Designed Deterioration

RimowaIf you buy yourself a piece of high quality luggage from Rimowa — and I’ve daydreamed about it, but have never been able to justify the exorbitant expense — you’re getting a structurally and aesthetically pristine object that’s going to get beaten up.

You know how airlines and luggage handlers can be; the vagaries of travel can be unkind to luggage of all kinds, including thousand-dollar, aluminum frame suitcases. The state in which a bag tumbles out of the chute onto a conveyor belt at baggage claim is never quite the same state in which you handed it over to the airline at check-in.

The thing with a Rimowa, though, is that those scratches, dings and dents are part of their aesthetic. A new, unspoiled Rimowa suitcase is actually the least desirable kind of Rimowa suitcase in that it is, to paraphrase something I once heard Jasper Johns say, an ‘ignorant’ suitcase. Unused objects are ignorant; only the ones that have been put to use, that have traveled, that have been tossed around have accumulated knowledge. That knowledge and familiarity, if it’s worn properly, can make an object desirable. A beaten, worn, scratched Rimowa then is actually a point of pride.


The Iron Giant in My Kitchen

Similarly, I have a US$20 cast iron skillet that I bought several years ago from a restaurant supply shop in downtown Manhattan. I’ve cooked hundreds of meals with it, and over time it has developed a coating from oil and food — the manufacturers call it ‘seasoning.’ It’s a little unbecoming when you think about it; in fact, though I clean it, it’s a dirty piece of cookware, and it resembles its original, store-bought state not at all.

Cast Iron Skillet

But it’s also a beautiful piece of design. After cooking in it and cleaning it up, I’ve spent a lot of time just looking it over, marveling at how its very deterioration has been incorporated into the design of the object, at how it’s gotten more attractive — less ignorant — the more I use it. I’m not particularly sentimental about much in my kitchen, but I would be heartbroken if you took away this iron skillet (or my Global chef’s knife, but that’s a blog post for another day).

Above: Iron, man. My skillet gets better with use.

Designing for Deterioration

I mention these things because I’ve noticed recently that the concept of what we might call designed deterioration is fairly anathema to digital hardware. The objects we purchase from purveyors of digital technology are conceived only up to the point of sale; the inevitable nicks, scratches, weathering, and fading they will encounter is not factored in at all. The result is that as they see more use, their ignorance may recede, but they wear it poorly. They don’t age gracefully.

Looking at the digital technology I own, what moderate deterioration to be found — dents in my laptop, a gash in the side of a laser printer I own, the accumulated grime on my computer keyboard — doesn’t make these items more desirable at all. In fact, when I see the way the corner on my aluminum PowerBook has been warped due to a nasty fall from a chair, I cringe. Through this obvious, glaring example of use, of accumulated knowledge, the object itself hasn’t attained an additional whit of beauty.

In fact, the damage is actually quite repulsive. This is because the laptop was conceived by Jonathan Ive based on an assumption that it would remain perfect forever. There was no designed deterioration factored in whatsoever, and so no real thought was given to how the laptop might change with use. Marks of knowledge, like the warped corner, aren’t meant to be embraced, but rather denied.

All Shiny and New

For another example, take my iPhone. Not literally, because I still want it. But half of the reason I prize it so much right now is because of its still new, pristine state. This condition is so important to the perceived value of this phone that I feel compelled to purchase a protective case in order to maintain its immaculate facade. If I dropped it tomorrow and caused a big gash to appear across its back, say, I’d feel devastated. (Luckily, the face of it is made of fairly indestructible glass.)

That’s just not right. An object should be designed not just for sale, but also for day to day wear and tear. With use, this iPhone should get more attractive, should become like a trusted and inseparable friend.

Of course, the blame for the absence of designed deterioration from these products can be laid squarely at the feet of a more widely accepted design concept: planned obsolescence. I will probably never buy another skillet to replace the one I own for as long as I live, even though a new one is extremely affordable.

On the other hand, either technological obsolescence or fashion will almost surely spur me to replace this iPhone in a matter of years. For manufacturers, there’s almost no percentage in factoring designed deterioration into a new product because doing so almost surely means undercutting future sales. It’s too bad, really. For all the beautiful design being created for digital products today, it’s a shame that we’ll hang on to so few for very long.

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  1. I dunno, I kinda like a slightly lived in look – I was extremely fond of my scratched up first-gen iPod.

    I think the issue you’re having is the pain of ‘the first knock’ it seems the damage happens all at once, and is isolated (the busted corner you mention) – and only makes you even more careful. Whereas you gradually degrade this other stuff.

