This is the fourth article in a series examining the potential of resilient design to improve the way the world works. Join designers, brand strategists, architects, futurists, experts and entrepreneurs at Compostmodern13 to delve more deeply into strategies of sustainablity and design.
The Causes of Social Challenges are Invisible
Complex social challenges originate in a society's fundamental truths. What does this mean for social change?
It is really a thought that built this portentous war-establishment, and a thought shall also melt it away. —Emerson, "War," 1909
I'm a partner at Reos Partners, which helps government, business and civil society leaders work on some the planet's toughest social challenges: war and peace, the future of countries, food and energy systems, and other problems. Our work is to help leaders see their challenge as a complex system, then plan and act together to change their system.
At the heart of our approach, we identify root causes of systemic challenges. Interventions are then designed to address those causes. Some of the causes we discern are the things you might guess—laws, policies, rules, bureaucracies, war machines—but others are less obvious, even invisible. They are "the master-idea[s] reigning in the minds of many persons (Emerson)"—the mindsets or paradigms that shape the rules, laws and bureaucracies.
Working on collective prosperity in Colombia, we hit cultural barriers dividing rich from poor. In Vancouver, we saw fear and discomfort shaping the policies that impact people with disabilities and their families. In Oakland, we learned that confederate slavery is still causing violence, 150 years later. In South Africa, we see the echoes of Apartheid in ongoing police brutality and, more intimately, in the faces of our co-workers and friends.
Systems and their challenges arise from paradigms. That's where they originate and that is where their causes live.
Images, courtesy of Robynn Butler, are from a co-design initiative with Savannah High School students and SCAD Sustainable Design students, piloting frog's Collective Action Toolkit. For more information on the initiative, visit designethos.org
This is the third article in a series examining the potential of resilient design to improve the way the world works. Join designers, brand strategists, architects, futurists, experts and entrepreneurs at Compostmodern13 to delve more deeply into strategies of sustainablity and design.
I recently picked up The Best Dictionary for Students, an elementary school reference that my twin daughters use daily. It seemed perfectly suited to me because, who, after all, isn't a student. This small dictionary has 410 entries that begin with the letter combination 'co,' beginning with coach and ending with cozy. Co-design is not one of those words. But many of the words beginning with these letters are germane to the vibrant conversation around co-design: commitment, compassion, complex, congregate, consequential, to name a few. This is to be expected, considering the Latin origins of the prefix: together. With a multitude of English language concepts fundamentally connected through this prefix, it seems fitting to more deeply explore some of the affiliations inferred by their shared linguistic origin.
Today's designers have benefitted from the development of young fields of practice such as design for inclusivity, and human-centered design. These efforts focus on delivering solutions through immersive (for the designer) and inclusive (for the community) processes, which the designers then sensitively transform into 'solutions,' whether they be products, services, experiences, or tools (visioning, strategic, etc.). Other fields of practice—emerging more from the urban design context, and with an emphasis on community resilience—focus more on designing the potentials for solutions to emerge from the local context itself. As one example, Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) eschews the all too common 'needs-based' approach for the sake of identifying, celebrating and empowering assets that already exist within the community.
The gap between these two approaches has been narrowing, and the emerging bridge is being constructed through an array of creative experimentation. Growing trends in mass customization such as Open Source Ecology, and design-driven community resources such as frog's Collective Action Toolkit are examples of this materializing connective tissue. This essay is an invitation to more deeply consider the ideas that have been percolating in some of these spaces. I discuss two words from this 'co' bounty that are associated with the practice of co-design, then introduce a third word—quite literally—which explores a paradox borne of two contradictory root words. Together, the words act as a framing device that can aid in the exploration of the concepts behind this evolving process we call co-design, specifically in the social sector. The three 'co' words do not constitute strategies as much as reflections on the nature of committing to this dynamic arena. I invite more terms to be added to create (co-create) a Designer's Dictionary of 'Co.' Those compelled to consider the origins of co-design can find many sources dedicated to more rigorous investigations, such as Sanders and Stappers' Co-Creation and the New Landscapes of Design, as one of example of many.
Design as Conduit
A conduit is an entity of transition between spaces, states or usages. Accordingly, if the energy on one end of a conduit lacks sufficient order or density, or if there is an inability on the other end to 'carry the charge', then this kind of channel is little more than the means by which energy is transferred from one unproductive space to another, or worse, from a productive space to an unproductive one. Co-design is a conduit. And the energy that co-design aims to transfer exists within the wisdom, passion, creativity, and tacit knowledge of the parties involved.
