and the aesthetic ideal, turning formerly imperfect, handmade products into series of identical, anonymous consumer goods.

This call for dirty design is a plea for an alternative to the mass-produced whitewash illusion. I, as both a designer and a consumer, want to see what is underneath the shiny white layer some designers apply as a universal standard. I want to know what the object is made of, what the layer hides. Not unlike Dutch architect Berlage, I prefer the raw bricks to the stucco, or at least the acknowledgement that there may be essential bricks underneath, that the stucco is a mask, and that if we use a mask, you will know it is there.

What I want to propose with a call for dirty design is an appreciation for the ambiguous, for the frayed, the threadbare and the scruffy, for the unfinished and the never going to finish because it is impossible, for the in between, for the troubled and the wrong, the used, the abused, for the murky aesthetics, the vague and the gritty. We do not need to strive for the obscenity of perfection and professionalism and universalism, but we should realize they are all only attempts, and they are by definition forever failing. Instead we should value the failures, the experiments, the amateur, the local and the handmade, the broken and the repaired, the decorated and the emotional, because that might just be the dirtiest of all, and the subjective for its subjectiveness, because that is really the only universal we can ever attain.

I prefer dirty because it is honest. Dirty because it is real. Dirty design because we live in a dirty world.



Content:
WHY 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