The Bottom Line.
In this Asia-Pacific Insight, Mint Evolutive founder and modular watchmaker Alexandre Besson explores modern lifestyle and consumption trends and questions whether the current models are sustainable. Alexandre Besson calls for more modularity and durability in design. He argues that in the future people, lifestyle will not be about quantity anymore, as people will want products which adapt to them and follow them around. “Durability will be an expectation, and modularity will be the best way to create both a sense of purpose, a sense of emotion, a sense of uniqueness, and a sense of luxury we hardly know about so far…” he writes.
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A Call for more Modular Durability in Design
[By Alexandre Besson]
Time goes by and things are changing on the retail front. Like it or not, a new page is being turned and the story of how we consume, buy, and use is being re-written.
For the past years, not to say decades, our relationship with consumption has been crazy. Abusive, in fact. Not to say improper, inconsiderate, and meaningless. We have consumed in quantities rather than qualitatively. And the same goes for production, which we have done while preserving obsolescence at all costs.
But mass-market mentalities are changing. Slowly, for sure, but surely. Consumption nowadays is becoming selective, responsible and considerate. People don’t necessarily go for the cheapest product anymore, they want a sense of purpose.
The question is, how meaningful can shopping be, and how can we, as designers, creatives and entrepreneurs, satisfy that urge?
As a trained and experienced designer, my opinion is that meaning in the future will be a matter of durability and modularity. Beyond accumulation, consumers will want to own products which can evolve with them and follow them over time. Of course, some customization will be necessary, here and then, to help with lifestyle evolution, aging and all that. But the core spirit will be that of modular durability.
We need to think differently.
To some extent, Ikea paved the way to any future modularity-based lifestyles.
People buy Ikea products because they are affordable, that is undeniable. But they also buy Ikea products because they make sense. The design is functional, the furniture elements fulfill a purpose, and over time the materials are usually so durable that most pieces can be given away to someone else. Someone who will keep using them, I mean.
In other words? Durable design is a design which makes sense in terms of utilization and in terms of timeline. Prices count, of course, but the key idea here was always related to modularity and durability.
Products for life?
What Ikea was always good at doing is to make objects both practical and aligned with our lifestyle. Their products match our needs and we are happy to use them because they are designed for everyday life experience.
Good design, that is to say, should focus on matching our lifestyles. And interesting developments are already taking place everywhere.
For instance, clothes are not only for buying, they can also be for hire. Do you need a tuxedo, a pair of heels or a designer bag? Just rent them and move on! Let someone else use them, don’t worry, be happy.
The same goes for cars, which – beyond being for hire – can also be adapted and rented to match our needs over time. Containers are increasingly being turned into homes. In fact, homes are also increasingly shared thanks to collaborative economy mindsets which have dramatically reshuffled the cards over the past years.
Oh, and of course, the idea is also applicable to watches, which can be highly evolutive and adaptive. Except that pure adaptability is not enough.
Products for self-expression?
In most cases, the goods we buy in the future will be goods we are able to relate to easily.
Take the example of vinyls. These disappeared for years, with the domination of the CD and the hegemony of the mp3 after that. Yet, vinyls are back. Why? Because these products Connect people to something bigger. it gives them a sense of durability, a sense of value, a sense of quality, a sense of touch, a sense of satisfaction which directly relates to nostalgia. Or perhaps should I say emotion and identity, in fact.
Because a product which creates an emotion is a product which digs into our personal values and which reflects our identity. To ourselves, and to others. Tell me what type of clothing, music materials, and watch you own, and I’ll tell you who you are, in sum.
Products for fun.
Of course, the products of tomorrow will also have to be made for fun. You can’t bring in emotions without a sense of fun, right? So, the challenge will be to turn modularity not only into a matter of rationality but also into a form of fulfillment that people will enjoy.
In the case of the Mint Evolutive watches, we for instance believe that storytelling is the best way to hook the product into people’s lifestyle. So, we built a watch which makes reference to historical watchmaking codes, and we have made sure that every owner would have the opportunity to tweak and adapt his watch to their lifestyle, anytime they want, thanks to a special and modular design.