Yet, there is another dimension here that relates to the nature of connectivity with individuals not in immediate contact with the initial co-design process. The people in these concentric and loosely defined rings represent not only those who may be influenced or changed in some way, but those who would influence still others further from the original process. This focus on connectivity and continuity is an important facet of co-design, and not merely as a cautionary reference to the law of unintended consequences—as important as that is—but as a reminder that ideas which emerge from co-design must be so deeply embedded in the community that members of that community who were not directly involved in the co-design process gravitate toward them intuitively. With IDEO's ">Human-Centered Design approach in mind, the arc of progression for the design process might run through stages that focus on: observations, stories, themes, opportunities, solutions, prototypes and implementation plans. Yet, the means by which designers build capacity within the community to design solutions themselves requires that this process is fully owned—and operated—by the community before the end of this sequence.
Andras Forgacs is the CEO of Modern Meadow, a company that's seeking to mass produce bioengineered meat that comes out of a bioprinter. Why? Because commercial meat production is a highly resource-intensive process, and Modern Meadow argues that their product is a more sustainable way to provide protein.
While Forgacs and co. have been at this for some time—below is a video of him eating Modern Meadow's early product in front of a TED audience in 2011—last week he submitted himself to a Reddit AMA ("ask me anything") session, clearing up some things I'd been confused about. Here are some excerpts:
Q:What is the input, what is the output ? Explain like I am five, for 1 kg of meat , what is needed?
The input are largely animal cells (muscle, fat and a couple other types - taken from a donor animal through a biopsy) and cell culture media (a soup in which the cells grow made of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, salts, sugars) and then energy to run the process. Output is muscle tissue that is then matured/conditioned until it is processed into meat products.
Q: Are the input animal cells consistent with the output? Or will there be a blending of pig/cow/horse etc to create "beef"?
A: No blending of different species. Pig stays pig. Cow stays cow. Etc. We are using multiple cell types from each animal but staying with the same animal. In fact, an advantage of this approach is that it can ensure purity. Because we control the inputs and have such a tight process, we know the exact ingredients of every batch. No mystery meat surprises like the recent one from the UK.
In the aforementioned video, Forgacs spends roughly the first half explaining why bioprinted meat is a good idea, and roughly the second half whipping up a snack in a raclette, then tosses it down the hatch:
Now whether you're grossed out by this or not, you've gotta be wondering: How does it taste? Writes Forgacs,
I've tasted it as have my colleagues. We've only been able to have small bites since we're still working on getting the process right.
I cooked some pieces in olive oil and ate some with and without salt and pepper. Not bad. The taste is good but not yet fully like meat. We have yet to get the fat content right and other elements that influence taste. This process will be iterative and involve us working closely with our consulting chefs.
While I fully understand Modern Meadow's sustainability rationale for pursuing their goal, I'm a little squeamish about eating the stuff. But I can definitely get behind the company's other goal: They hope to successfully print leather, which would be pretty awesome.
Design is about problem-solving, but to some extent we're constrained in what problems we can solve by the boxes our profession places us in. Few of us have the juice to enact widespread control over every aspect of a project. As a result, some of us learn to know "our place," which is not necessarily a pejorative; some can accomplish amazing things within tight constraints. But others start blurring the boundaries between disciplines in an effort to effect holistic change.
Susannah Drake falls in that latter category. In this quick but informative chat, the dlandstudio founder explains how she realized she'd have to expand from architecture into landscape architecture to enact the changes she wanted to see—and that the Gowanus community in Brooklyn, home to a particuarly polluted and flood-prone canal, desperately needed.
This is the second article in a series examining the potential of resilient design to improve the way the world works. Join designers, brand strategists, architects, futurists, experts and entrepreneurs at Compostmodern13 to delve more deeply into strategies of sustainablity and design.
We've all been there: it's another late night in the studio, and you've got hours of pixel-pushing and deck-polishing ahead. Your social life, if it exists, is under duress. The cramp in your mousing hand makes you wonder if it really is time to see that doctor.
Meanwhile your mind wanders from the task at hand to what you can do—what you can change about your "situation"—to close the gap between the seeming pointlessness of how you earn your living and the realization that your time and energy could be better spent doing something (anything!) more meaningful.
Like your brother who joined the Peace Corps in India. Or the industrial designer you read about who designed a new clean water system for a village in Tanzania. The architect who took a 6-month leave of absence from his job to build relief housing in Haiti.
It could be mere escapism to indulge such humanitarian fantasies but I think there's more to it, especially for designers. It's in our professional DNA to do stuff, to make things—and if we were trained well—to solve problems and have real impact on people's lives. Our hands feel tied when we're not putting them to good use.
Human need is everywhere
Humanitarian work shouldn't require quitting your job, uprooting your life and moving to another community. The eye of the storm for social injustice isn't always half way across the world—it's often right under your nose in the form of an urban food desert, children stuck in a cycle of poverty, a family who lives in your back alley.