    Look at examples such as the Star Wars OT or Gears of War for beautifully designed and degraded technology.

    The harder and more rugged the tech the smaller the incremental damage, and that is what gives it’s destroyed beauty. It seems given the alleged scratch resistant coating on the iPhone thats the direction in which we’re headed.

  2. I’m glad to see you mention this. I hadn’t thought about the term designed deterioration, but it makes sense now that you have.

    I felt this way the other day when I saw the handles on my lime-green Vera Bradley laptop bag. I was so excited the day I got it but now, because of everyday oils from my hands on the handles, they’re turning a sort of brownish yellow, like an aging banana. It’s sad.

    I’m tempted to get a new one, but I’m looking at darker colors now, not because that’s my preference, but because I know the handles will wear better. So, as a consumer I’m torn between a lengthy kinship with a color pattern I love, and a lasting relationship with a second or third choice. Me thinks Vera Bradley could consider a different material for the handles.

  3. I’ve always enjoyed the scratches and dents in the things I own. I agree out iPods – mine is an old black and white 4th gen., has a bunch of tiny scratches on the silver backing that make an awfully cool pattern.

    Even though books don’t count as digital hardware, they’re better deteriorated. It’s nice to know that a book has been read/loved a lot so its pages are completely soft on the edge.

  4. It’s funny you should mention that. I’ve always been a fan of being brutal to my electronics, regardless of what they are. I constantly got made fun of because of my iPod nano; soon after they came out I got one (to replace a brutalized 4G iPod) but never bothered getting a case. And while so many other people complained about the scratching, it’s definitely given mine a unique sense of character that I love.

    My two-and-a-half-year old Motorola phone also has a lot of character, including a missing faceplate. And while I’ll be glad to get rid of it for an iPhone soon, I’ve definitely taken a closer look at the dings and disrepair.

    My brother asked why I wanted an iPhone, since I’m so terrible to my electronics, and I didn’t know how to respond. I think you’ve given me the answer: I want to give the machine a sense of character.

  5. I’m with the “I love my scratched up iPod” camp. The thing I hate is the scratches on the screen. Since my iPhone seems somehow creepily impervious to those, I’ll cringe a lot less when it flies out of my hand between pocket and ear and slides across the floor. That shiny silver edge is a whole different story. I’m gonna cry when that gets scratched.

  6. This is something I can relate to as well. I still use a Sony Ericsson t68 phone that is, well, primitive by today’s standards – and it’s beaten up as hell. The joystick got lost long ago, is dented everywhere, and even the screen has a deep gouge and some permanently colored red pixels from some brutal smash against the floor (one of way too many) – yet the little bastard refuses to give up. Well, almost (time to budget an iPhone I guess). The point is that this beaten up to hell phone, the way you put it, certainly has gotten a character of its own.

    On the other hand, I bought an iPod nano to replace my old one some months ago, together with a sports armband case so I’ve always kept the Nano inside it. It didn’t take long for me to drop it on a pavement, and even with the case ON, it got a nice, beautiful dent on its top corner. That was *so* not funny, and I’m still regretting this incident.

    Sometimes I wished Apple products were, in a way, designed “for the real world” and not for some utopian, perfect idea of an universe where nothing ever dents or scratches, nothing ever gets dirty, and nothing yellows from prolonged exposure to light and sweat. Because that’s not the way we, imperfect humans, live on Earth, for starters…

    (PS: I still keep being an Apple fan, it’s just that when some mount such a hysterical drama over an scratched iPod, it does get into my nerves sometimes)

  7. I think the perhaps the placed where considered deterioration is most important is in architectural design.

    I’ve noticed, particularly in my home town, that recent constructions aren’t usually built with their inevitable degradation in mind. A few years down the track, once their paint isn’t as vibrant and their shimmering metal surfaces aren’t quite as shiny they lose much of their attraction. The buildings that embrace their changing exterior are usually far more interesting a decade later.

  8. My favorite example of pre-designed deterioration is the Statue of Liberty. It’s made of copper, which we all know as metallic orange. But when copper is left outdoors and oxidized, it turns into the greenish gray of the statue. That design held some remarkable foresight.

  9. If you’re looking for examples of pre-designed deterioration look no further than the world of the (electric) guitar. So desirable have ‘vintage’ instruments become (for which read 1950′s and 60′s examples of classics like the Les Paul and Fender Strat/Telecaster). that the manufacturers are offering exact replicas, pre-worn in in various states of decay, straight out of the box!

