Territories of Practice Elective:- Sustainable Design, An Evaluative Report

I have been aware of the Sustainability issue for a long time, especially since the beginning of my studies. The subject of Sustainability often features within the media, and my research has introduced me to several projects with ecological agendas. Living with a lesser environmental impact is something I address in my daily life, but in terms of my work, I knew there must be so much more that I could do to improve.  I chose to participate in the Sustainable design elective because of the frequency with which I was faced with the issue of Sustainability. I was increasingly aware of the topic and therefore felt it was vital that I, as an aspiring designer, gained a better and more meaningful understanding of it.

As part of the elective we were asked to conduct a blog. This was a new experience for me. I have always enjoyed keeping sketchbooks and journals that log ideas and inspiration, and found the process of keeping a blog similar. I found that by keeping a blog I was much more aware of recording an idea, and thinking in far more detail about what it’s relevance was. As a result of keeping the blog I feel I have improved my research abilities, and that it has helped me to be more evaluative of this research.  An aspect of the blog that differs from a journal is the fact that it is public- the information I post is shared with a world wide community, providing a platform for discussion and a place to share ideas. From the lectures I have seen the importance of collaboration between designers, and how sharing information is the best way to promote sustainable choices and develop innovative ideas. My blog is now a useful tool for me to store ideas, but also reflect upon and refer to during future projects.

The lectures in this elective aimed to explore the role that designers play in sustainability and the strategies that can be put in place to make and strategic change towards sustainability. By looking in detail at the “TED TEN” developed by the Textiles Environment Design research project at Chelsea.

I found the TED TEN so insightful, and going through the strategies opened my eyes to so many aspects of sustainability that I had never even considered before. I think the strategies are an incredibly useful tool to use as a reference, and to reflect critically on weather my projects adhere to the approaches. I learnt that I need to think more carefully about aspects of sustainable design in a broader context. I can now see the importance of ethical and activist considerations, as well as the need to consider the entire life cycle of a design as opposed to just the materials used to create it in the present.

Going through the lectures it became clear that the TED TEN strategies have links within one another, and I have come to understand that there is not one single answer to sustainability, and there never will be. A truly sustainable project is achieved through making a series of considered design decisions that innovatively explore different approaches to sustainability and apply multiple strategies to achieve the most effective results.

One quote that I found profound, and has stuck with me is “decisions made in design are responsible for eighty to ninety percent of a product’s environmental and economic costs” (Graedel et al. 1995). I would never have considered the impact was so great at the design stage, yet seeing it put so plainly like this, and in the context of the lecture series, it becomes obvious, and gave me huge sense of perspective, highlighting to me the degree of accountability that falls to designers to act upon sustainable strategies.

The lectures have provided me with a wide variety of resources with which to continue my learning. I have been introduced to practicing designers, whose work I found inspiring and intend to follow the progress of.  Presented with a collection of websites and books to explore I have been able to build a “catalogue” of stimulating information to support and inform my own work. This “catalogue” is one I intend to continually add to, keeping my knowledge up to date and connected to the innovations that are always developing towards sustainable design, in turn ensuring my work always has the most sustainable potential.

My second year BA Interior and Spatial Design project has progressed alongside the elective, and as a result I was able to directly incorporate my newly acquired knowledge throughout the development stages of my project and apply the ideas that were discussed.

The lectures have completely transformed my understanding of the word “sustainable” and the extent of the criteria labelling something with the term entails. Going forward I intend to develop a personal manifesto of strategies to apply to my practice. This manifesto will be adaptable so that it remains relevant to the variety of work that I hope to partake in the future.

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Kirst Reitan Andersen Seminar; Design thinking and the Role of Designers

We were lucky enough to have this lecture delivered by Kirst Reitan Andersen, who is currently studying her PHD at the Copenhagen Business School. Her project is funded by the Mistra Future Fashion Program, and Andersen is exploring how businesses can incorporate “design thinking” into their work practice to drive better results towards sustainability.

Andersen defines Design Thinking as “a methodology for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result.”  She suggests that if this approach is combined with the more “scientific” approach that business men and women tend to work by (“defining all the parameters of the problem in order to define the solution”), then we can achieve more effective and complete solutions.

Andersen showed us case studies of her ideas put into practice.

One example was Veja, a French footwear brand that combines better conditions for Brazilian farmers with fashion, fair trade, and ecology. They work directly with small producer co-operatives in Brazil, using materials such as organic cotton, wild Amazonian rubber and acacia-tanned leather to create products for the European market. They do this without compromising on the design aesthetic of the final product.