Over the last 5-7 years, we've witnessed an explosion of programs dedicated to applying design methods to humanitarian issues in the developing world. Some have spun off as nonprofits; others are embedded in top design firms, universities or government. Philanthropic foundations are expanding their grant portfolios by underwriting innovative, designer-led initiatives that meet their programmatic interests. Both the design and mainstream media have caught on, helping to fuel more attention to the value of designers working in the developing world—amounting to more funding, more programs, and more opportunities.
This is the first article in a series examining the potential of resilient design to improve the way the world works. Join designers, brand strategists, architects, futurists, experts and entrepreneurs at Compostmodern13 to delve more deeply into strategies of sustainablity and design.
When I began my journey to understand global overfishing, I knew that it was a sprawling and complex tangle of intertwining problems touching the spheres of policy, commerce, environment and livelihood. Now, almost five years in, I see its complexity through the stories of people I've met who live in that tangle: The New England fisherman whose house was firebombed when he dared to embrace policy reform. The shark researcher who once used a tag he'd put on a shark's fin to record its migration pattern to then hunt the poacher who finned the shark and kept the device as a souvenir. The old Chinese fish farmer who, in a trick to trump Pavlov, proudly rang a bell to bring hundreds of tilapia called by its vibration to the surface of a pond to feed.
Each of the players in this system has an incredibly personal stake in how we humans choose to rethink the way we hunt, eat and protect fish. Given that 1 billion people in the world rely on fish as their primary protein, and that 85 percent of the world's fisheries are currently harvested at or beyond their limits, the cost of failing is unthinkable.
When we were first asked by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation to uncover new market-driven solutions to encouraging responsible fish harvesting, we did not set out to find one solution for all players. But because we intended to design for a system, we couldn't look for solutions for just one player or user. We had to find openings—stuck points—that once resolved, might prove the giving knot to unwind the tangle. We had to figure out how to design for many.
At every stage of our work—through four distinct project teams, three sponsoring organizations and multiple iterations—we made some right calls and some mistakes. Here's a brief look at some of the insights we gleaned along that path.
Who's the user?
Our process included two components: 1) pattern recognition to identify which problems in the system received ample attention from existing strategies and which were unaddressed, and 2) a "design thinking" process that included sending teams of anthropologists into the field to observe.
The first phase of that process identified the middle of the seafood supply chain as a ripe area to explore; most solutions targeted fishermen or retailers at either end of the supply chain, leaving processors and distributors out of the conversation. The next phase was initially puzzling. Given a target as broad as the middle of a global supply chain, what should we observe? Who was our user? What did we need to see to guide our design? We thrashed about for a bit and sought guidance from some of the most experienced practitioners in the design world. They counseled our team to, "go with your gut."
Since I have the gut of a trained journalist, my instincts told me to go where the conflict was. I offered to my co-lead in the project that the front line of our problem seemed to be transactions—whenever fish traded hands. What did those conversations and negotiations look like? What unspoken context shaped those outcomes? We ultimately dispatched teams of anthropologists to eight sites in four countries, looking for examples of distributors and processors buying and selling fish?
If the raw materials used to create these chairs appear ugly at first blush, well, they've earned the right; for all of their useful lives they've served as broom, rake or spade handles, helping people keep their floors and yards tidy. Core77 fave Reinier de Jong has turned these cast-off items to the more aesthetically pleasing, if equally ignominious, task of supporting your ass.
De Jong's Steel folding chairs retain their original hard-earned patina on their unworked surfaces, but we dig how he's scalloped out the parts that come into contact with your body, revealing the "clean" wood within while bowing to ergonomic considerations.
Got some old brooms of your own? Get in on the action:
You can also contribute to this chair. Donate your old wooden handles of brooms, rakes, spades, flagpoles etc (28 to 29 mm thick) and have it turned into a chair for yourself.
For his Masters Thesis in Packaging Design at Pratt Institute, Aaron Mickelson created a series of eco-friendly packages that are designed to be consumed with the products they hold such that no waste remains. Per his description of the Disappearing Package:
Every year, we throw away a ton of packaging waste (actually, over 70 million tons). It makes up the single largest percentage of trash in our landfills (beating out industrial waste, electronics, food... everything). Figures released by the EPA indicate this problem is getting worse every year.
As a package designer (and grad student—meaning I know everything and can solve every problem, naturally), I was concerned about where this trend is going. Of course, many talented designers working in the field have made great efforts over the past few years to reduce the amount of packaging that goes onto a product. However, for my Masters Thesis, I asked the question: Can we eliminate that waste entirely?
To that end, Mickelson has come up with five potential solutions that either incorporate water-soluble materials and/or printing directly on products as hypothetical but largely feasible alternatives to superfluous paper and plastic packaging. "I realize each presents its own manufacturing or distribution challenge; however, each also presents opportunities available to package designers right now."
As in Diane Leclair Bisson's Edible Containers, the packaging is generally designed to be consumed with its contents, leaving nary a trace of excess.