    For example, with Fender you can now decide the level of ageing to be applied, the ‘closet classic’ being mint-condition-left-in-a-loft but ‘aged in the box’ whereas the ‘relic’ range offer full thrashed through decades of virtual gigging with distressed paintwork, chips and dings in the wood and ‘played-in’ necks. All at a premium over the standard off the shelf instruments of course.

    Whatever happened to the music?

  10. Peter : it’s all about the vintage movement this kind of detoriation. People will also buy old amp that are nearly unusable (quality of component, old age) or at insane price just to feel the “vibe”.
    In french we said : “c’жtait mieux avant”. It’s was better before. Yeah.

    Most musician that I know use guitar with some mark of decay (heck, we used them everyday from 2 to 8 hour after all), but they still look good. No color destruction, the varnish is still here, button still work perfectly. Even with 1960′s guitars.
    Those newb. They bought silly things thinking it will them!

  11. I feel that your post has some merits, but also does not highlight one aspect of this graceful deterioration: A pan and a laptop are two completely different economic goods.

    I would class a laptop as a medium-term consumer good. New laptops come out every year which are faster, lighter and can fly to the moon unmanned. We buy these laptops for personal use, but also to show something. We buy a laptop in part because we want people to see it. Be honest, how many times have you sat at the airport and sypathetically smiled at the ThinkPad owner as you slid your silver, brand new MacBook Pro out of it’s sleeve?

    Now, think again, how many times have you been to somebodys house for dinner and though “Man, that is some nice Cooking ware, I need that, it is so shiny and new and better than mine. I bet it cooks faster. I even bet the food tastes better. I need one of those pans!”? Maybe if cooking ware was as much of a status symbol as a laptop is in our digital age, your response to the graceful deterioration would be a different one.

  12. My kitchen holds a similar interest for me.

    The guy that designed the kitchen in question was shocked when I told him I wanted the stainless steel racks on my gas cook-top instead of the heavy black cast iron models, “But they’ll discolour”. I like the blue patina, it makes them lived in, comfortable perhaps.

    My iron wok is like your skillet, the built up lacquered coating improves it’s function enormously; making it a joy to use. I also think that it makes the appearance richer and more pleasing.

    Modern digital kit doesn’t bear the ageing process well. But the maybe the maturing takes place on the desktop instead. I know that the working environment on my Mac has improved since I bought it. I’ve used it, and in the process tweaked this, added that, and now it too is a joy to use.

    Is this designing for graceful deterioration or is the ageing process necessary to produce a product with peak performance?

  13. It’s a pity the Monolith barely caught the consumer’s attention. Built like a tank yet unobtrusive, it took bumps and scratches like badges on honour—the marine of the MP3 world.

  14. JPB: I bought that book recently, actually, and reading it got me thinking about this idea of designed deterioration. You’re right, it’s really terrific and I recommend it.

    For those who say they’ve come to identify with their scratched and beat up digital hardware: I think that’s terrific, but I do think there’s a difference between people developing personal affinities for used objects and an object being designed from the start to gracefully age. It’s possible to like anything in used and beat up state; part of what makes us human is that we find things of value in all sorts of abstract ways.

    But to find a scratched iPod charming is not a universal reaction. On the other hand, those who buy Rimowa suitcases and cast iron skillets actually anticipate the day when those objects have deteriorated with character.

  15. Excellent post Khoi. I feel much the same way though I’m definitely more of a “lived-in” kind of person.

    The patina of use is welcome to me, though I do agree that with our high-tech gadgets, we like them to look sleek and pristine. Plus the resale value stays good, no?

    But with my many bikes, or clothes, or some shoes (say leather in particular), being used is what makes stuff look good and gives it its charm.

    Perhaps this is conditional — some things look better with use (steel, leather, wood) while others do not (plastic, composites, etc).

    Is it a natural vs. synthetic argument? That nature’s materials were meant to look better or can look good with age and that everything we create (cars for instance) is meant to look perfect forever.

  16. I think a lot of objects that are considered to deteriorate beautifully are made from “classic” materials such as iron, as the skillet mentioned above, or wood, like good antique furniture which gains character as it is scratched and worn.
    I think it was Asimov who wrote about future societies, where yellowed, cracked plastics were considered the height of beautiful building materials.
    Maybe it just takes time for us to become used to the aging of newer aesthetics.

