Jonathan Chapman, a professor and director of doctoral studies at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design, is intrigued and dismayed by the swiftness with which new possessions often lose their value in the minds of contemporary consumers. In his forthcoming book, Meaningful Stuff: Design That Lasts (M.I.T. Press), out next month, Chapman shows how unhealthy patterns of consumption can be disrupted by creating fewer, longer-lasting products, services, and systems—an “experience heavy/material light” design sensibility, as he puts it—that can facilitate a deeper relationship between people and objects while simultaneously preserving the planet. We recently spoke with Chapman about the allure of newfangled things, why they tend to become obsolete, and how to build healthier relationships with the items in our lives.
Why, psychologically, are we excited by new designs? And how can we establish better connections with the things we already own?
We’ve been trained for more than a century and a half to project our insecurities and fears onto branded goods, and on the false hope that they’re going to fix whatever we feel that we need to remedy. There’s a subset of humans that have become extremely efficient at leading us to believe that, if we just buy that next thing, things will be better.
In the book, I’m not talking about a world without products, because I don’t believe in that world. But I do think we need fewer, better things. We need things that we choose well, that we actively maintain and fix when they break. It’s about making longer-term commitments to a handful of objects, rather than fleeting connections to multiple things—which is, of course, the underpinning of our ecological catastrophe.
Why do people toss out, or stop using, perfectly functional objects?
To answer that question, we have to break the term function into two types. There are technical functions, such as: Is this knife cutting well? Is this phone holding its charge? And there are experiential functions, which are more about how a product reflects my identity and my image, or how it entertains me or makes me feel safe. Both are entangled in what we call “user experience.” As a customer or an owner of a product, we often don’t separate the two. We just feel what we feel.
Do you think planned obsolescence plays a role in shaping those emotions?
Planned obsolescence is the foundation of the majority of our economic models today. Most people are unaware of just how influenced by it they are. I mean, you notice when a battery in your headphones needs replacing, or when a product’s software has been updated to the point that the hardware can no longer carry it. But you can’t do anything about it. Suddenly, the product is trash.
Whether that object was purposefully designed for obsolescence, or the design simply failed to recognize that the world that object exists in is constantly changing, I couldn’t tell you. But I do know that around ninety-nine percent of products on the market today are designed with [one or the other].
You’ve suggested that one of the ways companies can help societies transition to a more sustainable future is by designing circular systems for their products. Can you describe what that economy might look like?
For a century or more, we’ve had what you could call a linear economy, where material comes out of the ground, gets turned into products that are briefly used, and discarded. It ends up back in the ground again, where it slowly poisons everything. What we’re trying to do with the circular economy is take that line, and form it into a circle.
Many people know about recycling the new, or buying used items. But the circular economy is more than that. It’s about recognizing that the way we design products needs to be fundamentally different. They need to be designed to come apart, and with better material choices for reprocessing. We need business models that support longer-lasting products, and that offer systems for taking products back when people are finished with them. In a circular economy, clutter isn’t the worst thing, because we can get that stuff and turn it into something else; it’s a complete game-changer.
The jagged spine of the Rocky Mountains is too beautiful to mar. Yet over the years, developers and builders have manageBuckminster Fuller, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eliot Noyes, and Eero Saarinen completed commissions in the Western United States, transforming it into a hub for architectural modRocky Mountain Modern: Contemporary Alpine Homes (Monacelli Press).
A recurring theme in design critic Alexandra Lange’s work is unpacking how—and for whom—objects and spaces are designed.The Dot-Com City, and surveyed how kids’ toys and physical environments impact their development in her 2018 book, The Design of Childhood. The ways in which outdoor public spaces, with their basketball courts, playgrounds, and skate parks, fail teen girls wa story she wrote for Bloomberg CityLab—one of many publications she has contributed to over the past two-plus decades.
