Before Sustainable Design

I'm working on a product that is designed to me manufactured from an injection moulded Biopolymer. This is a research project that aims to end up in a manufactured range of soft contract chairs but it is proving to be an uphill struggle.

This project has set me to thinking about terminology. Sustainability, ecology, green and so on. As a designer I am committed (and have been for  most of my professional life) to creating products that are 'better with less' provide 'more with less' get the 'most with less'. In the 80's when I graduated from the Royal College of Art environmentalism, sustainable design, ecology did not exist on the curriculum nor in the press however my first products were designed to last, to be affordable and to use the best manufacturing process I could find. Interestingly, many of the suppliers I worked with were doing a good job of managing their factories, the materials they used and the workforce they employed – sadly some were not. I used some materials and processes that had I known then what I know now, would not have even considered them: chrome plate polyurethane foam are high on the list of 'wish I had nots'.

I remain convinced that the production of long lasting, simple, high quality and honest design is a good route to ensuring that products are not discarded before they really need to be (think repair rather than discard). When a product is discarded the impact of this disposal must not have a detrimental effect on the world. So how do we ensure that this is possible?

I am finding it hard to meet an NZ manufacturer who will want to invest in the production of my BioFurn(iture) why? because the market is not asking for it, or so I am told. The manufacturers at large are not feeling like pushing bio products to the end user, the facility manager or the architect. In fact some don't seem to know much about what is going on in the world of sustainable design at all – one person I spoke to recently thought "the green thing would soon pass, it's just another phase". I have recently heard manufacturers talk about materials "we have to use" because the client demands it…my feeling about this is nobody has to do anything they don't want to.

So where is this leading me?

  1. to remain true to the principles of simple, honest and high quaility
  2. to want to educate the user or specifier on bioplastics
  3. to want to design 'super normal' products (thanks Takashi Okutani, Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa)
  4. to design less but better

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Tom Dixon

I have posted this because 2 of our groups are working on projects rooted in the sustainable arena. Its worth noting that designers including Tom Dixon are working with bio materials such as bamboo. His work for Artex (Bambu) and these Eco Ware designs for his own company utilize bamboo as their main material for production. What's rather unsatisfying for me in these design is that the forms chosen for his Eco Ware don't express the qualities of the material in a new and interesting way. Allied with this is the somewhat retro aesthetic which reminds us of 1950's melamine products we are all still trying to forget. Lots of room for improvement.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend