Numbered Store Philosophy
Numbered is a selection of objects designed by Martín Azúa; unique pieces, numbered editions and commissioned objects that explore a new functionality which includes emotional and conceptual aspects. It is a project with the aim to be kept in a controlled production as quality issue, a connection with the local environment, personalization and exclusivity. Information about available units is important because it defines a productive context and brings the value of being singular back to objects.
“We propose special objects which establish relationships between tradition and innovation. We defend the culture of doing as an essential value to preserve the diversity of the material and technological culture. The ideal users of Numbered are people who understand their possessions as a collection and know very well the reasons why an object can be special.”
The direct contact with the workshops with which we collaborate in the area of Barcelona allow us to accept special orders and variations of the objects that we propose in order to adapt whenever possible to each client’s needs. When stocks are not available, the order triggers a production process that implies a reasonable waiting time. We punctually inform of the delivery date and order status.
From product to object.
Towards a revaluation of the material environment.
Temes de Disseny 27 / Barcelona, December 2011
The history of industrial design is also a story that tells of the loss of value of the objects that surround us and the multiplication of “trivial things”. Machines freed us from physical work but also altered an entire value system. Design has fought throughout history to save industrial objects from trivialisation. But on balance, I believe we have not succeeded, for we have never reached the levels of consideration that manual craftsman production once had. The first values that came under question were the effort, skill and time expended in making a product, the price of objects and the consideration given to such objects by people in general. We are currently experiencing a very similar phenomenon: we feel as though we are not paying the actual price of things. We suspect that behind every product, there is a hidden story that we would rather not know. The ever-increasing rate of production and consumption has caused the useful life of objects to decline significantly. In the olden days, an object was made to last as much as the strength of its materials would allow; nowadays, products go out of fashion and we dispose of them without even blinking, even if they are not damaged, simply as a matter of their somewhat scheduled obsolescence. It is increasingly difficult to find transcendental and emotional values in products, even in the most expensive and elitist ones. Product exclusivity and customisation seem to be at odds with mass production achieved with industrial resources. The luxury industry struggles to differentiate itself, but fails to succeed because it uses the same production structures used by cheap or plagiarised objects, with the exception of rare cases in which the products are highly specialised crafts. Customary practice, however, is for high-end brand products to be manufactured by the thousands on assembly lines. At present, brand values far outweigh intrinsic product values and in this context, it is difficult to establish objective quality criteria. We take a leap of faith and assume that everything these brands are claiming is true, because we are dealing with codes that we all share. The supremacy of visual input versus other types of sensory input has encouraged the reduction of objects to simple signs, simulations or mere instruments of communication.
The purpose of this brief overview is to establish a parallelism between what happened after the industrial revolution and the shift toward the post-industrial era that we are experiencing today. It is assumed that the shift toward the conversion of consumers into users and products into services leaves industrial designers out of the picture, in the same way that craftsmen had been left out as outdated figures. As such, we should begin to assume that the profession of industrial design, as we understand it today, is a relic of the past. I am referring to the figure of the designer that conforms to the interests of both the industry and the market, where everything focuses on products and financial gains, as opposed to socio-environmental progress. But paradoxically, not everything is information and services in this post industrial era. We still have the same needs that we have always had: we need a glass to drink from, a chair to sit on etc. We are physical beings and the objectual environment plays a prosthetic role that allows us to adapt to our surroundings. But the primary purpose of products is not to satisfy these needs, but to boost consumption. We all know that this productive escalation is untenable and that designers are somehow complicit in this situation. Regardless of how well we try to do our job, we are stuck in a perverse system. Designing objects for a saturated market has become an outdated activity, but we could also take a romantic stance, as did the first industrial designers did reminiscing about craftsman production. Let us imagine for a moment that our activities could have a critical attitude toward the status quo. The objects we consume are the product of a globalised world in which provenance is difficult to discern. We know that the manufacture of objects involves the use of raw materials and non-renewable energy, many of which are produced under unacceptable work conditions. Disinformation surrounding products prevents us from establishing emotional relationships with these objects. So in order to face the future, we need to draw certain conclusions and set some goals.
Toward new materiality
The choice of materials involves an enormous responsibility. Until now, we had been selecting materials based on their physical, symbolic and sensory qualities, but nowadays, proposing materials involves assuming ethical responsibilities that had been previously overlooked. Consuming nonrenewable resources is both illegal and unjustifiable, simply because we always have other options. Designing is choosing, from among all possibilities, the one that is most beneficial in a global context. The entire life cycle of materials has to be taken into account. A certain material defines a landscape that puts us in contact with the diversity of the natural environment. The artificial environment is also natural; there is no such duality.