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Aowen Jin is a British Chinese Artist, who in 2010 worked undercover in factories in China. She interviewed more than 800 of the 16-30 years old girls employed there. The project aims to document China’s economic transition, the changes in contemporary Chinese culture, the changes in the factory girls themselves and the changes in the world of consumer culture. Not only does this feed her own artistic interests, Aowen is able to deliver the information to businesses that use the factories so that they can develop a better understanding of the workplaces they create and understand where they might need to make changes to improve conditions.

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Reference: Kirst Reitan Andersen Lecture, 22/11/2013

Ted Ten- Design Activism

This strategy explores the role of designers in promoting sustainability and change. Theorist suggest that as we now live in a society in which “everybody designs” they have to work as part of a “complex mesh”- among individuals, non-profit organisations and businesses who are working creatively towards sustainability.

“To be a responsible designer requires more than just talent, it requires good citizenship” (Steven Heller – Citizen Designer, 2003)

This quote outlines the idea that designers should not only produce things, but also promote their ideals.

Otto Von Busch is a key figure in Design Activism, and is part of “Fashion Hacktivism”. He wants the consumer to take back control over their fashion choices, taking a step back from mass produced and un ethically sourced goods, and creating a fashion industry in which the customer is far more involved. Von Busch says “I believe it is better to make change from within the system, by not destroying it but building on it.” This image sums up his approach:-

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Reference: 18/12/2012, http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/1466/1/otto-von-busch-fashion-hacktivism, website

AdBusters are a very prolific group of designers that have been participating in design activism for many years. The first piece that I came across of theirs was actually in the Victoria and Albert Museum- “I shop therefore I am”. Often, the designers take adverts or phrases and twist them slightly to reveal a new truth. The pieces are quite subtle but very clever, and have a lasting effect of the viewer. They take something that we know so well and make us realise there is a lot more to think about. This particular campaign worked against mass consumerism and needless consumption.

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Reference, https://www.adbusters.org, website

I think having a kind of personal manifesto to work by, being confident in this manifesto and believing in it, sharing it with others so that they might adopt the approaches themselves is a way that I could be slightly more of a design activist. This lecture made me realise that activism does’t have to be aggressive or vigorous, but can make a big difference.

TED TEN- Design to Dematerialise and Develop systems

This is an interesting strategy, and something that we can all engage with easily, probably saving money and enjoyment alongside. It looks at how systems and services can be used to meed needs in replace of tangible products, and how these systems and services might also allow us to benefit from products without actually having to own them.

Exchange and Swap services, auction sites like eBay, Gumtree, FreeCycle are all examples of systems that allow us to pass on our products once we no longer require them, extending their life span as opposed to throwing them away, and possibly earning a little extra money too. The success of these sites in recent years proves that this Ted Ten has a lot of potential to help us live more sustainably.

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 Image reference: 18/12/2013, http://uk.freecycle.org, website

Reducing the need to consume can also be achieved by sharing, leasing and renting goods. One example of this is the website “Bag Borrow or Steal”, with which you can rent designer accessories for a dramatically reduced fee compared to what you would have to pay if buying new. Once you have used/worn the item you return it to the store. There are services that also This allows one product to supply multiple people. I think this is such a good idea. People buy a whole new outfit when they attend a wedding or party for example, but couldn’t possibly be seen wearing again to the next event! (not my personal view but anyway)- so why do you need to own it just so it can sit in your wardrobe gathering dust.

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Image reference: 18/12/2013, http://hire.girlmeetsdress.com/collections/dress-hire/products/red-draped-dress, website

Recognising that many of the cars on the road are only occupied by one or two people, especially during the commute to and from work, CarShare was a system set up around the idea that we don’t all need a car all of the time. There are specific models for businesses, suggesting that they own a fleet of cars to service their employees, that communities can own a fleet of cars to share, rather than every person having to own their own car. This is also something that has been promoted between peers, particularly during the commute to and from work. Drivers can offer the empty seat in their car to passengers heading in the same direction, possibly in exchange for a small fee towards fuel. If car sharing became mainstream, we would not only save an enormous amount of fuel and Co2, but imagine how much less traffic there would be!

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 Image reference: 18/12/2013, http://www.life-size-media.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Car-Share-Scheme.jpg, website

Services that offer to repair and update goods are a brilliant way to dematerialise. Groups such as the “ReMakery” and Nudie jeans are good examples. This approach can also incorporate social activity and skills sharing. “Drink Shop do” runs with this approach, a cafe where you can enjoy a coffee, learn a skill and make/repair goods alongside other like minded people.