Hit the jump to see his solutions for GLAD garbage bags, Twinings teabags and Nivea soap...
There are people who want to own a truck, and people who need to own a truck. I'm of the opinion that you can get rid of the former, but not the latter; while American truck sales are slowing down for the first time in years, either due to the high cost of gas or the stigma of owning an environmentally-unfriendly vehicle, my theory is that the wannabes are simply being weeded out while the need-to-bes are standing firm. If you work in one of the trades, or feed your family by doing something that requires you have a strong back, chances are you need a truck. The green movement is not going to sway you and you just curse more at the gas pump.
Since the trades aren't going away (God willing), how can we resolve environmental responsibility with the need to drive big-ass vehicles? One promising answer comes from Via Motors, a sort of automotive co-developer that takes Detroit's existing machines and renders them, through technical wizardry, electrified.
Because Via modifies existing trucks, that means you can get the big-ass Silverado with the Crew Cab, or a GMC Suburban if you need to haul enclosed loads, or a GMC cargo van if you need to abduct shrill environmentalists, and still clock about 100 miles per gallon. Via vehicles will go for 40 miles before the gas engine even kicks in, making it the perfect local runabout; should you need to travel further distances, the gas engine will carry you another 300 miles before you need to tank up.
As for power, Via's Vtrux (the hacked Silverado) produces 402 horsepower, so you can throw both Little Sal and Big Sal in the crew cab while still hauling a half-ton in the bed. But here's the real killer app: For those working in remote locations without electricity--you've undoubtedly seen utility trucks hauling those wheeled generators behind them--the vehicle doubles as a generator. That means you can leave the gennie in the garage and plug your power tools directly into the truck. You can also, in a blackout, use the vehicle to power your house.
The only thing that will prevent individuals from jumping on the Via bandwagon right away is the asking price, which is estimated to start at 79 large. You can make that up in fuel savings over time, depending on how much you drive, but that's a big nut for a lone tradesperson to cover. I'm hoping Via sets up a financing branch with attractive rates, at least until their manufacturing costs come down enough for the regular Joe to buy in.
In the meantime they're targeting the people who can cover the nut and will realize the long-term savings: Fleet owners.
Via is currently taking pre-orders for $1,000 a pop. Deliveries are estimated for mid-2013.
Here's a look at their vehicles (and a test drive) taken by Jay Leno and featuring Via CEO Bob Lutz, of GM and Chrysler fame:
Speaking of reuse, I've mentioned how I do what I'm guessing many of you do, and reuse all of my incoming cardboard boxes by turning them inside-out for re-shipping. Well, the sticky people over at 3M and Scotch apparently want in on this box-reusing action. In the bottom of my last Staples package I found this freebie:
Yep, Scotch/3M now answers "the three R's" with "four R's" of their own: "Reinforce, Re-cover, Remove, Re-seal." Their four new products aimed at getting you to reuse cardboard boxes for shipping are as follows:
Reinforce: Corner and Edge Reinforcers. The user is meant to place these across a box's centerline and on the corners, to shore up dumpy boxes after they've been through the UPS grinder. It's really just pieces of tape, with the corner reinforcers being a tape square partially bisected by a slit, so you can hit all three dimensions of a corner.
Re-cover: Cardboard-colored, self-adhering paper that you cut to size, then stick over the delivery-system graffiti on your used box.
Remove: A label remover that, as far as I can tell, is some type of shallow-bladed safety knife.
Re-seal: Simple, self-adhering mailer flaps like you find at the FedEx.
My first thought was that these are extraneous, as any ID'er or craftsperson worth their salt already has all of these raw materials or can whip some up. But for high-volume applications, like offices or businesses that need to turn a lot of boxes around quickly, I could see these being useful. And as I wrote in the post on the Globe Guard Reuseable Box, anything that sets people onto reusing before they resort to recycling is probably a good thing.
Garth Johnson runs the irreverent ExtremeCraft website, "A compendium of Art masquerading as Craft, Craft masquerading as Art & Craft extending its middle finger." He's also the author of 1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse: Remake, Restyle, Recycle, Renew. And in his TED Talk entitled "Recycling Sucks! The History of Creative Reuse" Garth points out that recycling is the last of the three R's (the first two being "reduce" and "reuse," of course) and ought be done as a last resort only.
To be clear, Garth's not anti-recycling, but we've all seen just how resource-intensive and inefficient recycling can be, in no small part due to human behavior (an unwillingness to pre-separate recycleables, for instance). Despite the sensationalist title, the point of Garth's talk is to show examples of creative reuse throughout world history, going way back to the Romans and coming up to present day.
This is one of your longer TED Talks at nearly 20 minutes, but it's worth sticking with; you're bound to get a chuckle out of some of the re-carved statues in his slideshow, and I guarantee you'll learn a thing or two.