Time standards are one of the many seemingly invisible societal constructs we interact with every day but seldom ponder.Mountain / Time,” the show is a nod to both the local time zone in Aspen, Mountain Standard Time (MST)—which the writer and critic Kylehas hailed for its “apartness” and “sense of detachment from the economic and cultural centers of the nation”—and the conceptual d
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The concept of the Golden Age was first introduced by the ancient Greek philosopher Hesiod, around 700 B.C., in a refereDesign Miami Basel (June 14–19), taking place at the Swiss city’s Messeplatz. Organized around the theme “The Golden Age: Rooted in the Pa
In her new book, Generation Dread, author and researcher Britt Wray delves into the psychological consequences of the climate crisis. Combining scientifi
May’s colors, textures, and sense of renewal seem to be essential ingredients in Paris-based artist Alexandre Benjamin Navet’s exuberant work. A self-described “spring and summer boy,” his expressive drawings—often made in watercolor or oil pas
How do the generation of Black Americans who grew up in the past 25 years reckon with the tragedies that play out in theThe Trayvon Generation (Grand Central Publishing), poet, educator, and scholar Elizabeth Alexander—who currently serves as the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest humanities philanthropy in the UnEp. 52 of our Time Sensitive podcast)—explores these questions, and others, by meditating on race, class, trauma, justice, and memory, and their influences
In 1938, two years after completing one of his first realized public artworks, “History Mexico,” a sculptural, colored chis namesake museum in Long Island City, Queens, which he founded in 1985).
In the early 1860s, an advertisement in The New York Times offered $10,000 to anyone who could invent a new material for billiard balls. At the time, elephant ivory was the matercamphor, a waxy substance found in the wood of the camphor laurel tree. Though celluloid would later prove to be less than idea
Think about the last time you felt a sense of awe about the world. Perhaps you were hiking among trees in a lush forest,
Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs (one-of-a-kind digital assets created using blockchain technology), have divided the art woEp. 59 of our Time Sensitive podcast), see them as pathways to a promising future, while others express concern around the sky-high price points and carbon emissions they generate.
A sobering 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization laid out the striking impacts industrial animal agriculture has
At 35, Maggie Doyne is the mother of more than 50 children. One is her biological child, who lives with Doyne, her husbaBetween the Mountain and the Sky: A Mother’s Story of Hope and Love (Harper Horizon), out last month. Through telling her extraordinary story, she demonstrates the life-altering power of
For most of the 20th century, breaking a sweat was seen as unladylike. Popular opinion considered working out dangerous
One afternoon in February of 1966, Stewart Brand took half a tab of LSD, sat on a rooftop in San Francisco’s North Beach
Eating ramen is a multisensory experience: the fragrant steam coming off of the broth, the slurping sound of enjoying thThe Art of the Ramen Bowl” (March 18–July 5) that’s on view at the Los Angeles location of Japan House, an initiative with additional hubs in Londonburi, the porcelain receptacles in which ramen is traditionally served, and renge, the compact, teardrop-shaped spoons that often accompany them, made by 30 leading artists, architects, and designers.
Anicka Yi’s intoxicatingly sensory installations don’t just surround the viewer—many of them literally permeate the body, their sEp. 14 of our At a Distance podcast), in which three industrial steel tanks saturate the air with an aroma concocted by fusing secretions from carpenter an
Integrative nutritionist Daphne Javitch helps people develop their versions of a healthy life—a potentially daunting tasDoing Well, Javitch, a former womenswear consultant at Theory and Uniqlo, offers private health and career coaching as well as groEp. 46 of our At a Distance podcast.)
Born in Grandin, North Dakota, in 1904, the artist Clyfford Still was among the first generation of Abstract Expressioni
In a single word, how does the future make you feel? A towering sculpture by architect Suchi Reddy, founder of the New Y
Darrin Alfred, the curator of architecture and design at the Denver Art Museum (DAM), has wrangled subjects as mesmerizi
Thick, wobbly lines branch out across a wall of Pace Gallery’s global headquarters in New York. Follow each stroke to itwomen, grandpas, and singers craning toward the ceiling, and donuts, hairs, and holes reaching into the ground. Part absurdist diagram, part heart-melting poem, and part consciousness-shifting artwork, thiDavid Byrne: How I Learned About Non-Rational Logic” (on view Feb. 2–March 19), a restorative survey of drawings the musician has made over the past two decades.