The progressive dematerialisation of products that might initially be seen as an advantage, links us dangerously to the practice of using and disposing of objects. Many of the objects that we normally use only have a material quality when we throw them away in the garbage; it is only at that very moment that we realise that a plastic bag takes up space and has a certain weight. Some theorists of design predict that in the future we will be able to use a single “material” that may acquire infinite qualities and will be continuously recycled. Perhaps this is the solution, but will we not be missing out on something? I believe we must not abandon a rich and diverse material culture. Our environment is very rewarding not only when it lavishes us with sensations, temperatures, textures, colours and smells, but also when we recognise symbolic aspects that remit us to the natural source of certain materials, also linked to a culturally rich elaboration carried out throughout our history. In this sense, several designers have explicitly re-addressed materiality. Materials take on a narrative role that speaks of their origins, traditions and cultures. Known materials acquire new meanings and new materials converse with traditions in order to reformulate them. Vindicating the expressiveness and peculiarity of any given material is a value in itself.
From producing to making
If we analyse products under a worldview lens, we can see that an object can concentrate all the signs of identity of a social group and its circumstances. But at present, what we have gained in terms of globalisation, we have lost in diversity. Diversity in nature means specialisation and adaptation to the environment. Globalisation implies loss of control and inability to cope with intractable issues. In a globalised world, just as resources, ideas etc. are shared, technologies are also shared, standardising the material culture. Thus, we are losing the cultural value of technology. Now that we have proven ourselves incapable of managing resources at the global level, let us give it a try from the local perspective. Going back to our story, machines freed us from the effort, but made our lives boring and mechanical. What if we were to vindicate the culture of making? Given that we devote a great part of our lives to working, we should look at this stage as important in defining an object. Making is therapeutic; it helps us become aware of our skills; it gives us self-confidence; it is rewarding. Furthermore, making leaves a fingerprint that somehow allows objects to reveal their provenance. There is no beauty in objects if there is no joy in making them. We consume products that are manufactured with unrewarded and unrecognised labour. And this results in products that are tainted by an amoral hue. Products with no signs of life, no signs of joy. This is not about vindicating the artisan, but about claiming control over production. How is the product made? Who made it? Under what circumstances? Who benefits from this?
Back to durability
Not so long ago, the goal of every designer was to create a “classic”, i.e. a product that would prevail over time, understanding “classic” simply as something intended to endure, something that is timeless. But the “classics” have increasingly fewer adherents. Following the latest fashion trend is a social value that has no justification other than to increase commercial exchanges or help us to distinguish ourselves from others by boxing ourselves into a certain lifestyle or social group. Constantly renewing our material environment is the engine that drives our entire economy. But paradoxically, people are very conservative regarding the use of objects. Rituals and customs are slow to change, so we normally replace things for other similar things.
The speed and pace set by accelerated consumption and production deplete material and energy resources and make us devote our lives to production and consumption. Our needs do not justify this level of production and constant renewal. Buying is not synonymous with freedom; it has ceased to be pleasant; it is a rule; it is our mandatory contribution to the system. Appreciating the values of objects that prevail over the ephemeral twitches of fashion is a positive attitude that releases us from the stress of consumption. Let us think of time as a value; let us think that what is valuable, endures.
From function to utility, from symbolic to narrative
As far as I can remember, every time any topic related to design is discussed, we end up talking, as I am doing just now, about the dichotomy between function and expressiveness. I suppose that we are inclined to believe that a well-balanced object is one that fulfils its function and expresses itself coherently. However, I believe that function and expressiveness considered as such fail to assume a critical and committed attitude with respect to the role that objects play in our lives.
The idea of utility goes beyond the notion of function and introduces us to a proactive concept where being useful means creating a positive value that helps us progress. Having an object that works is not the goal; what is truly important is what is relevant about its function, that is, the object’s utility. What are objects ultimately used for? To solve a problem and create many others? We must assess utility in a broader context. The solution of small problems must carry an implicit awareness of the whole, i.e. we need to place greater value on the interrelationship between different aspects than on the aspects themselves. Perhaps designing, rather than being a simple task, requires a much greater capacity for analysis than we assume.
Objects are loaded with meaning, with brand values, but they are mute when it comes to their history and origin and such disinformation is to a certain extent responsible for our detachment. Objects need to communicate their virtues clearly and honestly in order to establish emotional relationships with their users. Expressive and symbolic aspects have to give way to a history without which such objects are incomplete and suspicious. Design will be a tool for progress if it is capable of taking a critical position again and defining new scenarios as well as fairer and more sustainable environments in these times of crisis, where at least we know what is not useful.