The furniture pieces you see here all look quite old, but in fact, they're brand new. They're all made by Furniture from the Barn, a Pennsylvania-based outfit that gets their raw material, as their name implies, from no-longer-used barns.
The family-run business works with a local Amish concern that takes down dilapidated 18th-Century barns in the Pennsylvania and Maryland areas. The raw wood is transported back to Furniture From the Barn's workshop, where it's dried over a period of months, cleaned, and turned into rustic furniture pieces. And rather than using commercial finishes, FFTB makes their own paint out of organic materials (pigment, limes, and curdled milk, believe it or not).
Pieces are produced by hand, combining the talents of owner Kelly Lee Kelly, her furniture craftsman father "Pop George" and her master carpenter husband, Michael.
Beyond the satisfaction of recycling otherwise doomed wood and not having to cut down new trees, Furniture From the Barn has a raw material that's of higher quality. "Old-growth pine was harvested in the 1800s, when it was already 150 to 200 years old," Kelly told The Washington Examiner. "It's much harder than today's pine. The boards are wider, and no pesticides or chemical fertilizers were used in those days."
Here's a couple of videos providing a brief look at what they do:
A new eco mall will double the size of Turin's Eataly From green cars to sustainable food to bio-clothes
By Emanuela Minucci
Oscar Farinetti [the founder of Eataly] doesn't stop. And stays true to his ideas. Notwithstanding the success he is having with the Eataly brand worldwide, he has chosen Turin, his first love, to try out a new concept that cannot be more aligned with these times of economic and environmental concerns.
He is planning a new complex, the first "Green Retail Park" in the world, right next to the Carpano building in the Lingotto area, where he started off in 2007 with his first mix of thematic restaurants and the sales of products that until then people could only find at the Salone del Gusto [the yearly Slow Food fair].
And the visions of the two "Eataly"'s are closely aligned.
The new complex will host retail activities and services that in their production/creation, distribution and sales are driven by a vision of eco-sustainability and social responsibility.
Designed by Negozio Blu Architetti Associati, the 20,000 sq mt spaces are all dedicated to green shopping: from food to clothing to cars. Everything in this bio-cathedral will be "good, clean and fair" [The Slow Food motto].
A green environment...
The building will be constructed with sustainable technologies and materials. [...] The south facing facade will use natural screening and shading, as well as plant walls, and the roof will be covered with grass and plants—one of the many actions to reduce the building's environmental impact. The plants will reduce of cooling needs and the associated heat island effect, help filter the particulate pollution in our urban air, and dampen urban street noise. "We will use a range of sustainable technologies, materials and architectural interventions, including solar panels," explains the architect Cristiana Catino.
... with green products and services
The space will host stores that sell sustainable clothing and shoes, service entities specialized in renewable energy, and companies focused on bio-construction. Also on sale will be products for the garden and the biological vegetable garden, food and biological cosmetics, and sustainable furniture and household products. There will be a quality restaurant, and a specialized wellbeing center. One can even buy a green scooter or car. The heart of the space will host an eco assistance zone, where people can go to for advice on how to save energy in their homes, how to install solar panels, or how they can have a meaningful environmental impact in their day-to-day activities.
I am not sure whether it is the first green retail park in the world, probably not, and I hope that "Green Retail Park" is just a working title, but knowing Farinetti and what he has achieved with Eataly, we can expect it to have a big impact, and not just in Turin.
Of the five Hong Kong design outfits Thomas Lee shot for his CoSPACE CoCREATE video series, at least three are relevant for Core77 readers. The first is his look at KaCaMa Design Lab—that's ID'ers Kay Chan, Catherine Suen and Match Chen—on their mission to re-use post-consumer waste. To that end, they're upcycling ad banners (the real kind, not the kind you can tell Firefox to shut off) into lighting, and educating kids on why that's important:
I'm sure I'm not the only person who hides the Brita when company comes over and feels terribly guilty tossing those carbon-filled plastic filters every couple of months. In fact, it's always been a bit of a mystery to me why there wasn't a beautiful, more sustainable and affordable alternative on the market.
I clearly wasn't the only one looking for a design solution for a consumer product I interact with on a day-to-day basis: Introducing Soma, a glass carafe and 100% compostable water filter. The filter, designed by David Beeman, is made from all-natural Malaysian coconut shells, vegan silk and food-based PLA plastic. Beeman, with over 30 years of experience creating water formulas for Starbucks, Peet's and other global brands, talks a bit about the design process in the video below:
The glass decanter has a beveled edge which results in drip-free pouring. The product is manufactured in the United States and the subscription-service style of renewing the filter is as good as it gets. The founding team behind Soma comes with their own set of good as it gets credentials: Mike Del Ponte (founder/CEO of Sparkseed, an award-winning social innovation accelerator), Rohan Oza (brand genius behind vitaminwater, smartwater, vitacoco and popchips), Ido Leffler (co-founder of Yes To Carrots, the 2nd largest natural beauty brand in America), and Zach Allia (his apps hit #1 on Facebook, Apple store, and Chrome store). Advisors include Tim Ferriss, and founders and executives from Method, Incase, Warby Parker, Birchbox, TOMS and the UN Foundation.
