Slow Design: why risk flygskam when you can tågskryt

The Light Review finished 2019 with a couple of pieces on Slow Design (add links). Its one of those philosophical ideas that can bring great enormous benefit to our well-being – and our collective mental health, provided we can find ways to make it work.


If you haven’t yet read the previous pieces, what Slow Design involves is exactly what it says; don’t be in a hurry to put finger to keyboard; take a step back and think about what you’re about to do; have a chat to your client about life beyond the brief – because there’s often stuff going on that could influence your design proposals . . . provided you take the time to find out about it.

Slow Design is also a key factor in moving us towards a more sustainable way of working. Our decision-making and day-to-day actions impact on the potential ‘green-ness’ of our luminaire and controls specifications, but it’s important that we make the space that enables us to take a step back and see the wider landscape . . .

Which brings me to Frankfurt, where we’ll all be heading in a couple of months’ time.

at Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof

I took the decision a few months back that it’s time to say goodbye to flying. All that alleged convenience (not!) all came at a price – and I really can’t justify it any longer, not for the work that I do. Therefore, my journey to Frankfurt starts on Sunday 8th, with an overnight stay with friends in West London – a gentle and companiable start to the adventure; then a tube journey to St. Pancras on Monday morning and arrival at the impressive Frankfurt Hauptbahnof by mid-afternoon . . . maybe I’ll see you before the end of the day.

 ‘Flygskam’ or ‘flight-shaming’ has been coined by our Scandinavian friends to make us all think twice about air travel; its one of those ‘is your journey really necessary’ moments, and you can still get hold of the WW2 posters to hang above your desk if you want to get into that pre-EU nostalgia game (sorry!).

And here’s a thing. I’d like to draw your attention to an article by Jeremy Cliffe in the Xmas edition of The New Statesman. Cliffe is the magazine’s International Editor, so I presume he gets around a bit. Cliffe has written a piece titled “One-track mind; the consolations of rail travel”.

Because there’s another Scandinavian term to play with; ‘tågskryt’ means ‘train bragging’. Although without mentioning Slow Design once, Cliffe spends most of his article celebrating it in its many aspects.

  • Leaving and arriving in a city centre with none of that commuter hassle out to an airport beyond the suburbs;
  • Avoiding all of that passive aggression that airport terminals bring;
  • the opportunity to look out at the passing landscape (rather than looking out at sky and clouds);

. . . and maybe even having the chance to get some work done in the process. I can’t work on a plane; all I do is pretend that I’m not there. But put me on a train and the vibe is such that I can read and type and connect with the things that need attention so much more easily. The train is far more productive – and seriously conducive to the tenets of Slow Design.

And if the journey takes longer, why not take the night-train? Wake up in a foreign city centre after a good night’s rest, rather than fighting the enervating effect of the flying experience.

There are issues. Of course there are. Does it work outside of Europe? I doubt it, unless you fancy a real adventure. And is that a problem –  of course it is. We’re part of the global construction industry and those site meetings won’t come to us. But we can change traditional ways of working. Video conferencing can put you in touch with project colleagues on a far more regular basis than monthly meetings on site. After all, I’ve been to plenty of project meetings in foreign parts that didn’t take place anywhere near to the actual site (my personal record was a meeting in Stockholm for a project in Addis Ababa).

The whole point of tågskryt and flygskam is awareness. To be ‘woke’ to circumstances, and if you have no practical choice, then get on the airplane – but understand that, by your actions, you’re part of the problem and a bit more tree-planting is unlikely to assuage that situation. And on that siren subject of greenwashing: the train journey between London and Frankfurt accounts for around 80% less in carbon emissions than taking the plane. The hardcore argument on carbon-offset is a simple one: don’t try to justify a plane journey by  paying for trees to be planted; don’t take the plane at all and enjoy the benefit from the full 80% reduction . . . and then plant the trees anyway.

Own your footprint, that’s all I’m saying – just do what you can.

So this is how I see my life, going forward. What decisions can I take that will reduce my impact on the climate crisis, while still offering a practical, and profitable design service . . . and cutting-edge (harumph) on-line commentary? Let me share a few things with you here, but bear in mind that this is my personal journey; I’m not putting it up as a solution for anyone else.

  • Let’s just say no to flying – pretend that airplanes don’t exist and work out from there.
  • Keep project work local – ideally no more than an hour from where I live.
  • Make journeys as carbon-neutral as possible. Only drive if I have to; take a train where I can; get the bike out where I’m able; and walk wherever its practical.
  • Do as much facework via Skype / Zoom / whatever else as I can.
  • Don’t ask of others what I don’t want to do myself.
Kalkoff Agutta – looking very tidy

We bought a step-through e-bike a few weeks back. Its been through a lot of owners and is probably getting on for a decade old, but for a few hundred quid if offers around 50 miles on a single charge. To cover a 20-mile round trip takes about twice as long, but there’s no need to get dressed up in full mamil gear. It’s nothing like cycling. I’ve described it as akin to a gentle jaunt down the lanes; I feel that I should be wearing a bonnet . . . and crinoline.

I hear you say “twice as long! How can I possibly afford that?” I bring you round to the opening of this meditation. Its about slow design’. Slower travel produces a new mindset. The thought bubbles that pop out of the top of your head are altogether different at 15mph that they are at 50mph – and we can be sure that the thinking process on a train is much more positive than those demon voices in your head that you try to ignore on an airplane.

Jeremy Cliffe calls for a cultural shift in the way that we address Time. “Going by train should not be seen as a sacrifice but as a genuinely rewarding experience”.

Amen to that.

The Slow-Design Book of Inspiration is available under the ‘Creative Commons community license,’ free-of-charge for non-commercial use

About John Bullock

John Bullock is the editor of The Light Review

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