With their audacious, gravity-defying forms, skyscrapers have captured the public’s imagination for more than a century.Skyscraper Page, a zany website with a skyscraper discussion forum that has spread to some 100,000 threads. But what’s the point of obs
In the early ’90s, artist, aesthetics expert, and writer Leonard Koren was bathing at a hot-springs resort near the Japa
“Magazines may be a dying breed,” says Jon Kelly, a former Vanity Fair editor who founded its politics, business, and technology website, Hive, in 2015, after working as a staff editor for The New York Times Magazine and as a founding team member at Bloomberg Businessweek. (His career in media began at Vanity Fair, as an assistant to the legendary editor Graydon Carter.) “But magazine-style writing is always in vogue.” With this coPuck, a subscription-based website where elite writers tell insider stories that lie at the nexus of Hollywood, Wall Street,
At this and at every moment, the Earth, and all the species who reside on it, are pushing through time and space, surrou
The exhibition “AORA V: nature/nurture” (on view through Feb. 27, 2022) takes place within four tranquil galleries that, thanks to ample room-length skylights
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To Felix Burrichter, the German-born, New York–based founder of the biannual architecture and design magazine Pin-Up, life is a glorious cacophony of different voices, visions, and ideas—and he can’t get enough of them. “I’m never happy
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A Fictional World Created by Toyin Ojih Odutola Calls Into Question Real-Life Systems of Power and Gender
New York–based Nigerian artist Toyin Ojih Odutola often uses her creations—eclectic multimedia drawings and works on papA Countervailing Theory” currently on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. through April 3, 2022, are possiblyIntersections,” a new body of work by artist Sanford Biggers, who was the guest on Ep. 66 of our At a Distance podcast, on view through Jan. 9, 2022.) Commissioned by the Barbican Art Gallery in London, where it was presented from August
Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel spent her childhood at an orphanage in Aubazines, a commune in central France that was surroundeFive Echoes” (on view Nov. 30 through Dec. 21)—located in the Miami Design District’s outdoor event space, Jungle Plaza—is a sprawlEp. 28 of our Time Sensitive podcast.)
Bernie Krause and United Visual Artists Translate Nature’s Sonic Landscapes Into an Emotive Spectacle
To the attentive ear, symphonies abound—especially in the wild. Musician and author Bernie Krause has been recording natEp. 127 of our At a Distance podcast, has captured more than 5,000 hours of audio created by more than 15,000 terrestrial and marine species in some 2,000 h
When experiencing a crisis, some people see opportunities—for reflection, change, or innovation—that they might not recoAt a Distance podcast was created during (and as a result of) perhaps the widest-reaching calamity in human history—the Covid-19 pandAt a Distance: 100 Visionaries at Home in a Pandemic (Apartamento), out today, presents a selection of these conversations in physical form. The book’s introduction, writte
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Gucci. The luxury fashion house’s name alone conjures up images of vibrancy, extravagance, experimentation, and offbeat latest episode of Hello Fashion, Young’s YouTube show created with The Slowdown, she investigates how this “world” came to be by illuminating the house
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In the sphere of luxury fashion, Dior’s richness of history is practically unparalleled. As stylist Kate Young says, Diolatest episode of Hello Fashion, Young’s YouTube show created with The Slowdown, was filmed. In the episode, Young takes us through Dior’s aesthetic tr
In 1847, French jeweler Louis-François Cartier established a business that bore his last name and specialized in jewels
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Five years ago, under the cloak of darkness, New York–based floral designer Lewis Miller packed his team and 2,000 dahlias and carnations into a van, and headed for the John Lennon Memorial in Central Park. W
Can clothing be at once opulent and utilitarian, traditional and unexpected, ugly and sublime? Can it be both a statemenlatest episode of Hello Fashion, her YouTube show created with The Slowdown, stylist Kate Young explains the ways in which the Italian luxury fashion h
According to business coach Holly Howard, those looking to run a flourishing enterprise should begin by taking a deeper Ask Holly How, in 2012. Since then, she’s worked with more than 500 businesses and founders, guided by the belief that effective entr