And while they're in full launch mode for for their product, early adopters can get the Soma carafe + 6-Months worth of filters for $50 (each filter delivered to your door every two months). As of press time, they've blown past their initial $100,000 goal—we're waiting to hear what sort of reach goals they might have and what type of add-ons they might have for their early backers. Get in on the ground and support Soma!
The motto of LifeEdited, an experiment in compact living started by Treehugger founder Graham Hill, is an alluring one: "Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy." The design of the prototype LifeEdited apartment (actually Hill's residence) fulfills the motto neatly, incorporating furniture you'll recognize from our Resource Furniture videos (here and here), an intelligently-designed moving wall, and lots of nice little touches that reveal some serious depth of thought:
Crazy seeing what an absolute craphole the apartment was before Hill's insane reno. I also admire how he's extended his philosophy of editing things down even to the kitchen implements and his clothing.
I've read that during the Industrial Revolution, it took a special kind of mind to envision the types of actions machines could perform. For example, early attempts to create sewing machines attempted to mimic the act of two human hands passing and plucking a needle back and forth through fabric, and those attempts failed. The purely mechanical needle, hook and shuttle system still used today was what worked, and it was difficult for all but the most gifted to work those futuristic actions out on paper.
It takes a similarly rare level of brilliance to look not forward, but backward, to find an older technology that can solve a modern-day problem. And a Tunisian start-up company called Saphon Energy has done just that, by designing a wind-capturing device that eschews the windmill form factor—a 400-year-old invention—and going with one at least 5,000 years old: the sail.
Windpower is arguably the greenest of the green, but one reason it's not seeing massive uptake is that the turbine form factor is inherently problematic. They're expensive to manufacture, noisy, and inefficient. Saphon Energy's innovation is a simple disc-shaped sail that catches and dances in the breeze. The shifting energy this produces at the mounting point is captured and either stored or immediately converted to electricity.
Hassine Labaied, a Dubai banker with ties to Tunisia, was so smitten with the promise of Saphon Energy's "Zero-Blade Technology" that he quit his 12-year finance career to pursue, as it were, a career in sails and marketing. Now serving as Saphon's CEO, in the TED talk below he outlines the surprising statistics that make Zero-Blade look like a good bet:
It's pretty brutal for older female actors in Hollywood, who seem to have a de facto expiration date stamped on them; beyond a certain age there are simply no good roles that Meryl Streep hasn't already scooped up.
Well, it's even worse for chickens. Stacey Kelly is a fourth-year industrial design student at New Zealand's Massey U., and is attempting to address the problem of "spent hens" with design.
A spent hen is a chicken beyond her egg-laying prime for use in commercial situations. What is the fate of a spent hen? The carcass and trimmings of the hen may be mashed up to make MRM (mechanically reclaimed meat), this is used in food products such as hot dogs although it is becoming less common. Alternative methods include suffocation or gassing to become animal feed ingredients, burning (sometimes alive) or force moulting. Force moulting is complete withdrawal from food and sometimes water - this stimulates the hen to lose her feathers but reinvigorates her egg production.
Kelly has discovered there are organizations, both in New Zealand and around the world, that re-home spent hens in a humane way. Some of the hens will then naturally produce eggs for an additional eight years. So for her final year project at Massey, she's focusing on a coop specifically for spent hens—something like a chicken physical rehabilitation center and retirement home.
Her research led her to identify the key factor dissuading people from bothering to take on chickens: property damage. Like all poop, chicken poop can be disgusting and destructive if allowed to run rampant; but managed correctly it can be transformed into helpful fertilizer. To that end she designed the Nest Urban Hen House, where chickens can live healthily even in a city environment, provided they have access to a small patch of grass.
The chickens are housed in a pie-slice-shaped coop that periodically rotates around a patch of grass, keeping it fresher than if they were constantly sitting on the same plot. A deep litter floor is filled with wood shavings, so when the chickens shit the place up, their manure mixes with the shavings and creates useful fertilizer; she estimates the litter floor can go six months between changings, reducing maintenance. "The product and system should allow households to be away from their property for a number of days without jeopardizing the welfare of the hens," writes Kenny.
"Ideally," says an article on Massey University's website, "Ms. Kenny would like to work with a hen rescue agency to relocate commercially farmed hens, and then be able to provide everything from feed to vaccination supplies with a 'one-stop' hen house that should appeal to city dwellers."
