Iris Lucia Megens, product design, Artez

What is the influence of a designer on production processes and how does this influence my design process?  

December 7,  2018

In this essay I will talk about mass production processes and how designers can play a role in this. We are producing more and more different products in an increasing quantity. Almost everything in our society revolves around producing products and providing services to generate private income, even though it affects the environment and destroys the earth. How can designers influence the design process of mass-produced products? I think it is important that designers are aware during the design process of how their designs are ultimately produced and whether the mass production of their designs affects the environment.

Mass production

Imagine you are seriously ill and your life is in danger. It is not possible to continue the old way, that would mean the near end of your life. The moment this message reaches you, an expansion of your consciousness takes place.[i] In addition to fear and shock, there is an insight that it can no longer be done like this. Something has to change and three questions play a role in this: What will I change in myself or what will change in me? What is changing in my environment? What is the meaning of my existence? It is this process, described here for an individual, that is currently taking place on a global scale. Humanity has been told: Ho! Until here and no further. Earth is seriously ill and in danger. We are producing more and more products. In addition to overproduction, we also continue to buy everything. The latest products for the lowest prices. We also want more and more products and, for example, last month's clothes simply disappear in the trash. If humanity continues to produce in this way, the world will get sicker.  

Because my personal interest lies in shoe design, I want to discuss how the shoe industry deals with the problems that arise from overproduction and depletion of the earth. But also in the shoe industry, they are engaged in a transformation to limit the burden on the environment. A good example is Adidas. Every year they produce more than 400 million pairs of shoes, that is more than 1 million a day! And production grows by 30% every year, which requires new factories. A new, futuristic factory operates on a fully automated digital production process. [ii]  This is the next step in mass production, because there is no more manual work involved. Adidas has given the factory a name: “Speedfactory”. The name says what the factory is all about: speed. Adidas has the ambition to get 50 percent of sales from the speed programs they created for the factory. The goal of Adidas is to produce and sell shoes in the same season. Usually shoes are produced a season in advance, because they are produced in Asia. But the Speedfactory is located in Cherokee county, Georgia in the United States. This means that the product is produced close to the consumer, so that the shoes can reach the consumer faster. The factory can also capitalize on the popularity of a model. They can produce extra shoes in the same season and sell even more. I also find it interesting that the Speedfactory can produce unique shoes. Adidas customers can customize a sneaker themselves, within certain limits because the design must maintain the status of Adidas. The factory is also able to produce these custom sneakers at the same speed as the standard collection shoes. With this concept, Adidas will change the way of selling shoes. Consumers will have access to a wider range and there will certainly also be more sales. Adidas can produce so fast that the seasons get shorter. Today's shoes become yesterday's shoes even faster. Does the Speedfactory help to reduce overproduction and waste natural resources? Adidas states that the Speedfactory can never replace the main source of supply. My conviction is that the Speedfactory is only a good concept and an improvement if Adidas can close or adjust the factories in Asia, because then the environment is spared. 

The Speedfacory can be a nice implementation for reducing overproduction. They produce a design especially for you and a unique product has more value for people. Especially when we see unique sneakers as a product that is used for a longer time. This way you are unique and you don't need a new pair of shoes every month. The factory works very quickly and can produce on request. This way I think you prevent overproduction and a mountain of waste and the products arrive at the customer on time.

Designing shoes to your own taste and wishes (within certain limits) appeals to me. It's a nice addition from Adidas to the ways there are to design shoes. 

But this beautiful story also has a downside. When you come to the website where Adidas presents the Speedfactory, you first see the words Crafted and Perfected, which means craft and perfecting. Nowadays, a certain degree of mechanization and automation cannot be lacking in crafts. But the Speedfactory does not use manual work. By using the word "craft" it seems as if they design a unique shoe especially for you and use handicrafts. But is it still as unique as the Speedfactory can do the same for everyone at high speed? By only using the speed of the machines without any part being machined by hand? Even passing the shoes on to the next machine is done without human intervention. They call this craft because unique shoes come from a machine, they sell their products with the terms used by designers who actualy make one of a kind shoes and that are unique. 

