The world is full of insignificant use-and-throw products; what values do you want to inculcate in your designs? The Ted Talk by Christiaan Maats on ‘How product design can change the world’ at the University of Groningen reroutes us to what values we should inculcate in our designs and lives. 

Christiaan Maats is a product designer and an entrepreneur who challenges the ways to look at designs. He was born and raised in Groningen and completed his Bachelor of Industrial Design and Technology from Delft University. He is a rooted person, and that is what he tries to narrate through in his designs. The design of the world’s first biodegradable shoe made by him is an example of what morals he holds and wants to imbibe in the field of design. 

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Christiaan Maats _©


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Co-exist _©

Christiaan Maats starts the talk by explaining the connection of humanity to the planet. He claims that every human being is connected to the earth through their social circles, but humankind has lost its touch with this connection. He reflects his ideology and raises alarming concerns in his opening statement. The design industry is linear; designers design items for a particular use and purpose; no one thinks of the product’s scrap value. 

In his talk, Maats expounds on the linearity of our society and throws light on the importance of building an integrative community where we coexist with nature.  In today’s world, with the rapid increase in population and high demands of different products, designers need to change the system of self-profitable production and design new sustainable products. His expressions in the talk are not just applicable for product designers, but other designers like architects, interior designers, etc., should also inculcate values in their design and make the world a sustainable habitat.

The Belief System

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The sustainable shoe _©

Furthermore, Christiaan Maats talks about the user experience of the products. His keen interest in the psychology behind product design and experience led him to conduct a case study in Australia, which is reflected in his talk. He has asked several questions about the design of an axe, which have unanimous psychological responses. Comparison of products and responses makes us understand our mindset and perception of different shapes, sizes, and designs of products. 

“Meaningful products are based on a belief system we can identify with & serve a purpose that we can empathize with”; the product designer has very well framed and presented his point of view in the talk about how a deciding factor can come into play while choosing a product. He has very appealingly illustrated the dimensions of product experience through a Venn diagram, namely, utilitarian function, emotional attitude, and cultural style. 

According to the speaker, if these dimensions also align with the belief system while designing a product, not only the customer would want to have it, but people would also like to support making this product. Hence the belief system is an essential part that a product designer should consider while designing the product.

Is compromising on the quality worth it?

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New Product_©

Moving ahead in the talk, the speaker speaks about the daunting reality of western society, which focuses on the agenda of making maximum profit. The growth-oriented, ‘compromising the quality attitude’ of companies, restricts the customers from using a product for a longer duration, resulting in increased production of use-and-throw products. Christiaan Maats has addressed these issues in his talk and sorted out a system of beliefs and values that should be instilled in our practice as designers.

The designer has shared the example of his product in the talk, that is, the world’s first sustainable shoe, claiming to instil values in his design. He encourages people to switch to using more sustainable products to maintain a balance between society and nature. 

Moreover, he requests people to build a value system in their firms, respecting and encouraging employees and maintaining a healthy relationship with the environment. It is a practice each firm should follow, be it a product design firm or an architectural firm. Respecting the employees’ skill set and looking after a worker’s healthy living is a moral value that should be induced in all practices to control the exploitation of the workforce. 

The Noble Practice

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Practice_©Radostina Georgieva/

Christiaan Maats shares how a belief system plays a crucial role not only in choosing the product as a consumer but also in designing the system from business owners, employees, customers, partners to our planet. He emphasizes the importance of our attitudes, whether we choose to keep a competitive system or a cooperative system associating everything with a purpose and approaching every stage one step at a time; and connects the dots from how the consumers could empathize with the change in process to how this change could help us build a connection with nature again.

All designers should encourage moral practices and imbibe new systems to connect with nature to build a sustainable world. The speaker has left us with a thought of “What is life about for us?” The answer to this lies in the process of us questioning the system and bringing a change for good. Let us build a sustainable and livable environment with moral values and healthy professional practices!

Reference (n.d.). How product design can change the world | Christiaan Maats | TEDxUniversityofGroningen. [online] Available at: 


Aditi is a creative soul and a firm believer in procedural learning. She looks towards building a sustainable milieu by linking the built environment to the roots of India’s culture. She is an ardent reader and holds a keen interest in art, architecture and aesthetics.

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