To aim at the affectively sustainable is to look for the hidden obvious in an object.

The limits of rational thinking?

Most designers share at least one vision: to contribute to real development rather than to design merely another. My vision as a researcher is to provide designers with new or newly combined knowledge, which have a chance to facilitate their mission. Knowledge, in my meaning of the term, is also consciousness: to put in doubt and rethink as also to look beyond the rational, to see the potential of the irrational.

Irrational problems have been the subject of much analysis. In 1973 Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber wrote a landmark article where they discussed the existence of a set of problems [of social policy] that cannot be resolved with traditional analytical approaches. They labelled such problems “Wicked Problems”.[1]  Are irrational problems in general “wicked”? If this is the case, there are according to Rittel and Webber no solutions to these problems ‘in the sense of definitive and objective answers’. (p. 155) They are unsolvable.

I oppose this logic as also the overall focus on ‘problems’, which risk blurring the route to development: new ways of thinking, a change of direction of thought. Importantly, development goes further than innovation. I refuse, however, to call this type of thinking ‘a new rationality’. This expression, though often heard, risks in fact conserving rationality as the one way to think: to replace one kind of rationality with another. Given a ‘softened’ name, this reasoning can be referred to as making a difference when in fact it does not.

It is in this context the construct of ‘affective sustainability’ has to be analysed, as it immediately might appear to have connotations to something irrational. Many measures in the direction of sustainable development are halted or rendered difficult due to what are considered to be irrational causes (wicked?). Knowing that many, if not the majority, of the choices we make through life are irrational, based on feelings, the struggle for what is aimed at sustainability becomes evident as does the term itself.[2] Sustaining for the sake of it has no sense.

Research on the affective, attachment and sustainability is in its early stages. What has already become evident is that existing objects can be found again and new designs may have a chance of a longer life, if time, tradition, aesthetic and perception are rethought in the context of human ways of being rather on their ways of living.

Rationality is one important tool in designing but not the only tool. In the tension between rationality and intuition the latter must increasingly be valued as a competence based on lived experience, not merely a spiritual thought.[3] Rationality has given us the simple object, but not simplification. Simplification is not solely a measure concerning physicality. It takes into consideration the affect an object evokes: this must be positive, easily de-coded and stored and allow us to interact with the object without friction: “… the augmentation or diminution of a body’s capacity to act, to engage, and to connect, such that auto-affection is linked to the self-feeling of being alive – that is aliveness or vitality.”[4]

My wish is to further engage in research that adds to designers’ understanding of what augments these capacities of the body. It is my belief that these affective qualities [of objects] are reasonably obvious, though immediately hidden, and when found they show the way to simplification.


[1] Rittel H. & Webber M. (1973) Dilemmas in General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences. No 4, pp 155-169.

[2] Damasio, A. (1994) Descartes’ Error. Revised ed. London: Vintage

[3] Bastick, T (2003) Intuition. Evaluating the Construct and its Impact on Creative Thinking. Kingston, Jamaica: Stoneman & Lang.

[4]Ticineto Clough, P. (2007) in Ticineto Clough, P. & Halley, J. ed. The Affective Turn. Theorizing the Social. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. (p. 2)