Toronto-based design group Castor gets called a lot of names, especially sustainable—that S word whose egregious misuse irks us so. Not that Castor isn't sustainable, there are just so many better ways to describe them. Founders Kei Ng and Brian Richer say their furniture and lighting collection has a "sense of irreverence," a sentiment echoed by their highly irreverent and really kind of awesome head shot, above.
As far as their actual products are concerned, we suggest descriptors like recycled, or perhaps upcycled. The short doc, Castor is French For Beaver (it is—we checked), recently made by Carling Acthim and Lana Mauro, takes a closer look at two of Castor's best known lighting designs, the Tank Light and the Tube Light, both of which repurpose cast off materials like old fire extinguishers and burnt out halogen tubes and turn them into hanging light fixtures whose final form is completely removed from their previous lives.
Ok, not quite—the aluminum frame for the Sky Greens innovative planting system tops out at about nine meters, or about three stories. But considering that the farm yields some five to ten times more than conventional methods, the metaphor stands at least as tall as the pulley-equipped towers: according to their website, "the A-Go-Gro system uses patented low carbon hydraulic green technology to power the rotation of the tower at very low energy costs, while still allowing the plants to get more than adequate sunlight."
Channel NewsAsia reports that the Singapore-based company has been supplying local supermarket chain FairPrice Finest with locally-grown produce. The veggies have been a hit, selling out despite the nominal 10–20-cent markup—as fast as the farm can grow 'em, at a rate of roughly half a tonne daily. The goal is to expand from 120 towers to 300 by 2013 at a cost of S$27m (~$22m in USD), which is projected to quadruple the output to two tonnes per day.
As of this weekend, the big story in the Tri-State Area is gas. Whether you're in Jersey or the five boroughs, petrol is scarce, lines are long and tempers are running short. So I was extra astonished to read, in the Telegraph, that a UK-based energy company has made a novel breakthrough: They can now create synthetic gasoline—out of air.
Air Fuel Synthesis uses renewable energy to do what nature does with photosynthesis and time, converting carbon dioxide into oil. Put simply, Air Fuel Synthesis converts carbon dioxide and water into synthetic hydrocarbon liquids from which sustainable fuels or other oil based products can be made.
...Oil is basically made from carbon and hydrogen. Carbon is in the air in the form of carbon dioxide and hydrogen can be found in water.
In this manner, AFS was able to produce five liters of gasoline in less than three months. Obviously that's not quick enough by conventional standards, but the fact that it can be done at all is amazing. They're aiming to scale up to "a large plant, which could produce more than a tonne of petrol every day, within two years and a refinery size operation within the next 15 years."
While the synthetic fuel presumably gives off the same emissions as regular petrol when run through an engine, harvesting it is a carbon-neutral affair, as AFS uses renewable energy sources for the electricity required during the conversion. "But the best news," the company writes, "is that (once the capital investment is covered) the manufacture of sustainable, carbon-neutral AFS fuels is unrestricted by the price of raw materials, geo or local politics and avoids the land use or food availability issues that affect biofuels. Thus fuel production costs are low and predictable for the life of the plant."
On a recent visit to Croatia, I was struck by how many small Roman archeological sites dotted the landscape as well as how many wells, pumps, bridges and roads built by the armies of rulers like Diocletian still serve the region. I'm guessing that neither the taskmasters nor the slaves who carted the stones and dug the wells would have considered themselves industrial designers, but they were certainly part of a tradition of designing with intent—making sure that precious resources were used and re-used and, above all, designed to last.
Romans ruins of Solin (Salona), outside Split, Croatia. June 2004. Photo by Adam Jones
But what does it mean to design with intent in the 21st century when our natural and human-made resources are more precious than ever before? Designing for your product's lifetime is more than just a perspective on the end product, it's a total concept that can help designers structure the entire design process to more efficiently and effectively source, create, distribute and repair products that withstand the test of time, even if some of the pieces need to be fixed or replaced. To help reach these goals, Dan Lockton's Design with Intent Toolkit focuses on how to design objects for certain kinds of human behavior: for example, how to encourage a user to consume less water or energy. Autodesk also took a closer look at Designing with intent on their Sustainability Workshop blog.
Core77's Design for (Your) Product Lifetime Student Challenge is all about designing with intent. In partnership with Autodesk and iFixit, we've asked students and recent graduates to present a new "smart" product that's also smarter environmentally. Coming up on our November 15 deadline for submissions, we're looking forward to seeing a variety of entries we expect would make Diocletian proud.
Entries are due November 15 and winners will be announced on December 5 on Core77 and with a special webcast presented by Autodesk. Prizes include:
$2,000 AmEx card
Pro Tech Base Toolkit, available on iFixit.com, along with the Oak Gerstner Toolbox
$1,000 AmEx card
Pro Tech Base Toolkit, available on iFixit.com
$750 AmEx card
$25 gift certificate to iFixit.com
Good luck to all who have entered! And if you need some extra inspiration, watch this webinar from Dawn Danby, Senior Sustainable Design Program Manager at Autodesk and co-creator of Autodesk Sustainability Workshop, reviews a range of sustainable product development strategies, focusing on ways designers can guide users to more sustainable behavior.
