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We are the designers of life

People have more choices today than ever before. We can design virtually all areas of our life, from our job and leisure time through to our consumption and mobility. But does that actually make us happy?

Maybe you just want to bring more relaxation into your life. And you’re thinking about the best way to do this. Is your living room sofa calling you? Or perhaps you’re remembering your yoga subscription which you should make more use of? Trips to the spa would also be nice, of course. Or simply downloading that new meditation app that your friends are always talking about.

Whether its relaxation or exercise, food or leisure time, today there is a whole array of possibilities for satisfying almost any need. We can also design ever more fundamental areas of life more and more freely. You can now suddenly decide on your job and career path, sexual identity and family life, role models and social relationships. We live in a time of freedom of choice, self-realisation and thus individualisation. This has not always been the case.

Individualisation is an achievement
For a long time, society didn’t provide any scope for alternative or individualised lifestyles, instead imposing rigid rules and traditions on people. If you ask your grandparents how it was "back then" in terms of changing jobs or patchwork families, you’ll quickly see how freely we are able to live today. This development has been greatly spurred on by the modernisation of the western world: shorter working hours meant that leisure activities and interests became more important. Rising levels of education helped people understand themselves and their desires and needs, and allowed for career and social advancement. And increasing prosperity gradually turned new dreams into a reality.

The proverbial agony of choice
Individualisation is a megatrend nowadays. Being independent and free is hugely important for young people, as a survey shows: coming in just behind the foremost goal of "being healthy" (93%), "freedom to shape their own life" ranks second with 90% (Versicherung Heidelberger Leben Trendmonitor). So does our multi-option society make us completely happy?

No. After all, more options means more decisions. And these always involve a sacrifice – in other words something that you can’t do, buy or experience. When you consider that brain researchers estimate that we make 20’000 (mostly unconscious) decisions each day, it quickly becomes clear how heavy the flip-side of the coin is. Once a mere possibility, design is suddenly an obligation. Psychologists are therefore already talking about a "tyranny of choice", which can overstrain and overwhelm people. Our freedom therefore involves its very own form of stress.

Lifestyles are both statements and market drivers
The freedom of the individual is expanding and the choice of lifestyles is widening. This is making us designers of our own identity: who do we want to be? How do we want to live? What are we consuming and what values is this representing? After all, whether someone gets their vegetables from the wholesaler, the vegetable basket of the farm next door or an anti-food-waste project, whether they buy organic or standard, seasonal or regional produce is usually more than just a decision. It is a statement.

The market responds to these statements. They do so with all manner of different labels (such as Fairtrade or organic), and also with specifically tailored products. From self-mixed muesli through to self-designed trainers and perfumes and furniture made at home, there are hardly any products that can’t be personalised. KPMG market surveys show that half of the consumers find products like these considerably more interesting than mass-produced goods, and they are willing to pay more for them. Individualisation has therefore become one of the largest drivers of the economy.

More sharing services
This trend is not bypassing mobility either: "It is becoming more multi-modal and varied", says Transport Expert Timo Ohnmacht (see interview). A wide variety of transport is thus available, be it on the road, rail or in the air. Swiss people are making use of this, with each of them travelling an average of 36.8 kilometres a day – almost two kilometres more than before the millennium. We are also frequent fliers, boarding twice as many flights as our neighbouring countries. What may be advantageous for the individual is harmful to the environment. "Despite their awareness, many people are not changing their behaviour in any way," says Ohnmacht knowingly. He believes it to be all the more important for political guidelines to be put in place and for sharing providers to embrace the trend towards individualisation and convince as many people as possible to switch to sustainable mobility.

The Swiss sharing provider Mobility is doing exactly that and making its offer more varied. While people always had to bring cars back to the starting point in the past, Mobility One-Way (trips from city to city) and Mobility Go (free-floating in cities) now allow them to simply leave their cars at their destination. Since many Mobility customers do not own their own cars, a sharing vehicle replaces ten private cars.