Going rogue? Use a military design. Going out? Turn your watch into a classy apparel piece which looks great with your three-piece suit. Need to feel trendy, to go on a junk trip or to spend an afternoon on the beach? Adapt it to match your needs. And when time passes, well, the watch remains modulable and functional.
We need to re-design design and re-think codes.
All this to say that, in the future, we will need to re-design design and re-think codes. Especially as far as luxury is concerned.
It flows from the above that design now needs to serve users. Whether we like it or not, or phones and our toasters have one thing in common: they are not meant to last. In fact, as shocking as it is, they are made to die on us, so we have to buy more of them soon enough.
So the idea is to make the most of both world – design and durability. Take the Braun products, for instance. This brand has a reputation for durability and for the iconic image of its products. But what if their products became modular too? What if modularity became as important as the rest?
The idea of luxury.
We also need to re-think the idea of luxury, if you ask me.
It depends where you are and how much money you have, of course, but for many people luxury isn’t a reference anymore. People keep dreaming about luxury because of the sense of exclusivity it brings. They see luxury as a tool to become a more famous version of themselves. But what if luxury was to be yourself instead?
When this paradigm shift occurs, when the luxury is within us, design becomes a springboard. If you become your own better-self, then luxury does not need to be expensive. The point is not to be pretentious or bling-bling anymore. It is to be genuine and unique, rationally, in a way that matches our own personality and our own needs. In that case, functionality and modularity become the only luxury you want.
The question becomes, how do we build an Ikea-inspired for of luxury, and how do we turn story-telling, flexibility, and adaptability into a new form of lifestyle?
Asia could be the place.
On top of the when and the how comes the question of the where. And that where could well be Asia.
There was a myth, for very long, that Asia was a place where cheap things were built at a cheap cost with very cheap expectations and even cheaper results. But this time has been gone for long…
Nowadays Asia has more than a production force. Asia has the know-how. Apple products are made in Asia, for starters. And all the components of Swiss watches come from the region too. They are assembled over there, yes, but the production itself is rarely Swiss.
Worth noting, also, is the fact that Asia isn’t just a production center anymore. Asia is a market, for real, especially as far a lifestyle and luxury markets are concerned. China and India are particularly demanding, and something tells me that this is just the beginning of it.
Urban luxury. Urban trends.
Are you wondering why? Think about it this way: the consumers nowadays are urban. They live in cities and think with city mindsets, which means that tomorrow the lifestyle market will be in cities and megalopolises more than countries.
The brands which yesterday thought in terms of Paris, New York, London and Geneva now think in terms of Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. China alone now has 56 cities with over a million inhabitants. Mumbai is growing. Add Seoul to the equation and what you have is a region with a booming middle-class interested in new consumption trends.
The good news is, there are some very good success stories to be told. Take the Louvres pyramid, by a Chinese-American architect: what you have there is a mix of mindsets and designs. The structure is utilitarian, timeless, built to last and still sharp decades after its construction.
Pei made that design knowing all this very well and the results are there to be seen. In the same vein, mass-market thinking will now change. Designers will build on the basis of a why, they will have clear visions, and they will have no choice but to ensure that their products survive and fulfill long-term needs.
Durability will be an expectation, and modularity will be the best way to create both a sense of purpose, a sense of emotion, a sense of uniqueness, and a sense of luxury we hardly know about so far…
Alexandre Besson | Watchmaker & Founder at Mint Evolutive.
Alexandre Besson became product manager at Marithé + François Girbaud. After 5 years of product development, he decided to pursue his career in Asia from 2009. There, he strengthened his experience in design, product development and sourcing (clothing, accessories and clothing supplies), designing product lines for buying offices for the American and European jeanswear and women’s ready-to-wear markets.
Following the tragic death of his father, Alexandre Besson discovered the hobby of watch modding. After a few years, in parallel to his functions as Chief Operation Officer for a textile company, he developed his own watch brand of evolutive watches, Mint Evolutive. All watches are modular and can be transformed by the consumer himself without the need for advanced watchmaking knowledge.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of their author(s) only and do not reflect those of The Asia-Pacific Circle or of its editors unless otherwise stated.
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