    As for the suitcase above, since being a kid I’ve been embarrassed about new footwear. Runners look better when scuffed and worn. Certain items used properly get damaged as they go. It’s a mark of pride. The same goes for luggage, or guitars as someone mentioned above.
    A worn laptop doesn’t suggest any particular skill or experience with technology, just that you’re clumsy enough to knock it off your desk a lot.

  17. In addition or exclusion to the iPod, I think Apple has done a good job designing their MacBooks for deterioration.

    I’d assume these little gems are targeted for the college crowd and have seen them with stickers adorning the outside, ala water bottles, guitar cases, and backpacks, many times.

    In fact, I’ve coveted one for just this worn reason. I don’t want to buy a laptop that I feel guilty scratching. Or, I’d rather buy a laptop I don’t fee guilty scratching.

  18. Appreciation of the worn look is definitely a subjective thing. Worn skillets and luggage lend status and credibility to the owner — i.e. Chef-like cooking prowess or globe-trotting lifestyle. People who appreciate the look of these items (which I do) probably do so in large part because that want to identify or associate themselves with that master chef or jet-setter so the aesthetic becomes desirable.

    This is another great example.

    The Leica of rock photographer Jim Marshall. Of course, some people hate that exposed brass look (they painted it black for a reason) but those who like it probably do so in large part because its a point of differentiation between them and the weekend warriors with their Canon neck-straps and Lowepro camera bags.

    All these worn items provide an air of authenticity to the owner, suggesting they’re more about the art than the technology.

  19. The camera is a great example. I know my Nikon D70 won’t decay in the same delightful way my inherited Nikon FM2 film camera has.

    Also, paperback novels are a good example of this. The wear on the cover and spine is a narrative of the reading experience. You don’t get that with a PDF.

    With digital stuff I think there’s a conditioning thing going on here. Electronics can degrade nicely but we’re told not to accept that. I think as these things become more widely seen as just tools and not beautiful things we’ll start seeing them differently. I’m thinking in particular of the crunked up and cool looking laptops you see bands on stage with.

  20. I agree with Travis.

    My last laptop was an iBook G4, and it aged very well for the couple of years I had it. From straight on, it doesn’t look bad at all, but if you look at the plastic from an angle, it’s obvious that there’s barely anywhere that isn’t scratched, creating a wonderful “lived in” feel. I never had to worry about getting it scratched or dirty. So now I have my new MacBook Pro, but I’m having a hard time putting up my old iBook for sale precisely because of how poorly Apple’s aluminum notebooks age.

  21. On the subject of “designed deterioration” remember scratch art?:

    Glad people are professing their love for nasty-looking scratched Apple products. Are you folks also into acid-wash jeans? :)

    —-
    And Khoi, don’t even think about buying a Rimowa. The last thing you want is to increase your chances of stolen luggage!

    If you want a hard shell, consider a vintage Samsonsite 24”— a flight crew classic. If you can’t find one in a thrift store or on eBay, I’ll give you one. Repair shops can easily re-epoxy dings and refit it with some flash new lining that will leave you feeling as proud as a rich bitch with a complete set of LV monogrammed leather.

  22. Interesting. Last year, I sold on eBay my well-worn leather Tumi briefcase from my consulting days. I specified in the listing how beat up and scratched it was from hundreds of battles fought in airports around three continents. The gentlemen who bought it was happy, I was happy, it was great.

    I am a great believer in the second life of items (disclosure: I work at eBay). Maybe the perfect Rimowa for you is already waiting for you.

  23. I agree. There are many things that grow beautiful with wear and tear. My leather wallet is one!.
    It’s indeed sad that the digital gadgets are not made keeping in mind Design Deterioration (nice term). What you said is very true, the companies are very much concerned about design at sale time than later.

    Can we fault them for that. Aren’t most of us guilty or part of that!

  24. I dropped my iPhone the other day for the first time. Yes, the glass has a small crack in the lower right corner (outside the touch-sensitive area) and some minor scratches, but everything still works fine. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet from an aesthetic standpoint. I guess it’s one step closer to being just a work device instead of my latest, greatest play-toy. But if you’re worried, do get a case. The glass is by no means crack-resistant. This was not a long drop, and I probably just got unlucky (I’ve dropped it since from greater heights with no damage at all — I carry it with me everywhere and the damn thing is slippery!), but still… It can happen… Just sayin’.