Tantric Buddhist practitioners use mandalas—circular, often ornate, symbolic representations of the universe that can apMandala Lab, an interactive multi-sensorial space that opens October 1 at New York’s Rubin Museum of Art, an institution dedicated
Luxury and utility don’t often go hand in hand. French fashion house Louis Vuitton, however, is a clear exception: As stHello Fashion, her YouTube show created with The Slowdown, the house—though now one of the world’s most recognizable fashion brands—wthe episode, Young walks us through the evolution of the house and its designs, which have consistently checked the boxes for both
As a stylist, Kate Young has a particular affinity for well-designed things—that is, iconic items that stand the test ofknow what Cartier is. It’s sexy. It’s French. It’s sort of, always, for me, rooted in the seventies.” To kick off Season 2 oHello Fashion, her YouTube show created in collaboration with The Slowdown, the stylist walks through some of the famed French jewelr
Since 1915, New York Public Library users in search of visual information have consulted its Picture Collection. It consists of images cut from magazines, catalogues, and books, each glued to backings and organized into folders enc
In branding and marketing, animal imagery abounds: Lacoste’s crocodile, Bacardi’s bat, Geico’s gecko, Swarovski’s swan, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), animals appear in approximately 20 percent of all advertisements. These creatures, however, receive little to n
In Chicago, more than 10,000 city-owned lots currently sit vacant, concentrated within predominantly Black and brown comChicago Architecture Biennial in 2015. Now, as the latter biennial’s 2021 artistic director, Brown further expands upon his project, using it to info
The title of Yves Béhar’s new monograph, Designing Ideas (Thames & Hudson), gets straight to the heart of the Swiss designer and entrepreneur’s 20-year career. After founding h
Floral jewelry has been a tradition of the French jewelry house Van Cleef & Arpels since it opened its first boutique atFlorae” (on view through November 14), presented alongside floret-filled photographs by Japanese photographer and film directo
In 1983, French photographer Simon Chaput arrived in New York City for a weeklong trip, and ended up staying for nearly –1991) in California and Japan to “The Floating Piers” (2014–2016) in Italy. Along the way, in 1984, Chaput met the artist and sculptor Isamu Noguchi, who recognized Chaput’s love oNew York,” which he began in 1996, that chronicled the developing built environment of Lower Manhattan.
“In the last few years, something distinctly different has been happening in the ways that technologies come to market, The Economist, and launched a popular tech newsletter and podcast called Exponential View. (Last year, he discussed the present-day role of the smartphone, among other digital-related issues, as the guest on Ep. 56 of our At a Distance podcast.) Azhar cautions against the speed with which innovations such as artificial intelligence, automation, and big data emeThe Exponential Age: How Accelerating Technology Is Transforming Business, Politics and Society (Diversion Books), out next week. With clarity and insight, he outlines new ways of thinking about technology, alongsid
Wassan Al-Khudhairi, the chief curator at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, is the curator of this year’s Focus, a Armory Show—one of America’s biggest art fairs, on view from September 9–12 at New York’s Javits Center—that features contemporary
The concept for Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley’s new book, Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine (MCD), began forming about 12 years ago, when the world looked considerably different from the way it does now. During aEp. 33 of our At a Distance podcast) noticed an old quarantine station turned luxury hotel on a picturesque peninsula across the bay. “Our first questions
When architect Mies van der Rohe first used the now infamous—and often riffed-on—phrase “Less is more,” it was in refere
In 2018, contemporary art dealer David Zwirner hired the young Elena Soboleva to optimize his galleries’ online sales operation and digital presence—prompting some critics to respond with skepticis
The underlying vision for “A Diagnosis of Time: Unlearn What You Have Learned,” a collaborative exhibition between the ASavannah Centre for Contemporary Art (SSCA) in Tamale, Ghana; and the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (on view through November 3), is both literally and This is Not Africa: Unlearn What You Have Learned,” currently on view at ARoS through October 24, challenges stereotypical Western notions of African-ness.)
