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

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‘Good’ Design Awards

There are a number of good design awards that allow individuals, studios, manufacturers and organizations to enter their recent outputs into a number of categories that are then judged by panels – the Red Dot Award immediately comes to mind.
Whats is good design and how can we measure it – can we measure it? This question is one that  all designers must ask themselves, after all don't designers want to produce 'good' designs?

Lets look at some of the factors that might be used to measure the success of a design.

Basic elements include:

• Beauty
• Safety
• Honset
• Fit for purpose
• Original
• Meets demands of consumers.
• Good value
• Offers good functionality and performance.
• User-friendly.
• Inclusive.

But we know that these attribute are the base elements, because for design to be truly 'good' we need to look further  for our answers. It todays product saturated markets a good design needs to move up to being a superior design. How could superior design be achieved? For a start a superior design should solve real-world problems, it should put into practice the principles of inclusive or universal design, it should convey a high degree of functionality or versatility in an understandable way, it should be capable of being upgraded or repaired when necessary, it should make good use of technology and 'new' materials, it should incorporate new methods of, its should play a part in assisting regional industry, its should have a long and useful life, it should be made and sold in an ethical manner, its should encourage creativity in the user, its should contribute to the developing of a sustainable society, it should humanize technology. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list but if designers begin to incorporate these attributes in their design proposals  we will truly be able to say that now there is no reason why good design should not be available to everybody.

Check out the Red Dot Design Awards at

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