When I was doing my research I came across a commercial. I usually click away the commercial, but I noticed this commercial. The video was by Izettle, for the self-made. [iii] In the video, you see languishing shopkeepers fighting hard against the big parties. Swedish fintech company iZettle gives us a glimpse into the future of retail, in which Giant Corporation dominates the market with automated deliveries and seeks to take over all small independent retailers. In this ad they show the future picture, I recognize Adidas as that big company that uses concepts like “craft” to be able to sell even more products, while not taking into account the craftsman and small producers. Adidas with its large factories wants to produce and sell as quickly as possible. The more the better. And they sell the products by using the strength of the small shopkeepers: by craft, attention and being unique in their profession.

In addition to the fact that consumers want as much supply as possible, there is also a growing need for being unique. Owning and propagating something that someone else does not have. Famous designers who sell mass production are increasingly trying to adapt their products to individual wishes. The consumer wants a standard product with its own twist. And preferably also from the couch and behind their computer. This is wanting to be unique with mass production. You can see this as a trend. Many companies use new technologies to achieve this. 

But I wonder: what if you turned it around? Large companies adopt terms from designers to be unique. That's how they sell their products. I think big parties don't have to exclude the small design studios. Not like Jzetle's ad, I don't believe in this future picture they paint, small design studios can still stand next to a big brand. That's why I wondered, if we could turn it around, small studios could use mass production to survive. So we don't see big brands as a dangerously big monster chasing us away (as outlined in the commercial) but as a means to grow the design studios. 

I think the method of “Far East sneakers” is a good example of this turnaround, of using major manufacturers to market their designs. [iv]  It is a small studio that uses large mass production to create a good concept. Far East Sneakers is a brand from the far East that makes amazing, beautiful products there. The West has long considered the East as a product location for shoes. Where things are produced that are designed elsewhere. Far East Sneakers has the mission to change this image. They want to connect the West with the coolest sneakers from the East or Far East. Sneaker brands with their own unique style and a rich history in their home country, such as in Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea. They introduce Feiyue Dafu from China, you pronounce it as "fee-vu-ee" which translates as Flying Forward. The label was founded in Shanghai in 1920. The sneaker quickly became very popular with Chinese Kung Fu fighters. Now, young hipsters and celebrities are walking around with it. Far East Sneakers is convinced that it will not be long before the West also falls in love with these sneakers. 

Because these small studios use large brands, they look much further than just producing in the Far East. They are really in touch with this part of the world. Far East sneakers takes a look at what has already been produced in the country itself, instead of producing them themselves. In my opinion, this brings two worlds closer together with the aim of understanding each other and communicating better with each other. To look together at production processes differently. Highlighting the problems from both sides instead of staying on the surface. The West has the money to produce products, the East needs money and they have the manpower to produce. We as designers can therefore play a role in this dynamic.


Fast Fashion

At the moment, we don't see mass production as something we can use as designers, or for me as an individual. We see and approach it as if it is only about the interest of the big companies. They only make 3 percent of our shoes here and the rest on the other side of the world. Fast fashion is an important part, new designs come every week and fast fashion has created this to essentially sell more products. The price is going down and the way the product is made has completely changed. And cheap enough to throw them away again. To change this, the price of the product has to go up or producers have to stop. Producers who cheat, which means that they do not comply with regulations, were accepted as doing business in this new model. That also means ignoring other lives.

The more people are focused on materialistic values, the more they say the money, image, status and assets are important to them the less happy they are. We know that these psychological problems tend to increase as materialistism increases. That clashes greatly with the thousands of messages we receive every day from commercials suggesting that materialism and the pursuit of possessions and possessions will make us happy. Advertising is propaganda. The reason advertising works is because advertisements associate products with a message that suggests that your needs will be met when you buy the product. Where does such an unprecedented increase in consumption come from? There are 2 types of products in this unprecedented increase. Products that you buy and use for a longer period such as a washing machine or car. In addition, there are things that you use up completely, such as chewing gum or perishable products. Consumerism is all about getting people to see the products they use as things they use up. This is how we came to see clothes.

Through commercials, companies have pulled society into the belief that happiness is based on owning things. That pure happiness can only be achieved with an annual or weekly or daily increase in the amount of stuff you own. Is it really democratic to buy shoes for 10 euros? They make us believe that we are rich and prosperous because we can buy a lot. But the only thing that gets richer is the owner of the fast-fashion brands. Is it the job of the big brands to make consumers aware that we have come to regard all products as disposable products? Or can the influence of the designer play a role in returning the product to its real value? 