Omer Arbel, an Israeli-born, Vancouver-based artist and designer who creates boundary-defying objects and architecture, Omer Arbel (Phaidon), edited by Stephanie Rebick, an associate curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery, celebrates the depth and bread
As Paris emerges from lockdown and its streets come alive, the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, an art center Cherry Blossoms” (on view through January 2, 2022), an exhibition of expressively impastoed, large-scale oil paintings by British artistold the BBC. “My mum used to say, ‘There’s enough horror in the world. Why can’t you just paint flowers?’ So maybe she got to me.”
Los Angeles–based journalist Doree Shafrir sees beauty in the particular challenges faced by those who find their footin, pours her lighthearted yet critical perspective on her experience into Forever35, a self-care podcast she co-hosts with her longtime friend Kate Spencer, and into her new memoir, Thanks for Waiting: The Joy (& Weirdness) of Being a Late Bloomer (Ballantine Books), out this week. In the book, she interrogates the often overwhelming pressure that people—particular How do you start your mornings?
“Social Works,” a group exhibition that opened this week at New York’s Gagosian gallery on West 24th Street, explores space—and the m
“Clouds are not something to moan about,” Gavin Pretor-Pinney says in a 2013 TED talk. “Far from it. They are, in fact, the most diverse, evocative, poetic aspect of nature.” Pretor-Pinney, a British authoThe Idler, a magazine that extols the virtues of slowness, became fascinated with clouds after noticing them in the skies depicte
To showcase the world’s most inventive designers, the London Design Biennale invites participants who represent their coEp. 75 of our At a Distance podcast, recorded last September. “I thought, Well, who do I identify with?”
Several years ago, Claus Sendlinger began contemplating ways to address his concerns about overdevelopment in the boutiqSlow, a hospitality venture dedicated to creating places that draw upon their locations’ culture, environment, and history aagriturismo (farmhouse retreat) called La Granja. The working farm practices regenerative agriculture, and teaches visitors how it
Maxine Bédat’s New Book Traces the Lifespan of a Pair of Jeans to Illustrate the Ills of Fast Fashion
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The first Monday in May is synonymous with the Met Gala, a benefit for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume InstitutVogue. “Designers live for it.” This year, the affair hasn’t happened yet—it may happen this fall—but to mark the annual occathe eighth episode of Hello Fashion, created with The Slowdown.
To stay healthy, we know that our bodies need nourishment, hygiene, and exercise. According to those who study neuroaestEp. 34 of our At a Distance podcast) who runs the International Arts + Mind Lab (IAM Lab)—an initiative at John Hopkins University’s School of Medicine that connects brain scientists with artists to Arts + Health & Wellbeing, an immersive online tool kit that offers visitors an engaging dose of art, and consequent mental fitness, from anywherEp. 11 of our Time Sensitive podcast.)
“A question I get asked a lot is, ‘How do I get your job?’” says stylist Kate Young. “That answer is complex, because pe10th episode of Hello Fashion, created with The Slowdown.
