How product design can change the world | Christiaan Maats | TEDxUniversityofGroningen

How product design can change the world | Christiaan Maats | TEDxUniversityofGroningen


Translator: Géraldine Géraldine
Reviewer: Denise RQ I believe life is connected. I believe people are connected
to their social and physical environment, and I believe mankind
is connected to the planet; but our society has lost
touch of this connection. We’ve built a society
that thinks in straight lines: we buy things, we use things,
we throw them out, period. We have companies that try to achieve maximum growth,
maximum profit, maximum efficiency. Nature works slightly differently. In nature, when you use something
and you throw it out, it rots, and it becomes a source of new life. It’s a cyclical process. In nature, there is
a dynamic balance of species that are intricately connected
to each other, I believe our future is based on an integration
of these two worlds, integrating that industrial society
with its natural roots. So, after I graduated from university I started making shoes, as you do; but they weren’t just any shoes, they were the world’s first
biodegradable shoes that bloom. They were shoes that you could wear
just like any other shoes, and once they were worn down,
you could plant them in the ground, and the seeds that we put inside
the tongue of the shoes could grow into a beautiful bouquet of wildflowers; and of course, the shoes
would decompose into the earth. It was based on a notion
I had in university that products can be more than just perform a function
and look a certain way. They can offer us a new perspective
on how we see the world. They can connect us to a bigger reality. That goes into how we experience products, and to explain a little bit
how that works, I’m going to do a little quiz with you. You don’t have to raise your hands
or call out any answers; just play along in your head,
and we will see where we end up. I’m going to show you three axes. The question is which is the best axe for cutting wood
when you look at these three? Chances are
you probably took the first one. This is how we experience
the first dimension of product design: utilitarian function, what does
the product do, how does it do it, how well does it do it,
is it comfortable, is it durable? Second question: if you have to divide
these three words between the axes, which one would you say
is aggressive compared to the other ones? Which one is modest? I’ll give you a little bit of time
to make up your mind here. If you are anything like my friends,
you said something like this: first one’s modest, second’s elegant,
the third one looks a little aggressive. This is how we experience
the emotional attitude of a product, it’s how a product strikes us
when we see it. It can be supportive,
it can even be arrogant, it can be tough, it can be cute. That was the second dimension
of product design. Third question: imagine the person
that would own this axe. I can already see the images
racing in your head, but I’m going to help you a little bit. (Laughter) Which one goes with which axe? I put it down like this; is that
what you had in mind more or less? I see a lot of people nodding,
that was good. First one: a regular axeman,
cutting his wood; second person,
or the creative type, let’s say (Laughter) and the third one might not have
cutting wood in his mind at the moment. (Laughter) This is the third dimension
of product experience and it’s the cultural style of a product. It’s basically the style
that we identify with. A British aristocrat
will have a different style than a breakdancer from New York. So when products connect with us
on all three levels, that’s when it hits us in the sweet spot, and we identify with that product, and when we buy it, it becomes an extension
of our identity to the world around us. But to say that the products
are really meaningful, that they have a purpose … No, you need something else. I believe there’s one more dimension of product experience we need to consider: and it’s fundamental to creating
those meaningful products with a purpose. It’s based on the work of a psychologist
in the 1960s, called Clare Graves – look him up – and in relation to product design,
I call it the belief system of a product. To explain how that one works,
let’s go back to the axes. Which sentence fits which axe the best? Which axe fits the idea that life is
about power and conquest? Which axe is more about
hard work and dedication? And finally, which maker of the axe,
or the buyer of the axe sees life as being about self-expression? I’m making this easy on you. Anything like you thought? That’s the way we see the world. The belief system is
basically how you see the world, and that is the basis
for the purpose of your actions. If you see life as a competition,
and you want to win it, you’re going to spend
a lot of your time doing things to try to beat the competition. So when we go to the axes, and we imagine
the people making those axes, we can imagine what purpose
they might have making these axes. I ventured to guess and said,
“If life is about power and conquest, chances are you’re making
that axe to help your tribe conquer some other tribe.” If life is about hard work and dedication, maybe you’re making this axe to sell it and provide for your family,
send your kids to school. If life is about self-expression, maybe you’re helping young artists
to express themselves by having to make this axe, these axes. Chances are one or two of these belief systems
are things that you might identify with; I doubt you identify
will all three of them. Chances are as well one or two of these purposes
might be something that you could empathize with,
you might want to even support them. That’s the key to making
a product meaningful. Meaningful products are based
on a belief system we can identify with, and they serve a purpose
that we can empathize with. If you look at our little circles
of the product experience dimensions, I put in this fourth one. There’s still the sweet spot
in the middle, obviously, where, if a product aligns with our ideas of the function, the attitude,
the style, and the belief system, we all want to have it; but it becomes meaningful, we want to support
the people making this product. So the belief system is really the core behind all the activities
and all the design decisions that you make as a product designer. If we look at the dominant system
in Western society as I’ve said in the beginning: we’re all about maximizing growth,
maximizing profit, efficiency, and we can see that in the products
that we find in the stores when we go to shop. Most products are cheaply made,
they’re not great quality, we don’t use them very long,
they’re not easy to repair, so we thrown them out, buy new stuff that’s usually made with toxic materials, unhealthy materials, unhealthy ingredients by people that don’t get paid
what they should be paid not in the circumstances
that they need to survive well. Is that a system
that we can identify with? Is that a purpose that we believe in? No. We’re already seeing a growing attention
for sustainable products because subconsciously, we’re already starting to make our choices
based on this belief system, as well. I think by being aware, consciously, of how a belief system affects
all the decisions that a company makes, it allows us to make these choices
more consciously and show to these companies that it’s worth their while
to change their ways. Sustainability implies a belief system that values a dynamic balance and a symbiotic relationship between people and their environment. That was the whole idea
of these shoes I was making. By adding to the function
based on the belief system, we added this function of biodegradability
of these seeds that grow into flowers. And this way, we could connect people
to their natural environment, make people part
of the natural cycle of life. It added the bonus that natural materials turn out to be
really nice for your feet; it’s a great feeling. It affected the style and the attitude because we were working with
these natural materials, putting them
into a very linear, geometric design; created a unique attitude
for an urban, creative lifestyle. But it affected our decisions in terms of
supply chain and other things, as well. We chose to make them
in Europe to keep the line short, to be able to secure that people got paid
what they needed to be paid – the right circumstances – we sourced
all of ours materials in Europe. Even the people making the shoes
said, “We really like you guys because otherwise,
we make shoes with glues inside, and we’re inhaling these vapors
the whole day, we go home stoned.” Our shoes are made without glue, it’s a much better experience for them. It’s our choice what products we buy, and by making that choice,
we force companies to make this change. When companies are aware of how the belief system is at the core
of all their activities, they can evaluate all those activities, they can look at who are the owners,
whether private or public. What are their purposes? What do they see as the goal of life? How do we treat our employees? Is it a competitive system?
A cooperative system? How do we award them?
How do we approach our customers? How do we relate to them? How do we treat our partners
in the supply chain? Finally, how do we treat the planet? As a company,
that’s a daunting thing to do. If you have to shift gears like that, it’s an enormous change to make, but you can do that
one little step at a time. Once you make that commitment,
and you communicate that to people, you create a purpose for your company, a purpose that customers like us
can empathize with, a purpose that connects us to the shared environment
that we have with the companies, and the purpose that we want to support so when we’re going to come back
and buy those products, we’ll tell our friends more actively
what we think of these products. That’s, I think,
how we change this system. So, if we talk about sustainability,
I think we have to start at the root which is the belief system, and then, the first question to ask is, “What is life about for you?” Thank you. (Applause)