I think big brands have enough power to show consumers that we need to be aware that all products are for temporary use. They can change this thought. A great example of the power of big companies is how New Balance makes a pro-Trump ruling and the anti-Trump customers of New Balance sneakers are starting to burn their sneakers. [v] Reebok immediately seizes his chance to give these people free shoes. What happened: New Balance made a mistake by making a pro-Trump comment: "The Obama administration was not listening to us and to be honest, we think things are going in the right direction with elected President Trump. " This statement offended a lot of customers. Many people filmed how they set their New Balance on fire and threw them away. Reebok sees a solution and gives new Reebok shoes to these consumers. 

Companies like New Balance and Reebok have so much power that they can bring about change through a ruling. Many people feel personally addressed because they carry the New Balance brand. Everything that brand does or says is what you stand for. Large companies can also make a positive statement, and many of their consumers will support it and share the same vision. And these consumers therefore feel called to make themselves heard. The companies can get many people to take action when necessary. 

Power of the brand, what do I actually think about what the power of the brand means? Brands have the power to give a temporary object more value, in fact they give temporary value more value. Give the object more value at that time, so that the viewer also experiences more value from the object that has become temporary.

And not to slow down the speed of the shoe industry, but first look at what has caused the speed of the industry, namely the temporary nature of the product.



Thomas Rau is an architect and visionary. His motto is guided by the future, which means for him: designing what is needed in the future. I take [vi] Thomas Rau as an example how to use material during the production process. He leads the discussion on sustainability and scarcity of raw materials and on the reuse of energy sources in architecture. Could I also apply his vision to the production of shoes? 

Together with his wife, Sabine Oberhuberen, Rau has published a book: MaterialMatters with which they want to raise awareness that we must manage the economy differently. They indicate that the power of a company and the responsibility they take are not in balance. An example is Airbnb, they have the power to make a certain offer, but all the negative consequences of temporary new habitation are for the neighbors, the environment. While they are a good example of the sharing economy, the company takes no responsibility for the negative aspects. It is important that you see social responsibility as an important part of your design process. Consider all subsequent steps and consequences during design. 

Thomas Rau's philosophy fits in with this. He thinks the linear economy is an error system. In nature, nothing goes from A to B. Everything runs like a cyclic process. We still pretend that humans are the center of everything, but actually everything revolves around nature and we are part of it. He thinks we should see ourselves as a guest. We have been given responsibility for something that is not ours. Something we should be careful with. That is why Rau has included a statement for the rights of materials in his book. Waste has ended up in anonymity and if we lift that anonymity, we will see the value of waste again. He believes we should change the soul of the economic system. By this he means that the producer is responsible for the entire life cycle of his products. He remains the owner until the end and the consumer only pays for a service. Just like you pay for the trip on a train journey. You do not become the owner of the train. Can we use this idea when designing shoes? In the design process, the designer is already working on the next steps and wonder: how do I want the design to end up and how do I want it to be received? The consumer also becomes part of the design, rather than the end station. It becomes important how it is worn. If you have to work with this data while designing, your design process changes because you not only design the object, but also how to use the object. 

I like the idea of ​​seeing ourselves as a guest and taking responsibility for the welfare of the world, something that is not ours. This goes well with the Cradle to Cradle way of thinking. A product is designed in such a way that the materials used can be safely reused. The idea is that you will see the materials as if you were borrowing them. The idea is that we will see ourselves as a guest on earth from whom we borrow raw materials. If it is not yours, we will also return it in good condition. We can use the raw materials to make objects or other materials. When you have finished using it, you should be able to disassemble it so that you can return the materials to the earth in good condition. This way you see yourself as a guest and you take responsibility for the materials you borrow from the earth. If you run a business, don't call yourself the owner of the products you sell, but be the person in charge of the materials you borrowed until they are done with the materials. You as a responsible person ensure that they are returned in good condition. 

Nike is an example that applies the cradle to cradle method. They use a new super material, made from recyclable natural leather fiber. [vii]  They have taken a new direction and focus on sustainability. Nike describes it as a huge breakthrough. Scientists and engineers have spent years developing this material. Nike claims it made the lowest carbon print-through material. They call the material Flyleather. Flyleather is used in the models, “Air Jordan” and “Air max”. They will use Flyleather with the best-selling sneakers. They maintain their style and comfort. But through this material, they also contribute to the global effort to conserve resources and protect the environment. 

