An exploration of how designers can add value by reinforcing meaning.
Photo Credit: James Ransom
By Diane Ruegensorn
Recently, I was asked to present at the conference Designing for a Sustainable World. During my presentation, I described a title I’d recently heard: Chief Meaning Officer. The title is a perfect description of what I try to do at Domestic Aesthetic, create meaning for people and craft connections so that they appreciate my products in ways that transcend functionality or aesthetics. I try to tap into people’s values.
As “Chief Meaning Officer,” I try to create meaning in two significant ways: by telling stories using our products and by using systems thinking. Each of our products is given a particular context that promotes the message of sustainability. Many of them are produced from reclaimed wood or recycled material. Some of them tell stories of wasteful processes that are commonplace throughout the industry. Others highlight local production and are a throwback to the days of craftsmanship.
To define systems thinking, or rather our usage of the term, means to think about the bigger picture in which the product operates. For some people that may translate to life cycle analysis or to other similarly, broad-based holistic processes. For us, it means asking ourselves questions such as: how do we as a company have a social impact? How do we not only create meaning for the end user, but create value for the people who are involved in its production? We accomplish this by engaging communities – farmers, foresters, and cooperatives – that enable people to have a stake in the outcome of what is produced. It’s another way to create meaning on a broader scale, thinking beyond the consumer to society as a whole.
Ultimately, my products are a composite of values that people connect to. That’s what my definition of sustainability is – a value set that imbues our work with greater meaning and purpose. Each of us who subscribes to these values has the potential to become Chief Meaning Officer.