The Kleenex Culture

I’m making my way through Victor Papanek’s book, Design For The Real World; a book that is slowly changing the way I understand design. It’s quite academic at times, but apart from that, it’s becoming one of the most insightful books I have read on design to date.

The book was first published in 1970; initially not received very well in the design community due to Victor’s very different design philosophy. But today, 35 years later, it has become one of the most read books on design.

One of the many statements he made that stood out to me was about how the motor industry is instilling a throw-away mentality in us:

From the end of World War II to 1978 car manufacturers sold the American public on the concept that it’s stylish to change cars every three years…

But the risk is the expansion of this attitude; from changing automobiles every few years, we may move to considering everything a throw-away item, and considering all consumer goods, and indeed, most human values, to be disposable.

Throwing away furniture, transportation vehicles, clothing, and appliances may soon lead us to feel that marriages (and other personal relationships) are throw-away items as well, and that on a global scale, countries and, indeed, entire subcontinents are disposable like Kleenex. That which we throw away, we fail to value.

I don’t need to look at stats on divorce rates to convince myself that people, today, value relationships less than 30 years ago. We certainly do have a Kleenex mentality, specifically about relationships.

Now, I’m sure it’s not only the motor industry’s fault. People are changed by a whole ecosystem of things connected and influenced by each other over time. But I think we can learn a lot from the motor industry and how consumer goods are created. One such thing is that some relationships, just like some consumer goods, wont last forever. Friends come and friends go…

But a more important thing we should learn is that some consumer goods last a lifetime, not because they withstand the trends and fashions of life, but because we place enough value on them to last beyond these changing times.

Some relationships should be the same. They last because we add enough value on them that even though time and life happens, we choose to keep them.

The Kleenex culture can’t be changed by just making products that last forever. They don’t and won’t. The solution is so much deeper.

Im reminded of Albert Einsteins quotes:

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.