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 Image reference: 18/12/2013, http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-3rsIdoKff3A/TaKy9qk92jI/AAAAAAAACKU/55BQZxJ3Zs4/s1600/drink-shop-do-front.jpg, website

Spoonflower is a service that allows customers to design their own fabric. (This Service also relates to the previous Ted Ten that explored “emotional durability” as it offers personalisation of goods). Spoonflower only makes the fabrics that are commissioned, meaning that there is no wasteful mass production. It is a service that ensures only what is needed is made, and what is made is specific and exactly what the customer needs.

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Image reference: 18/12/2013, http://www.spoonflower.com/welcome, website

I also love services that share skills and information so that we can all become more independent and able to provide ourselves with what we want, and modify it to what we need. “Open Structures”, “Technology Will Save us” are popular examples of this. The internet has made file sharing so simple, and anyone can access and download templates and instructions for products to build them selves.

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Image reference: 18/12/2013, http://openstructures.net, website

To me all of these ideas are great, and personally am actively involved with similar services. Saving money, earning money, and sourcing products that are potentially much more unique than mass produced goods on the hight street is something I enjoy. The internet has made it all so accessible and simple too. What I have not considered before, but has certainly given me something to think about, is how systems and services could be applied on a larger scale. We exchange clothes and skills and furniture, but what about architecture? What about the possibility of developing systems that can help to make buying property more affordable, more sustainable? Maybe holiday homes shared among a community, or open spaces that can be used to locally grown food and produce .

Ted Ten- Design To Reduce The Need To Consume

There is no denying that today, we buy more goods than ever. We buy all the time, and we are buying beyond what we actually need. We buy to make ourselves feel good, we go shopping as a social activity. My experience of living in London is that the opportunity to consume is never more than a five minute walk away, with what often feels like infinite choice and possibility.

“Emotionally Durable Design” is a book and theory written by Jonathan Chapman (2006). He explores the emotional connection and attachment we have with our possessions, and suggests that how well the product maintains this attachment dictates how long we will use/keep it for. He describes waste as “expired empathy” with an object.

Reducing the need to consume new goods can also be achieved by looking at how repairing we can repair what we already own. “Sugru” have developed a self setting rubber like material, marketed to “fix, modify and improve stuff”. This idea gives people control, they can alter their stuff to suit their needs and preferences. It adds a personal touch which extends “emotional empathy” with goods too.

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Reference: 17/12/2013, http://sugru.com, website

17/12/2013,  http://blogs-images.forbes.com/tjmccue/files/2011/11/Sugru.jpg, website

 Melanie Bowles and Emma Neuberg are designers who aimed to extend a products life span by enhancing the emotional “empathy” consumers had with their purchase. They did this by offering consumers the knowledge to design their own textiles using digital printing techniques. If people make their own clothes, with meaningful designs, then it reduces the need for mass produced globalised items.

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Reference: 17/12/2013, http://www.thepeoplesprint.com/about/, website

“Butter by Nadia” developed a garment called “Signature”. This is a single textile that can be worn in so so so many different ways. This means that one piece of material can perform the task of dozens, thus reducing the need to consume. I love the idea of taking one item and being creative about all the ways in which is might be useful. I think designing a product that has many possibilities for use and function is something that could translate really successfully within architecture, the space saved through only having one item over 2 or 3 three would also be a bonus when we consider that, due to affordability, many of us are living in smaller and smaller homes.

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Reference: 17/12/2013, http://www.shopbutterbynadia.com, website

                    17/12/2013, http://cdn.the-dressingroom.com/product-media/1UZ/800/1130/Butter-by-Nadia-lookbook.jpg, website

Materiality also plays a role in a products durability. Hard wearing fabrics for example, made well and put together as a garment to a high standard will physically outlive the opposite, reducing the need to buy frequent replacements. I think sometimes also the longer we own something, the more it seems to belong to us and feels like part of who we are in some small way. Perhaps material longevity also helps to slowly develop an emotional attachment too.

Barbour make a waxed cotton jacket which is really well made, with durable materials. Any customer who buys one of these jackets can return it to Barbour when the wax needs re coating, and they will re wax the jacket, extending its life for a further few years, until it needs waxing again.

