I just watched The Grinch with my kiddos. We watch some version of it every year, Mr. Grinch and his considerable disdain for what he sees as the excessive consumptionism of Whoville’s Christmas. But this year, it fueled a thought: I’m considering my blatant use of the word consumer.
As I dedicate more time to design theory it’s interesting how important language is to the process. Language, our lexicon, shapes our thinking. And our thinking shapes our actions, our processes. And that word, consumer, keeps sticking out like a small, stray cactus spine.
What does this word mean?
“A person who purchases goods and services for personal use.”
Yeah, okay, but the root of it is a bit darker. To consume. To eat up, devour, deplete, destroy, waste. In this time of evolving awareness and sensitivity to waste and depletion, this word hits rather painfully on the nose. Consumerism feels like it’s due for a make-over, similar to the one I felt growing up when gasoline was scarce and my blue collar parents tracked our electricity and water bills with fanatical attention. Mindful spending and mindful usage led to simplicity and creativity. The resources and products we used had deliberate purpose and they were used in a way that maximized their potential. It wasn’t about consuming things. It was about applying them in the best possible way.
To manage your consumer product business you naturally need to think about people from a numbers perspective. Consumers represent sales figures. Your product plans need to be measured in volume charts. But for the design aspects of your business, you need to dig deeper. Rate of consumption data isn’t great at inspiring good design.
What is good design? It’s an experience. Good design feels good. It serves its purpose elegantly. And to create good design we have to focus on the essential problem to be solved, the job to be done, the experience to be created, and more specifically, the person who wants to achieve the outcome. These are people just like us who are looking for an experience. The experience of a clean home that my guests feel comfortable in. A satisfying dinner that I feel good about serving to my family. A clear complexion that boosts my confidence at work. Human experiences.
If we think about ourselves as Experiencers our design process becomes less about churning out things and more about creating and crafting something thoughtful and deliberate, something better connected to whatever our experience needs to be. Design can curate products that help people simplify their life, helping them to feel more environmentally responsible, bringing more meaning to the experiences they’re having and the products they're using to achieve them. The generation of waste detracts from that experience. The fuss of a poorly executed design disrupts it. The simplicity and elegance of a well-designed product enhances the experience and doesn’t get in the way.
My focus and passion has always been design and the role it plays in creating experiences and honoring the experience of being human. Design, to me, is all about connection. When we design our products to be an experience we get more in tune with the beneficial outcomes we’re working to create.
So thanks, Mr. Grinch. You’ve inspired awareness of my flippant use of the word consumer in my quest to champion thoughtful, impactful design. Here’s to creating meaningful experiences!
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