    *sigh*

    -systemsboy

  25. It’s basically the fact that things used to be built to last forever. There was no immediate obsolescence as there is with digital devices. That’s why classic cars look so nice, they were made so they would last forever, not the duration of a 5-year lease. It goes for a lot of products, washer machines, clocks, chairs. There wasn’t a feeling that the objects that just hit the market were already a ting of the past, as it is now. I mean, the iPhone is all the rage, but don’t you feel that someone (probably Apple), already has an improved version ready to come out in a few months? We’ve turned into a society that feels that it’s being ‘left behind’ unless you have the latest and shiniest. So, if after 3 or 4 years your laptop is all dented and scratched, it doesn’t matter since it’s already obsolete and you need to get a new one. Digital technology evolves too fast for the designers to worry about Designed Deterioration. A new drill press for example, may differ from one from 50 years ago because it may have lasers or levels or whatever, but it still just drilling holes. They could do a better job with the materials to account for all the touching at least. There’s nothing like the patina on a bronze handrail, or the yellowing of a varnish on a piece of wood. It just feels right, organic.

  26. Your story reminded me of a friend of mine. Every time he buys a new mobile phone or digital camera he grabs a permanent black marker and covers the new item with marks. He also scratches the things in a few places.

    When I asked him why does he do that his answer was ‘Would you steal a piece of crap like this?’ With these items the information contained in them is much more valuable than the hardware. In his mind, reducing the chance of losing information is worth the fast depreciation applied with a marker and a knife.

  27. Thumbs up to that approach. It’s quite something to combat that growing trend of “consumerism”, which although seems to apply quite readily to plastic bags and paper and petroleum, has overlooked the more technology-”advanced” commodities. And yet such technological waste: monitors, hardware, televisions, portable players and such contribute immensely to environmental harm.

    Maybe because of the way they’re portrayed in advertising as well – like in the case of the obsession over beauty and sexiness – that causes to have believe that all of the latest technology has to be extremely sleek, clean, smooth and flawless. We saw that in the case of the iPod nanos – where people suffered from “screen scratch trauma”.

    But it’s in the very nature of things to mature and age over time. Not to suggest careless usage, but if we do end up with several irreparable dents here and there, or a fading of the paint over portions where our fingers tend to induce most contact (FPS players could relate to that on their WASD keys), then so be it. It’s not the item that should change then, but rather our mindsets to come to accept that.

  28. As was pointed out in another reply: The concept you are describing is known in Japan as Wabi-Sabi. This aesthetic sensibility was the norm in traditional Japan. Leonard Koren has written a great book on the subject (Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. Published by Stone Bridge Press. ISBN 1-880656-12-4).

    To quote from the book:
    “Wabi-Sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.”

    The vast majority of modern consumer goods are completely antithetical to the Wabi-Sabi Aesthetic. Wabi-Sabi objects tend to get better with age. Think faded Blue Jeans, aging handcrafted leather luggage etc.

    Aged Rimowa Luggage could, I suppose, be considered vaguely Wabi-Sabi. But new Rimowa luggage would be the polar opposite.

    We all grow old and die. Everything Breaks. This accords with the nature of things. Perhaps our objects should reflect this reality rather than resist it.

  29. Deterioration makes visible a relationship between the user and the object. I imagine that Khoi’s pan — and the beaten up iPods and briefcases referred to above — are not just attractive in themselves, but especially attractive to their owners because the deterioriation is a mark of their own experience. It tells a story.

    Here’s another example of deterioration: Glen Hansard’s (The Frames) guitar. Here’s a photo of him using it (scroll down).

  30. An architectural parallel is Third Reich architect Albert Speer’s Theorie vom Ruinenwert (theory of ruin value), a construction paradigm for the empire the Nazis envisioned, using marble and granite instead of bricks and reinforced concrete for public buildings in postwar Germany. Modelled on Greek and Roman ruins, Nazi monuments were supposed to last for centuries, creating aesthetically pleasing ruins as they deteriorated. I wonder if Speer had foreseen prefab Eastern European apartment blocks built of concrete panels in the Seventies, which look depressing and dirty after a mere 20-30 years.

    Ironically enough, Speer’s only major design that saw construction, the ZeppelinhaupttribЧne at the Nazi party parade grounds in NЧrnberg, was in fact built of bricks covered with thin marble plates, as can be seen here.

    I kept thinking of that photo as I went shopping for a new pair of sneakers the other day, somehow getting past my dread of buying shoes, and I ended up leaving the store in my 11 year old Nikes, which look beaten but, in a strange way, very cool.

  31. I often look forward to getting the first scratch, dent, or paint chip on something. then i can finally enjoy it freely without worrying about maintaining its pristine appearance.