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 Reference: 17/12/2013, http://www.barbour.com/uk/l/mens, website

Seb Oddi has created a product which I think is just brilliant – The “stain tablecloth” becomes an even more beautiful product when something gets spilled on it. It is inevitable that before long some clumsy diner knocks over their wine glass or a messy toddler spills their food, and the tablecloth ends up in stained and in the rubbish. Seb Oddi’s tablecloth reveals a beautiful design when something “ruins” it, so that the user might be inclined to keep it rather than throw it away.

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Reference: 17/12/2012, http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/__data/assets/image/0003/38379/SO_sml.jpg, website

Kristine Bjaadal takes a similar approach with her furniture designs, promoting wear and tear and encouraging us to keep our belongings for longer (and name good use of them!)

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 Reference: 17/12/2013, http://www.kristinebjaadal.no/portfolio/underskog/, website

Quite a new and alternative approach to reducing the need to consume is the idea of creating “immaterial experiences”.

Jenny Tillotson describes her practice as “weaving scent into technology”. Using scent capsules into fabric she hopes to develop an “electronic nose” which responds to emotions and releases appropriate fragrances. For example, if the nose detects fear or anxiety, calming essential oils might be released. I can imagine this being incorporated into our homes too. We come home from work, cold from wintery weather, and the house knows it needs to warm up, or we come home after a stressful day and the walls release calming aromas. I like the idea of exploring all of our senses through design. We are always lead visually, but our smell and touch and sound are equally as powerful when it comes to our interpretation of a space/object and our emotional engagement with it.

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Reference: 17/12/2013, http://blogs.arts.ac.uk/csm/2010/05/20/congratulations-to-csm-senior-research-fellow-jenny-tillotson-on-her-knowledge-transfer-award/, website

This strategy is one that I really want to incorporate into my design practice. It seems to me entirely sensible, not only making more sustainable things but things that simply allow us to use them in a more useful way. How much more appreciative and respectful of things we would be if they were personal and useful!

TED TEN- design that explores cleaner/better technologies

This strategy looks at how technology can be used and developed to deliver more sustainable design.

3D printing is a method that is quickly becoming more advanced, and more accessible. I couldn’t believe it when I was browsing in the Science Museum gift shop on Saturday, and on sale was a “Makerbot”- a 3D printer for the home (i’m not convinced how many homes at the moment, at nearly £2000 I certainly couldn’t afford one yet!).  Many consider this technology to be a more sustainable production method because of it’s precision, and the fact that there is less material waste from off cuts etc. The design can be incredibly accurate and refined digitally before any physical material needs to be used for making sketch models too.

Currently 3D printing isn’t extremely flexible, in the sense that there is a limited material and colour palette to chose from and the forms that can be produced are not endless, nonetheless I enjoyed these examples of designers exploring 3D printing in their work:-

Freedom Of Creation are a design group that have built their business on exploring 3D printing. They have developed accessories from jewellery to phone cases to bags, all the way through to interior products such as lighting and furniture and even entire walls. I Love the creation of pattern and texture that is achieved. The lighting products especially are very atmospheric and cast intriguing shadows.

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The wonderful thing about Freedom Of Creation is that they share “product sheets”- PDF files that explain the process, design drawings, and used materials of each product they sell.

Reference: -17/12/2013, http://www.freedomofcreation.com, website

– “Design that Explores Cleaner technologies” Lecture

Enrico Dini, also know as “the man who prints houses”, has helped to develop the D-shape printer, a 3D printer capable of printing large structures, using materials that mimic stone or concrete. By using this technology he hopes to transform the way we construct our environment.

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 Reference: 17/12/2012, http://www.themanwhoprintshouses.com, website

Anish Kapoor is an artist who utilises technology in his work. It allows him to take on an architects role and design buildings. In recent years he has collaborated with architects like Arata Isosaki , and been involved in many projects that offer relief to places that have been stuck by natural disasters. The Ark Nova was commissioned in response to the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. It was an enormous inflatable dome that was easy to inflate, and when deflated it was easy to pack up and transport to another region. The Ark Nova was used as a concert hall, and hosted music, dance, theatre and art. The Ark offered hope, entertainment, joy and the sense that it was possible to re build communities after such a disaster.

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Reference: 12/12/2013, http://www.dezeen.com/2013/09/26/ark-nova-by-arata-isozaki-and-anish-kapoor-completes/, website

Another designer/architect, Thomas Heatherwick, whose projects are vast and varied, has often made use of technology to design products that are innovative, exciting, familiar yet wonderfully new. A really good example of this is his Rolling bridge. The mechanical bridge elegantly curves away when boats need to pass. It acts as a piece of sculpture as well as being incredibly efficient and practical.