Practically everything the artist, master potter, and writer Edmund de Waal touches turns to dust. Or at least toward the idea of dust. In each of his books—2010’s The Hare With Amber Eyes, 2015’s The White Road: Journey Into an Obsession, and the just-published Letters to Camondo (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), out this week—dust serves as a profound metaphor. Throughout his work, whether in pottery or prose, de Waal explores various notions a
From a fashion perspective, the Golden Globes stands apart from other award shows for its timing: The event, during whicleft at that point,” says stylist Kate Young in the ninth episode of Hello Fashion (created with The Slowdown), noting that she usually starts working on Globes outfits around Halloween. For the episode
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Debates about whether encyclopedic museums—institutions that collect and contextualize cultural artifacts across time an—should act as more than mere repositories date back decades, but have taken on a new urgency as of late. Now, institutioEp. 12 of our At a Distance podcast), tackled these topics through interviews with nearly 30 leaders, and compiled the conversations in a new book, Under Discussion: The Encyclopedic Museum (Getty Publications). We recently spoke with Grau about the future of institutions and the layered, ever-evolving narra What central issues do encyclopedic museums face today, and what prompted you to explore them?
When attending runway shows, stylist Kate Young keeps her eyes peeled for premiere dresses—gowns to be worn by actressesOn the sixth episode of her YouTube show, Hello Fashion, created with The Slowdown, Young talks about her process for selecting and securing premiere dresses, and highlights f
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The Covid-19 pandemic, by its very nature, has led to a universal turning toward—or even retreating to—home. The very noTadao Ando: Living With Light (Rizzoli), out this week, that presents 11 extraordinary residential projects designed by the Japanese architect, who has created more than 100 ho
Frustrated by the high cost of wellness in America, Brooklyn-based journalist Annie Daly set out to find meaningful alteDestination Wellness: Global Secrets for Better Living Wherever You Are (Chronicle Prism), out May 11. What may sound like a travel writer’s cushy, decidedly pre-Covid boondoggle in fact offer
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The British-born, Brooklyn-based philosopher Simon Critchley has no shortage of interests. He’s written, in his refreshiThe New York Times, where he moderates its contemporary thinkers opinion forum, The Stone. For his forthcoming book, Bald (Yale University Press), out April 27, Critchley—who teaches philosophy at The New School for Social Research, and was tEp. 42 of our Time Sensitive podcast and Ep. 3 of our At a Distance podcast—compiled 35 of his favorite Times essays, forming an engaging series of short reads that suggest new ways of understanding the world. We recently spoke w
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When Goodnight Moon was first published, in 1947, the chief children’s librarian at the New York Public Library didn’t like that its story—Goodnight Moon’s honest presentation of sleep and solicitude still resonated with readers, who’ve since purchased more than 48 million
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Hanna Nova Beatrice is the founder and editor-in-chief of The New Era, a recently launched independent Scandinavian design publication. “It grew out of a strong belief in the [power of] priResidence magazine, prefers to consume media the old-fashioned way, with an eye toward periodicals that innovate on physical page How do you start your mornings?
As the world adapts to pandemic life, we’ve seen creativity heroically emerge, in nearly every sector, amid limitations.Kei Truck Garden Contest in Osaka, which brings nature closer to city-dwellers in the form of compact, foliage-filled creations. (The date for t
For most of us, the urge to bring smartphones into our bedrooms is too strong to resist—even when science, and firsthandattest to the habit’s harmful effects. One way to curb the temptation: Loftie, an alarm clock designed to transform sleep spaces into phone-free sanctuaries. Calibrated for the digital age, the dev
Those visiting Japan’s beloved gardens during the winter might be struck by the sight of trees confined within mysteriouyukitsuri—the term for these intriguing rope webs—is a traditional Japanese gardening technique intended to protect trees’ long b
Design can be a powerful tool in times of crisis, when creativity is a crucial element for survival. At the start of theDesigners Against Coronavirus, and in the fall, took the project a step further by documenting 272 of the works in a book of the same name. Nearly all the resources to publish it, from the paper to securing the copyright for each image, were donated, and the
Formgivning, the Danish word for “design,” serves as both a thesis and a call to action in a new book, Formgiving: An Architectural Future History (Taschen), by the Copenhagen-born architectural practice Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). This is no project-by-project compe