  32. There’s a persistent rumor going around that when you send in your iPhone for battery replacement you’re not going to get back your phone, but a shiny-clean refurbished model in its place. Time will tell.

    But as to “better with age”, keep in mind that the iPhone is software upgradable. That means, feature-wise, that the phone WILL improve and become more useful and functional with age.

  33. I agree with your premise, but think you are unfairly restraining your concept by calling it deterioration. Deterioration contradicts your description of something getting better with age.

    I think the comment about the old leather valise is actually designed deterioration. The leather is actually deteriorating. It looks great as it does so, but it is getting more fragile every day.

    Buildings and cast iron pans, however, can actually get better without deteriorating. To, tie together two more comments, I think wabi sabi is the aesthetic appreciation of patina. Patina makes copper roofs green. Patina shows the workers hands on old tools. Patina highlights architectural details. Think how lovely a cell phone could be if it was designed for patina, or a concrete building, if it was designed to look better as the soot and moss covered it.

  34. The sweet irony of our desire to maintain the pristine condition of any given product by covering it up is that, in the act of giving the object a protective coating, we often shield the object’s beauty from view. We make it ugly to shield it’s beauty and then…well…it’s no longer very pretty. Frustrating. My iPod is sheathed in a silicon case. Now it looks like shit.

    Without the case, though, I am able to gaze upon this beautiful object but am always thinking about how vulnerable and expensive my iPod is and how difficult, if damaged, it will be to replace.

    Similarly, it’s nice, at times, to be in possession of junker auto. It is so relaxing to know one more little dent is not going to make a difference.

  35. You know, electronics aren’t monolithic. I realize there are major hurdles with compatability and design elegance, but what’s stopping any computer company from making a shell out of beautiful, long-wearing materials, in which you can replace the guts every few years? It seems the industry has been going the opposite route (replacable/exchangable outer shells), which is funny considering the interior is the part that becomes obsolete. I’d glady have my cellphone be a few ounces heavier if it had a permanent, ” seasonable” cast iron housing.

  36. This has absolutely to do with the Japanese terms wabi and sabi, as mentioned. The beauty found in age, weathering, imperfection is pretty much antithetical to Western aesthetic conceptions. (Though one exception is the Romanticism of architectural ruins. I wrote a couple posts on that and still haven’t gotten to the bottom of it.)

    An interesting point Pierce makes in his remark: is it to do with the kind of material? Is something leather/stone/metal going to weather and age “well” and something plastic will not?

    Or as Niklas Steffen touches on: does it come down to economics: Is it that electronic and digital devices are by nature ephemeral in a way? That once they show physical wear/age the implication is that the mechanics and software themselves are outdated and not desirable? So consumer goods, generally, are counted upon to be replaced and so don’t weather with wabi-sabi?

  37. One of the coolest things about the first Star
    Wars movie when it showed in 1977 was that everything in it showed signs of wear. Up until
    then science fiction movies showed the future
    as new and pristine, but Star Wars showed the
    future as being lived in. Sort of the difference between living in a house that looks
    lived in versus one of those houses in an architectural magazine.

  38. Perhaps a difference lies in the fact that the examples you give, the suitcase and the skillet, are weathered by use, and their use is effected in, and affects, “the real world”, whereas digital devices, while they “travel with us”, “do their thing” in “cyberspace”?

    i.e. taking pride in a worn suitcase because it has the mark of much travel/experience/knowledge, ditto for the skillet, and the social extension of that: you are given regard, high marks, props, recognition for the experience you clearly have (as it is indicated by the state of the object that followed you on your path)…

    A computer, an mp3 player, a mobile device does not in any physical or immediatly outwardly recogniseable way betray your level of experience with it.

    Just a thought. :)

  39. I really like the general thinking but not in a product design area. In fact I think the thrust of the article is more relevant to true digital design, such as websites or sotware. Because its so fashion led it has the immediacy of printed matter but not its’ limited longevity. Nothing looks so used (and not in a good way) as last years browser or email client.

    At least products wear their weathering with pride and honesty. In the e-world there is no such time induced natural deterioration, no digital scratches – the designs remain pristine but yet fatally dated.

  40. Late to the party, but your post reminded me of the Japanese concepts of sabi and wabi. The closest we have concept we seem to have in English is “patina”, which — as you point out – - is not universally desirable. There are certain items where patina is *generally* considered a good thing, such as old cars or guitars (as mentioned above), but even then I suspect few guitarists would want a guitar so beautifully worn as Willie Nelson’s old acoustic.