During a typical leather production process, about 30 percent of the cow's skin is thrown away and this residual product often ends up in landfill. To reduce this waste, Nike collects the discarded leather from the tannery and turns it into fiber. These are combined with synthetic fibers and a fabric infrastructure. With the help of a hydro-process, everything is melted together in one material with great force. This material then goes through a finishing process before being put on a roll to be cut into the shoes. Many Nike products contain recyclable materials. 75 percent of Nike products are recyclable materials. For example, a dye coloring process for the soles of Air trainers allows 99 percent of the dye water to be recycled. All post-2008 ankle innovations of the shoe are composed of at least 50 percent recyclable waste. The new VaporMax sole, which contains more than 75% recyclable material, has enabled Nike to remove a layer of foam. Nike's rule is: there is no innovation without sustainability. Sustainability was also the main focus of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, which allowed progressive fashionistas to discuss the future of their industry from the perspective of social and environmental awareness. 

In the shoe industry, leather is a material that is often used. Nike thinks athletic footwear production is one of the best leather industries and has a significant carbon footprint. They feel they have forced a breakthrough. Sustainable design doesn't have to be ugly. They are not going to ask customers to accept sustainability, they will not even know it! They think it is a great victory. An ugly shoe designed for durability is not a win, Nike believes. 

I think it is Nike's job to show that things can be done differently. Sustainable and beautiful go together. If you design sustainable, it will make it more beautiful. In this way you also give a message so that consumers become aware of the products they buy. Nike is big enough and has the power to make a statement about it. And if we apply Thomas Rau's idea, Nike could start selling the product as a service. This means that after use, Nike could rebuild their customers' shoes into materials and thus continue to manufacture shoes with the same material. Or they can return the material they borrowed from nature because the material is made sustainable. For example, enough shoes can still be produced, but less new material is used. Because the material consumption then proceeds cyclically. 

Selling a product as a service is a big step. I describe only a small part of this change process. Realizing the product to a service is an addition to the way of using materials. I would like to include this detail of material use in my own design process. So, how I can view my products as services. For example, I will open a new way of looking at my own designs during the design process and I will make other choices when editing the material. I describe a small detail of an extensive process, but in this complicated process I can use details to develop a new look at a design process for myself. The big picture doesn't have to exceed the small picture. 


Open design

Worldwide there is a movement of people who make and share products themselves. The machines used for this have become smaller and affordable, making it possible to make almost anything. Open design means that you use various expertise from different disciplines and locations. [viii] Designers present the projects from start to finish, this is called open source. The idea that designers use open source designs has been around for some time. An example of this is Rietveld 

I quote open design because this is also a way of designing to change or question mass production. Often the reaction of the designer is to start producing himself. By making their production process an open production process and thus producing in new, innovative ways. They use various options. 

This new concept was first published in 2013 on YouTube. Dave Hakkens presented his idea about Phonebloks. [ix] Blocks, or parts of a telephone, that can be added or removed as desired. He explains how you can easily upgrade a smartphone yourself or replace broken parts. His project is open source. He explains a complicated process of producing the product, in easy steps so that the consumer knows which steps to take. He shows which materials it is made of and how you can reuse the materials. He teaches the consumer how they can ultimately work with these products or materials. Many designers show the production method of the product, as the design itself. Hakkens gives away its production process via Youtube for free. He literally allows the consumer to be part of the production. Designers are also busy selling a production process as a product, instead of the product itself. We are currently collecting information that consumers can use themselves. 

Daniel de Bruin also takes the production process into his own hands. [x]  After his designs were made by the 3D printer, he didn't feel like he had made them himself. That's why he built the world's first mechanical 3D printer. At CrowdyHouse on Ventura Lambrate, in Milan, he was standing next to his machine. By lifting up the weight, the base plate rotates under the clay nozzle every time. He offers an alternative to 3D printing with craftsmanship. He has looked for a new way to get the same effect as with a 3D printer, but with a system where you see what happens. And this also makes it understandable for the consumer. He has made a variant of the 3D printer. 