Our current linear model of 'take-make-dispose' is throwing up major economic and environmental challenges. Risk to our supply chain is increasing, and the cost of materials is rising sharply, putting pressure on businesses to change. We need to shift towards more circular systems and good design thinking is pivotal to this transition.
In order to make this shift, designers need to consider the system as a whole rather than focus on individual components or products. True co-creation is crucial from those involved in these lifecycles: designers and material experts, manufacturers and resource managers, brands and retailers, consumers, policy makers and government, investors & academics all working together.
The Great Recovery is a project by the RSA (the UK's Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), aimed at building new networks to explore the issues, investigate innovation gaps and incubate new partnerships.
The second Seattle Designers Accord Town Hall was held October 11th at Carbon Design Group's studio. The event was organized by Carbon, Modern Species and AIGA Seattle. The theme of the night was "Are We There Yet?" reflecting the seemingly endless journey of designers striving to produce sustainable results for willing clients. The evening kicked off with refreshments and networking, and then moved on to the main events. Linda Wagner, of Carbon, and Gage Mitchell, of both Modern Species and AIGA Seattle, shared the emcee duties. Four speakers delivered short presentations to address the topic from their perspective (industrial design, graphic design, architecture, or business), before continuing the conversation in breakout sessions.
Creative Director of Consumer Experience at Hornall Anderson
Ashley gets props for bringing, well, props. Her message for the evening was that sustainable design is only successful if the consumer likes it. Case in point was the incredibly noisy Sun Chips bag. Compostable, yes, but hearing it in person drove home the problem—nobody wants to broadcast that they're snacking. Ashley went on to ruffle every print designer in attendance by declaring the book is dead... as an object of information, but alive as an object of desire. To bring this home, she used the example of Wantful, a company that allows you to create a beautiful personalized book filled with a curated selection of gifts from which a recipient can pick. By blending digital and print, Wantful delivers a richer, more meaningful experience. And meaningful experiences are vital because, the success of a product is determined by how it connects with people. (Ashley also wrote up a great detailed post about her breakout session which you can find here.)
Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at REI
Kirk's job is to design business systems that provide sustainable outcomes. One of REI's greatest successes in this endeavor came from partnering with other outdoor apparel manufacturers like Patagonia and Timberland to create the HIGG Index, which measurers the impact of their products. By working together, these companies were able to give their vendors an assessment tool and a very large incentive to use it. Kirk pointed out that the true focus of any company is whether or not a customer will buy a product. A sustainable product isn't sustainable at all if it doesn't sell. Method is a company that gets this in spades. They aren't successful because they create sustainable products. They're successful because they create better products with a combination of design, functionality, and affordability that makes them stand out. Sustainable products must be better all around.
Top: New York City myThread Installation by Jenny Sabin. Bottom: Beijing Design Week Feather Pavilion by Arthur Huang
Coming off the success of their Flyknit collection, Nike has launched the Nike Flyknit Collective: an architectural initiative challenging a curated group of designers, artists and architects to create installations based on the core features of the collection—performance, lightness, formfitting and sustainability.
We had an opportunity to see 2 of the installations in person over the past few weeks and although the installations were quite different, it was interesting to follow the path of practitioners separated by geography and disciplines as they explored the way that yarn can be employed to create engaging structural experiences.
Jenny Sabin installing the myThread Pavilion
Philadelphia-based architectural designer Jenny Sabin's work explores the intersection of architecture, biology, craft, technology and generative design.
This past week, in a 10,000 square-foot salvage warehouse, DesignPhiladelphia hosted an evening of design exhibitions, fashion showcases, and outdoor revelry to kick off the eighth year of this nationally recognized design festival. This citywide festival features five days of non-stop design programming showcasing the work of over 400 designers and creative thinkers in more than 120 public events.
Set on the fringe of Philadelphia's Northern Liberties neighborhood at Provenance Architecturals, guests were treated to a cocktail party amid the many treasures one can find in an architectural salvage shop—Corinthian columns, retro globes, Victorian streetlamps, modern furniture and home decor, monumental church stained glass, slate slabs, stacks of reclaimed wood, 19th-century milling tools and more.
Unlike many design festivals around the world, DesignPhiladelphia aims to demystify design for the general public and make it experiential. They're focused on educating the public—beyond the professional design community—about the importance of good design, and the way design effects our daily lives. As Hilary Jay, Founding Director of DesignPhiladelphia, stated in her opening remarks Wednesday evening, they "envision a future where innovative design is strongly associated with Philadelphia's story, beyond the lore of soft pretzels, cheesesteaks, Rocky movies, and the Liberty Bell."