25 thoughts on “How product design can change the world | Christiaan Maats | TEDxUniversityofGroningen

  1. Really impressive & it is really a bigger reality to connect with. Please share other insights of product designs too. & Thank you.. 🙂

  2. hey there I have been uploading a video tutorial for those who want to use /learn rhino, it's in my channel check it out! be aware that the interface is in english mode but I am speaking/explaining in spanish… so, it's something to consider

  3. I thought about the axes in a different way
    The first axe is normal, it is simple but not to simple, and it's cheap
    The second axe is made from better steel and has a better handle
    The third axe is heavy and unrealistic, it is hard to actually use it, and its best use is decoration

    The people I paired with the axes are then different to the ones in the talk
    I paired the first axe with the armored guy, he looks like a worrior from medival times who would only have the simple and efficient axe
    The modern guy with the axe would probably have a better axe so he gets the second one
    The last one would buy a good looking axe that might not be good as a tool, but it's fine because it isn't meant to be

  4. I might go back to school purely because of elon musk and the future of engineering, this is what will get us to the stars

  5. Americans for the most part don't give a damn about amything but themselves so even though this guy makes sense to a rational person we are a very very tiny minority.

  6. Maazing speech! On my Instagram page @greendesigns_ I post about sustainable products and materials. Would be so happy for anyone to have a look at it 🙌💚

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