Inside Beautility — the design philosophy challenging consumption and manufacturing habits
How Here Design have adapted the Arts and Craft movement’s philosophy for the anthropocene age
There’s an oft-repeated William Morris quote that speaks to the role design ought to play in our everyday lives: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” The British textile designer, and Arts and Craft movement pioneer, uttered these words over a century ago as part of his mission to put greater usefulness, meaning and equity into the objects that surround us. Almost 150 years later, in an age of overconsumption, where unworn fast fashion and out-of-date tech piles up in landfills and washed up on beaches, they resonate more than ever.
It’s a quote that multidisciplinary design studio Here Design found itself turning to, in its efforts to understand what the bigger ambitions for the business should be. “As an agency, we’ve always questioned why we do the things we do,” explained co-founder and Creative Partner Kate Marlow, speaking alongside fellow co-founder and Creative Partner Mark Paton and Strategy Partner Tess Wicksteed at an event hosted at the D&AD office in London. “More recently, we’ve been asking ourselves a question that goes a bit beyond that, and from a more critical point of view, from “Why are we doing this?” to “What is our role here?” By asking that question we realised we’re in a position of great influence and power.
Thinking back to move forward
“We’re living in the era of the Anthropocene, and there’s overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric, and many other earth systems and processes are being altered by humans,” she continued. “Mankind’s impact on the planet is one of our biggest challenges, and we know this already. So the really big question we have to ask ourselves as creatives, designers, thinkers and writers is, how can we get ourselves out of this mess?”
Wicksteed said the studio has always seen itself as 21st-century inheritors of the Arts and Craft movement — which called for design with greater integrity, and products made in fairer, more enjoyable conditions. “We really do see ourselves as grounded within this movement,” explained Wicksteed. “It was set up in order to react and respond to the negative side of industrialisation, and it was there to really think about how we can bring craftsmanship back, and think about dignified labour.”
How ‘Beautility’ works
Here’s ‘Beautility’ philosophy — named in reflection of Morris’s original quote — is built around three main values: multidisciplinary collaboration, an engaged workforce, and an ambition to bring out the intrinsic beauty of a material. All of these add up to a clear directive to “make good choices desirable”.
“When you go to a client, you’re going to say, ‘Yes, we want customers to choose this because it’s beautiful, but it’s also the right choice’,” explained Wicksteed. “When you’re talking to clients they will have their own agenda and objectives, and usually they’re still financial, but if you can make the right choices desirable for them, then that’s what we’re going to do.”
Here thinks that collaboration is one of the most critical parts of using design to make a difference — and it’s something that’s reflected in the way the studio describes itself as “a company of thinkers, writers, designers and makers working together”.
Collaborating to make a difference
Paton believes that “collaborative, multidisciplinary moments” are the only way to challenge systems and assumptions, and bring “different creative intelligences” together in a fruitful way. That means designers being open to working with scientists, engineers, logisticians, materials specialists, and whoever else might dream up a creative solution.
The studio has already initiated several innovative projects by adopting this multidisciplinary approach. It’s partnered with designer and biomolecular scientist Jesse Adler to understand how fungi grown under certain conditions can produce vibrant, natural colour pigments, and also with glass maker Lulu Harrison, to create a range of glassware for Thames Water made using the shells of an invasive mussel species found in London. As Marlow put it at the event: “In harnessing the power of the collective intelligence, we think design can probably change our planet.”
Designers will need to embrace a new mindset
Adopting this new beautility philosophy has required Here to shift its mindset in other ways as well. According to Paton, the studio has had to accept that society needs to move on from a period of “exorbitant and limitless abundance”, and think more about the planetary impact of what we’re buying and using. But that doesn’t mean designers are constrained by “eco tropes” of packaging.
“That’s a limited view of what's possible,” said Paton. “Rather than thinking about this as a restriction, use those parameters to unlock creativity and use imagination to create vivid futures without this material restriction. The way we talk about it in the studio is heightened, because we work on producing lots of artefacts, and lots of packs or objects, and our hunch or conclusion is that there will simply be fewer objects.
“Agencies are going to have to change a lot, because if we’re set up to create objects, and that's going to diminish, then we have to act and think about how we can bring fewer objects into the world,” he continued. “The ones that make the cut are the objects that deserve to exist in our lives — they’re going to have to be better made, and better maintained. That’s a really long view, but for us that opens up creative opportunities.”
The past can teach us
For Paton, there’s plenty of design lessons to be found in history — and not just from the Arts and Crafts movement. Here has found inspiration and motivation in objects that date back thousands of years, and that espouse the same philosophy of Beautility to stand the test of time, such as the rituals of ancient Egyptians being buried with their most valuable worldly possessions. Imagine if the items you bought had to stand the test of time, to last a lifetime and into the next. “We need objects to spark joy and add ritual to our lives, but are reduced down into a palette that is sustainable and viable,” he added.
Contemporary examples of this are the terracotta packaging used by Oquist Cosmetics, and Vollebak’s Rubbish Watch, which is made from recycled electronics. Paton says the “waste is a failure of the imagination” mantra of Douglas McMaster — chef and founder of zero-waste restaurant Silo – is another north star. “For artefacts that exist in the world, it’s about justifying their existence with design that is imaginative, meaningful and narrative,” said Paton. “And for objects with a finite life cycle it’s thinking about how you can collectively harness those raw materials and recycle and reuse in new systems that keep the footprint of that activity to its minimum.”
Don’t wait for the client
Here isn’t waiting for the right brief to start applying all of the above, and self-initiated projects have become a way for them to steer the conversation as well as connect with others. Paton’s advice for other creatives wanting to use design for better is to get started, now. “We have no idea necessarily what we’ll be doing next year, and we’ve decided to just get on with it,” he said. “So actively approaching equipment manufacturers, big brands and colleges to get the conversations going, rather than passively waiting.”
This was a free event hosted by D&AD. Stay updated on future free events here, and join us in London at D&AD Festival where we’ll gather today’s most accomplished creative professionals from around the world with the movers and shakers of tomorrow here.