November 11, 2012

Objects of desire

Filed under: Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 9:53 am

Can’t wait for the new iPhone 5. I’ve had this mint condition, perfectly good, antique iPhone 4 for over a year now. Embarrassing.

That was a tweet from Ricky Gervais on 12th September 2012, the day of the much awaited launch of iPhone 5. His comment is a testament to the way in which iPhones have become an object of desire for many fans around the world. People want them, not so much because they care about their functionality (as Gervais hints, people often already have something that is perfectly useable), but for the magic package of all the different elements of design, special features , apps etc that means they are such aspirational ‘must-have’s.

A solar-powered lamp might at first appear to be quite a different object, but a recent article in The Economist made me think again. Firstly, there are the practical implications. Mobile phones have made a huge difference on the lives of people living in some of the poorest part of the world. They have given them access to information and a new form of finance to name but a few of the transformative impacts.

Solar-powered lamps likewise can make a difference in a big way. It means that people are no longer tied to the rhythms of daylight – having a light means that a shop, or garage, or doctor’s surgery can stay open later. It means that children can study in the evening and thus make more progress in their education. In essence, it can provide a massive boost to productivity. This is brought to life in a short video from Coca Cola’s 5 by 20 project. It shows Preeti Gupta who lives in Agra, rural India, and who has a shop whose potential has been changed with the investment of a solar panel. With this, she can charge her lamp and stay open at night. She describes how customers can see her light in the street.

But there is another more direct connection with the iPhone – namely, the idea that an object needs to be more than just successful in functional terms alone. As highlighted in The Economist article, the importance of design should not be overlooked. Just as mobile phones have become status symbols, the same could happen with personal solar lamps. That will mean placing more emphasis on styling and appealing to younger consumers, for whom a device capable of doubling as a torch and desk light would be particularly useful. Olafur Eliasson, known for his large-scale light installations such as the “Weather Project” at Tate Modern, and one of the designers involved in the ‘Little Sun’ project says solar lamps “should not be designed with the language of the aid and relief industry.”

Let’s see who the Jonathan Ive is of the solar lamp world!

Olafur Eliasson and Frederik Ottesen, Little Sun, 2012

The above image is from the Tate Modern site and used with thanks.

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