Both designers changed and visualized a system that was previously not transparent. The difference between Hakkens and De Bruin is that Hakkens presents his project as an open design and De Bruin does not. In the production process they find a part in the system that they have no control over, a small part. By making this part their own, they want to make a difference in production processes. Both designers respond to production processes, by producing themselves. Those choices have a big inpact on me because I will look at making patterns again. My own reaction to the speed of the shoe industry is present during my designs because I also apply speed in both making and in form. 

Open design in the shoe industry is about transparency, it means that companies provide openness across the entire production line of their clothing, from factories to weaving mills, spinning mills and cotton plantations. But they are also transparent about the working conditions. In addition, they describe what they do to tackle misunderstandings and how to reduce the burden on the environment through their business operations. 

Very few brands have provided insight into their chain. After the disaster in Rana Plaza, a factory that collapsed, eyes were opened and more brands started publishing the names and addresses of their manufacturers and suppliers. But they usually don't go beyond the first link. They do not make their entire process transparent because fashion brands have been saying for years that the who, what and where of their brand is commercially sensitive, a trade secret that must be guarded at all costs. 

When G-star RAW first published a list of production locations in 2014, it was very innovative and open. [xi]  G-star didn't know what to expect, they didn't know what was going to happen. Whether journalists would dive right in and check the factories.  They are proud of their product locations and they notice that the consumer appreciates this openness, openness mainly has advantages. 

Veja is one of the few brands that is completely transparent about their products, source of labor and price structure. [xii] It is a French brand, sustainable and fair. The price of their products can be compared to Nike. Veja is a frontrunner in transparency regarding information about their production process. On their website there is information in nine chapters and each chapter describes a part of their product, from sole to lace. You can read the production process completely with every detail. The contracts with the factory employees and the salary details of the founder can be seen. The approach is clear, they want everything to be transparent. They consider making the shoe as important as the shoe itself. They see their production process as how they see the world. They don't work with stock. When the order is placed, the shoe is put together. In this way, no unnecessary surpluses remain at the end of the season and no waste. 

Both Nike and Veja are making steps in improving their process, but one brand is making bigger steps than the other. I can use this idea in my project by considering my process as important as the product itself. By presenting my process I make my product stronger. This is another small part of  mass production that I have given an overview. By discussing open design, I see the steps to use production in my design process more clearly.



In this essay I looked for ways in which designers (and I as an individual) can deal with the disadvantages of mass production. How I can design my products produced in a less wasteful way. But of course I cannot compare my projects with mass production because I work on a small scale. But I do recognize ideals that emerge in my research. It is about open design and sustainable use of raw materials. This affects me in product making because of the abundance of products, I'm looking for a way to add value to a product, or how to show the viewer why we don't value some products. I can't compare mass industry to my products, it's not a straight line, but there is another way I can connect both worlds. 

Mass production is a complex fact, but I think that as a designer I can work with this fact by looking at the details of this process. Mass production and a small studios can work side by side. I notice that I can shrink a big detail during the design process. This scaling is an idea so that I can work with it. I am not always realistic in the first phase of designing ideas because scaling only comes later in my process. 

Because of mass production, shoes have become a temporary product, you can compare it with disposable products. I have been looking for ways to add value to this product so that it no longer has to be a temporary disposable product. This research has also made me wonder whether I should not take a step back, by which I want to question the concept of temporality. I want to give temporary value more value. It is currently a major problem in the design and production of sneakers. The sneaker can not just be recycled because many different techniques and materials are used. This makes it a complex problem. 

I am interested in a temporary product, the sneaker. Does it make sneaker designs less attractive to me? Or can I see this as a challenge. I have never considered the sneaker itself as a temporary product. Especially not the designs that I make myself. This research has made me think differently. I have to be aware that a sneaker has become a temporary product and I have to take that into account during the design process. I see this as a challenge.


[i] Boek: Open Design Now, Why design cannot remain exclusive; Auteurs: Bas van Abel, Lucas Evers, Roel Klaassen, Peter Trocler






- De Circulaire economie: waarom productie, consumptie en groei fundamenteel anders zou moeten.; Auteur: schouten, Socrates.  

- The evolution of useful thinks; Auteur: Petroski, Henry


[i] Boek: Thomas Rau, architect van een nieuw economisch systeem, Omgekeerde veerkracht, Inleiding





[i] De essentie van duurzaamheid: gedrag en bewustzijn; Auteur: Van der borgt, Nathalie; Jaar: 2011