“19 greek street prove that sustainable design doesn’t have to mean a sacrifice of style.”
- Wallpaper magazine
The benefit of Uniquely Early Design - by Marc Peridis
You might be familiar with the theory of ‘diffusion of innovations’. It was developed by Everett Rogers in 1968 to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures. In simple terms, it’s a scientific and mathematical answer to questions like, “Why the hell would someone queue for 14 days in freezing rain to buy the new iPhone on the first day, when they can waltz in and buy it off the shelf the following week?”. The answer is easy: they want to be the first. So what is so great, or so important about being first? Sure, there is always that superficial ego-boost attached to telling people, “I had it first!” but the mileage in this reasoning is pretty limited and the real benefits actually have a much bigger scope by comparison.
The leading minority
According to Rogers’ theory (depicted in the chart above) innovations must be widely adopted in order to self-sustain. The categories of adopters are: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. The early majority and late majority (representing 68% of the population) won’t be inclined to try anything until someone (namely an ‘early adopter’) has tried it first. Therefore, without those first 16%, the cycle wouldn’t exist and advancement would be impossible. Innovators and early adopters believe in challenging the status quo and by doing so, they enable ideas which shape our industry in important ways.
The design industry has experienced an unprecedented leap in the 20th century, mainly because, through Bauhaus and Modernism, people dared to innovate even at the risk of facing total failure. We tend to forget, however, the struggle endured by designers like Ray and Charles Eames who secretly snuck materials into their LA apartment late at night to produce the world’s first moulded plywood chair in the mid 1940’s. Or what about Verner Panton? We all know him as the man who designed the first injection moulded chair produced by Vitra in 1968, but hardly anyone speaks about the fact that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had actually experimented with injection moulding much earlier, in the 1930s. This invention, which today is common place, was initially met with doubt and rejection from sceptics and, as such, took 30 years to emerge. Through this persistence, a giant leap in chair-making was achieved.
Today, innovation carries a much more crucial social responsibility; preparing the world for future generations through responsible, resourceful and sustainable practice. By 2030, the world’s middle class will have reached 5 billion people, a giant leap from today’s 2 billion, in a world where resources are already scarce. By 2040, the entire amazon will be wiped out, taking with it 19% of the world’s oxygen and 25% of the 3000 plants from which cancer treatments are derived. Innovation is no longer a “nice to do” but a “must do”.
In 2012, I launched 19 greek street as a space for experimentation and advancement in design. Today it is home to 9 eclectic collections works which are sustainable, finely crafted, and aesthetically pleasing. While our concept has generally been very well received, I am surprised at how resistant many people are towards experimentation and change.
I can understand that some of the methods we represent can appear to be far-fetched. For instance, creating a chair using a sophisticated bio-mimicry process by which a seed is planted in a computer-generated 3D environment replicating nature is not common place (ie: Mathias Bengtsson’s Growth Chair). But let’s not forget that there was a time where simple processes such as injection moulding seemed ridiculous, high risk and improbable.
Where do you stand?
You dont have to share 19 greek street’s philosophy to be a good designer, or a knowledgeable design aficionado, but when faced with choosing between ‘traditional design’ or ‘pushing the boundaries’ I urge you to re-evaluate your stance in the aforementioned ”theory of diffusion of innovations”. When you choose traditional design, you are choosing to be satisfied with the thought that design has reached its full potential. Choosing experimentation however, means that you are choosing to be part of a progressive minority, leading an important change in the world.