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Reference: 12/12/2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/the-ingenious-thomas-heatherwick-designer-and-engineer/7492.html, website

I am not a huge lover of technology. I think I am just old fashioned and have the impression that going digital takes the physicality out of designing, somehow dilutes the process and eliminates individual and creative thinking. But maybe I am under the wrong impression. Perhaps when technology is used as a part of the design process, it can offer fresh and engaging design in a more sustainable and resourceful way.

Reference: – “Design that Explores Cleaner technologies” Lecture, 08/11/2013

TED TEN- Models from History and Nature

This Ted Strategy is one that I find most relatable to my own work because Nature has always been a massive influence for me.

It suggests that Nature is full of brilliant design, not only beautiful but perfectly functional- the models we can source from nature have been refined over centuries through evolution.

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I did not realise until today’s lecture, that Velcro is an example of Biomimicry. In 1941 George De Mestral noticed how the seeds of the burdock plant had stuck to his clothes, and his dogs coat. Examining them under the microscope, he noticed the hundreds of tiny hooks that caught on anything with a loop- this idea was adopted in designing velcro.

Reference: 12/12/2013, http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa091297.htm, website

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Elaine Ng Yan Lings project “Naturology: The Secret Life Of Textiles” creates surfaces that can respond external stimuli, such as movement and heat. The surfaces are made up of different forms, and move gently like leaves on a tree, capturing natures sensory quality and  elegant patterns. Yan Lings aim is to create a subtle harmony in interiors, architecture and broader urban environments.

Reference: 11/12/2013, http://blog.ted.com/2012/08/17/the-secret-life-of-textiles-fellows-friday-with-elaine-ng-yan-ling/, website

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Design duo Ecovative harnessed mycelium (mushroom fungi) and grow rather than manufacture their products, in particular, an alternative packaging to polystyrene. The material is 100 percent natural, renewable and biodegradable. They have given a couple of great talks on TED explaining their processes and ideas:

Video link: http://www.ted.com/talks/eben_bayer_are_mushrooms_the_new_plastic.html

Reference: 11/12/2013, http://www.ecovativedesign.com, website

Ask Nature is an excellent source of information about biomimicry, and how natures properties could be used to our advantage. There are hundreds of detailed articles with clear and concise information- so much learning potential. I will definitely be using the website for research and inspiration when creating designs. Here is the link:-

http://www.asknature.org

It is amazing that despite how “technologically advanced” we have become, there are some systems in Nature that we are still unable to replicate or fully understand. I think it is exciting that there are still so many new resources for us to unlock and utilise in making more sustainable life cycles for products.

There can be many sustainable solutions to be found if we look back in time  and take inspiration from the methods of production used before industrialisation and mass production.

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“Bilik and Bubu” by Lanzavecchia + Wai used an indonesian waeving craft, Rattan, in their design of a room divider, and a bench. The designs utilise the crafts strength and durability, as well as celebrating this crafts quality and beauty.

Reference: 11/12/2013, http://thisispaper.com/Lanzavecchia-Wai-Bilik-Bubu, website

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“Turkish Red” was a project by Formafantasma. THe designers created a product range that was inspired entirely by the archives at the textile museum in Tilburg. Their work explores the continuation of traditional craft, skill, and technique, also looking at how these can be developed to create new pieces. The Red pigment that was used is made from the root of the Rubias plant, and has been used as a pigment since the 18th century.

Reference: 11/12/2013, http://www.yatzer.com/turkish-red-studio-formafantasma, website

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Matilda Aspinall looks at historical attitudes towards materials and production, with regards to textiles in particular. She recognises that in the past we were far more resourceful with our clothing, choosing to alter and repair one garment several times because cloth was a luxury and a commodity. Aspinall takes this approach with her work, designing clothes with adaption in mind so that our products have more uses to us and last a lot longer.

Reference: 10/12/2013, http://www.tedresearch.net/people/research-students/matilda-aspinall/, website

Looking at historical methods of construction could be a way for me to develop more sustainable designs. I really appreciate quality and craftsmanship, which I just do not think can be delivered in the same careful way by many modern technologies and building methods. My nanny always quoted “If you buy cheap, you buy twice”- as a child I had no idea what she was talking about of course, but now I find myself thinking in the same way. If you spend a little more money on a quality product, the chances are you will get longer and better use from it, as opposed to buying something cheaper, only for it to break and end up having to buy again.