Emotionally Durable Design


As many of you are probably aware, the environment is back in the news again for all the wrong reasons. With almost daily reports of flooding, toxic air and mass rubbish build ups in our oceans, it’s becoming hard to ignore the obviously detrimental effects we are inflicting on our planet through everything we choose to throw away. We consume, discard and then consume again with very little thought about what this will cost our planet and those that inhabit it, now and for generations to come.

Human consumption is dictated by complex emotional factors, with individuals constantly pining after an ideal and using products to define and elevate themselves. This, argues Jonathan Chapman, Professor of Sustainable Design at Brighton University, is why products are replaced and discarded at such an alarming and environmentally-damaging rate – Chapman’s theory is that product replacement can be delayed by strong emotional ties, thus leading him to initially come up with the concept of ‘Emotionally Durable Design’.

If what Chapman claims is true, our emotional connection to whatever it is we want to consume in the modern day has broken down. Manufacturers and businesses need to address how we see the things we buy, creating an emotional connection whilst simultaneously promoting the benefits of sustainability.

One company that has embraced this concept of long-term, durable design is Petit Pli, a new clothing company catering to young children. All parents know the routine of having to buy entirely new sets of clothes over and over for their children as they grow – Petit Pli claims their design tackles this problem and results in “1 garment purchased in place of 7 traditional ones”. That number isn’t insignificant, and roughly equates to 4 years of child growth. Sustainability and durability are at the forefront of their entire design concept and at the root of their brand purpose, profit is key of course, but this doesn’t dictate their design decision-making.

Their messaging reflects their commitment to a cleaner world for the next generation, and plays perfectly into parents’ emotional needs to protect their children, with the final piece of copy on their website reading “Together, we can build a better future for our children.” This again helps to emphasise to their target market just how easy it is to do their part, and gives the impression that as a company, they actually care about your children and their future. Their tone of voice is fun, light-hearted and most importantly empathetic. They want to know what users think about their product, and constantly highlight throughout their website that they want the user’s opinions to shape and progress their offering, which in turn creates a community of like-minded parents who could surely form a base from which to spread their product. This not only helps buyers feel involved in the product development process, but also enables Petis Pli to create a product tailored to real-life users.

Petis Pli are appealing to rational side of purchasing – through showing the clear financial benefits of their product – yet they also appeal to the emotional side of a purchasing decision, by focussing on their children’s future. Petis Pli, though only in their first stages of production, have managed to successfully communicate this emotional connection to parents, with all of their pre-orders already sold-out before even being released to the public.

All in all, Petis Pli have used their principles and their purpose to create emotional connections and, ultimately, to help them sell and develop their product. This ensures potential buyers see their clothing as much more than just clothing, and instead feel like they’re emotionally engaged with something fresh, innovative and sustainable, and genuinely making an impact on the future of our planet.

Sustainability is possible, and absolutely crucial for protecting the health and function of the earth. Design is needed to realise this necessity, regardless of industry. Brand is needed to help create emotional connections with these products, so they’re picked up quickly but not discarded quickly. After all, we’re pretty tight on time.