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Rabbit Holes 🕳 #13
From life-centred design to traffic dance, the capitalocene and life after lifestyle
Another Rabbit Holes this week for you before I head into a short, two-week break as I’ll be spending some time off in the mountains. ⛰️
But first, enjoy this week’s issue:
Rabbit Holes 🕳
Human… Life-Centred Design
As we’re thinking more systemic, more holistic, and are letting go of this dichotomy between humans and nature, lots of the existing and often still highly popular design approaches will become old-school, out-of-date.
“Over the last 50 years human-centred design was embraced by companies seeking to develop better experiences and to drive innovation. However, there is mounting evidence that placing the consumer at the centre of the design process is actually harming human wellbeing, as its narrow focus is damaging the global systems essential to our prosperity.”
“From addictive scrolling to popularising unhealthy lifestyles, human-centred design has the power to create things that people want. But what people want is not necessarily good for their mental and physical health. Neither is it good for the health of the planet and for future generations, who will have to pay for the damage caused by the ‘growth above all else’ mindset."
“It’s time to recalibrate the contribution of human-centred design beyond consumption and towards sustainment. This requires a paradigm shift, one that decentres the human.”
“Life-centred design – an emerging design framework – obliterates the idea that humans are at the centre of everything. It expands human-centred design methods to consider all creatures and the planet.”
👩🎤 Life After Lifestyle
The era of lifestyle - where culture is made in service of brands - is about to be over and something new is now forming.
“The 2010s is what I want to call the era of Lifestyle.”
“Lifestyle was defined by three elements — brands, culture, and supply chain. The way these components were tied together by technology in the 2010s resulted in a particular organization of culture.”
“By the early 2010s, Uber, Facebook, DoorDash, Instacart, Twitter had all become enormous platforms. And with their success, entrepreneurs were asking: how to “scale” other types of goods? And moreover, how to tap into this market of tech venture capital? At this time, the ‘X for Y’ ethos was the most popular approach in fundraising. Uber for glasses, Uber for razors…..”
“DTC companies were hiring aggressively from tech to build out slick landing pages and elaborate data marketing engines. And as this wealth of knowledge moved from software to physical goods, we started to see a profusion of new brands. Stitch Fix, Quip, Peloton, Outdoor Voices, Glossier, Daily Harvest, the list goes on. It felt like every month some CPG category was getting relaunched with this new approach.”
“….starting a brand could seem like an act of creative expression, or even an act of resistance.”
“[But] this era was not just one of rapid commerce and blitzscaling brands. The subtext for this brand apocalypse was the way in which subcultures were rapidly proliferating, the way in which people were identifying and sorting themselves into these cultures using the internet.”
“Through cheaper, consumer-grade media production tools, ideas once restricted to the underground or the zine now have glossy indie magazines, self-burnt mixtapes, and dozens of dedicated websites. And the effect of all this has been to bust wide open the pandora’s box of subculture.”
“Lifestyle brands and DTC needed to draw on these subcultural elements—they needed to be the products people buy in order to participate. […] You’re no longer just into skincare, you use Glossier, Hanskin pore cleansing oil, and GOOPGLOW Morning Skin Superpowder.”
“Every time one of these companies would come to market, 2-3 months later you’d suddenly see a profusion of copycat brands. Casper originated the mattress in a box, but soon after you had Leesa, Tuft & Needle, and Saatva. Recess originated the fancy CBD seltzer, but soon after you had Upstate Elevator, CBD Living, Mad Tasty, Dram.”
“Across the board, brands and middleware were opening new supply chains, which then became accessible entrepreneurs targeting all sorts of subcultural plays. And with Shopify, Squarespace, and Stripe, you can open an online store and accept payments in minutes.”
“The ‘last mile’ of this supply chain was the rapidly growing influencer economy. Sponsorships and artist collaborations were key to subcultural DTC marketing. […] The essence of each of these is the elevation of a product to the cultural plane by affiliation with the artist. Why is Levis collaborating with Snoop Dogg? Why is sheets company Buffy doing profiles of an artist loft in Bushwick?”
“Products begin their life as an unbranded commodities made in foreign factories; they pass through a series of outsourced relationships —brand designers, content creators, and influencers—which construct a cultural identity for the good; in the final phase, the product ends up in a shoppable social media post. Each step, a service rendered that turns a commodity into a cultural item, turning the logic of all manufacturing into this: your brand, our products.”
“This is peak Lifestyle.”
“Easier than ever to launch a brand. More goods than ever. Software-enabled, integrated supply chain driven business models. An explosion of online social media cultures. These elements have become omnipresent, splashed across our lives like the patterned splotches of a magic eye book. Stare long enough, and you begin to see the whole: an economy where culture is made in service of brands. To be even more literal: cultural production has become a service industry for the supply chain.”
So what comes after the Lifestyle Era? Well, you can read the entire article to find out or wait a few more weeks as I’ll definitely dive into this soon in more detail!
🚲 Traffic Conflict or Dance?
Great example showing the value of friction and inconvenience. Not having many rules or an efficient traffic management system creates lots of friction at these Amsterdam intersections but it also leads to a higher sense of community, of influence, integration, emotional connection, and trust.
🏦 The Capitalocene
The power structures that are in the background of lots of the challenges we’re facing are increasingly being unmasked. “Capitalocene is a critique of this idea that capitalism is just about economics. Because it's also a system of power and it's a system of culture.”
“Capitalocene is a kind of critical provocation to this sensibility of the Anthropocene, which is: We have met the enemy and he is us. So the idea that we're all going to cover our footprints, we're going to be more sustainable consumers, we're going to pay attention to population, are really consequences of a highly unequal system of power and wealth.”
“There’s an assignment of blame here, which corporations love to do in particular with their workers—if you don't meet your goals as a company, it's not the people in the C-suites that are getting laid off, it's the laborers. The climate crisis strikes me as an extension of that, that 100 corporations are responsible for 70 percent of emissions, but they're the ones who will say, ‘Well, you as consumers could do a whole lot yourselves.’“
“…there's also a shift from looking at production to looking at consumption. Most carbon dioxide doesn’t come from people flying around the world, although that's a major contributor to it. It comes from production. For younger people there seems to be a kind of cognitive dissonance between yes, we are responsible, and at the same time we know that we are not responsible.”
“For me, Capitalocene is a critique of this idea that capitalism is just about economics. Because it's also a system of power and it's a system of culture.”
Lastly a fun one:
“Billboards in 15 European cities have been covered with satirical artwork highlighting the role of airline marketing in driving up greenhouse gas emissions. Anti-advertising movement Brandalism has installed their work at 500 different sites in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Lisbon, Rome and other European cities.”
That’s it for this week!