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

A Dirty future -
a dirty utopia

When I think about the future, I have to think about the distinctively utopian and dystopian realities of science fiction. They are often worlds that revolve around an extrapolated aspect of contemporary society that turns out to have extreme consequences for future generations, either to a positive or a negative effect, sometimes deceivingly so. In Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) for example, a perfectly clean, modernist gem of a spaceship whose inhabitants are serene and well-coiffed, houses the lethal danger of an artificial intelligence that decides humans are an inefficient mess that it had better eliminate. A decade later, Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) unfolds as an industrial nightmare where everything is dark and polluted, where spaceships are rusty labyrinths in which extraterrestrial parasites carry out their violent procreation.

I find this dichotomy fascinating, because it represents our divided expectations of technology and design. Will it make our lives better or worse? Are we going to have modernity and wealth for everybody, or will society decay into an apocalyptic meltdown? Perhaps the idea of a dirty design utopia can be perceived as a similarly dualistic construction, but I invoke the opposite of clean only because it seems so absent and ignored in the design world. By contemplating the dirty side of design practice and the illusionary clean surface that is propagated, I would like to make way for a more ambiguous type of design aesthetics. One that is closer to the complexity of life, that relates to the context of products and materials and to how things really work. One that is therefore more helpful for the future.

What if we could open things up to the world around them, make things that are not hermetic attempts at perfection, but that are flexible, adaptable, accessible, and contextual.
No attempts at static universality, but a recognition of difference and dynamics. Design that does not simplify what is by nature complex, but that shows how we can make sense of the complexity. Design that involves its users and consumers, so they feel more related to and responsible for it. Design that does not shy away from the personal touch, showing traces of both maker and consumer. Design that is not finished but always evolves.

Inevitably, that means letting go of many assumptions about what is profitable, what is beautiful, what is good, and what is wanted. It means an appreciation for things that work on every level of society: material, social, environmental and aesthetical. That is an ambitious proposition. Yet the dirty attitude is not something I invented, not something that needs an artificial construction. It has always been there as the silent counterpart of the clean. Every ideological construction creates its opposite twin, its own inherent negation that resides in subcultures and rears its head in informal and amateur fields. The anonymity of mass-production has fostered a lingering love for the handmade, and futuristic high-rises inspire a nostalgia for the single family home. The overabundant presence of IKEA creates a longing for vintage furniture, and microwave dinners make us want to grow our own vegetables again.

I am not claiming that one is better than the other, that dirty is better than clean; this is not a new modernism pretending universality. Manifestos are made to be broken, preferably in creative and inspiring ways, which is why I put this text online, for everyone to see, adapt, use and abuse. What I want is for designers and consumers, which is all of us, to realize there is a dirty side to the clean perfection we seem to be trying to reach for, and that there is both horror and unexpected beauty there.

A way to start looking for dirty design is to research what design has brought us so far. I admire designers who build themselves a car, who investigate where all the pig offal ends up, who initiate an open-source and durable smartphone, who make themselves a ham and cheese sandwich from scratch (I mean really from scratch). If we make the complexity more transparent, we might feel more responsible and more compelled to intervene.
Josef Beuys stated that everyone is an artist. Boris Groys claimed that all art is failed design. I say that everyone is a designer, a dirty designer 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