Trash is a big problem for the environment. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. is the worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) in the world for producing garbage, throwing away two billion tons annually. And while recycled materials have come a long way in helping us to reduce our garbage, there is something else that can be done and this includes an interesting insight into product design.
Turns out that how consumers decide if something is trash or recyclable isn't based on whether the product is, in fact, recyclable. It has more to do with the appearance and size of the product. If it looks like trash, then it will be less likely to be recycled.
Products change during their use. Paper is torn, cans are crumpled. And how form or size changes impacts the likelihood of a product being recycled or just tossed in the garbage. This is the finding from a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research [PDF].
Go West, young man [whose job it is to install solar panels]
As we neared graduating time at art school in Brooklyn, we students began dividing into two camps: Stayers and Leavers, with the former ready to seek their fortunes in NYC, and the latter scattering across the globe in pursuit of work. My friend Helena, a Stayer and an Art Direction major, worried about the NYC real estate market: "What if I can't find an apartment," she fretted, "with southern light?"
That southern exposures yield the most sunlight during the day is well-known among every architect, interiors photographer and loft-seeking artist in the Northern Hemisphere. Slightly less well-known is that northern exposures supposedly reveal truer colors. But now it's another direction that's coming into play concerning the sun, and that direction is west.
Japan was once colloquially known as the Land of the Rising Sun, and it can't be only environmentalists hoping that a country with such a moniker would take solar power to heart. Following the Fukushima disaster of 2011, safe and renewable sources of energy have been under study, and at least one corporate giant has done something about it--rather swiftly, by Japanese standards.
This month Japanese electronics manufacturer Kyocera pulled the wraps off of the Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant, a project constructed at a backbreaking pace from September 2012 to October 2013. Some 290,000 solar panels are arrayed on 1.27 million square meters on the coast of Kagoshima Prefecture, making it the largest solar power plant in Japan.
The juice started flowing on November 1st, and the KNMSPP is expected to generate 70 megawatts of power, enough to power 22,000 homes in the region. As promising as that sounds, the stark math is actually a bit dismal compared to Fukushima: The latter facility generated 4.7 gigawatts, or enough to power nearly 1.5 million homes.
Coca-Cola is known the world over for producing its sugary (or fructose-y) namesake beverage. But in keeping with the ever-greening times, they now hope to form a secondary reputation as a provider of safe, clean drinking water. In Heidelberg, South Africa, Coke recently launched their first EKOCENTER, a 20-foot shipping container meant to serve as a retail kiosk, community center and social hub in impoverished rural areas. To draw bodies, each EKOCENTER is loaded up with a Slingshot, a water purification machine invented by Dean Kamen.
Segway inventor Kamen's Slingshot is amazing. Taking up as much space as a small refrigerator, the thing can run on cow poop and uses no filters, yet can turn any water source into potable water--cranking out up to 1,000 liters a day. And it can run for five years without even requiring any maintenance!
The Slingshot was more than a decade in the making, and with Coca-Cola's backing and global distribution network, is well-positioned to make a significant impact on global health through the EKOCENTER. And in addition to the Slingshot functionality, each container contains solar cells that can be used to power charging points or refrigeration for medicine. Following the South African launch, Coke plans to get the containers into 20 countries in need by 2015, getting safe drinking water into the mouths of millions.
As someone whose primary transportation mode is walking, I wish sneakers were designed more like cars. When your car's tires wear out, you pop them off and install new ones (or remold them if they're expensive); but every eight months I have to toss an entire pair of kicks because the treads are gone, and there's nothing for it. No local business I know of will re-sole a $100 pair of running shoes.
Rock climbing shoes are a different story, as they can be resoled and repaired. Places like The Gear Fix, which is three hours south of Core77's Portland HQ in the city of Bend, Oregon, make their living by repairing outdoor gear: bikes, climbing equipment, ski equipment, camping stoves, backpacking gear, and yes, climbing kicks. And re-soling the latter does not look easy, as it's a blend of art and science. An anonymous TGF employee undergoing an apprenticeship on how to do half-soles posted a video showing the process:
There isn't much actual material used, but just look at all of the equipment required, from the wooden inserts to the hand tools to the machinery to the cool little floor-stands. Then there's the learning time, of course; the unnamed apprentice in the video had been at it for about five months prior to shooting it. So how much do you think it costs for a job like that? I was well surprised by the low price: "Basically $35 for a pair of soles," writes the shop, "and $10 each if you need the rands / toe caps replaced." That's nuts.
A couple of climbing shoe notes:
- If you're wondering why this particular repair is half-sole and not full-sole, the area you see being replaced—from the ball of the foot to the toe—is where most of the wear typically occurs in a climbing shoe.
- The "rands" refers to the parts of rubber above the sole, like the "sidewalls" of the toe, for instance.
It's not very often that you have the chance to go to (let alone even see) a drive-in theater—especially if you live in a big city like, hey, New York City. But Brooklyn-based artists Jeff Stark and Todd Chandler are repurposing a bit of the past for us to experience in a whole new way. The duo created a drive-in movie theater that saves cars from local junk yards and repurposes them as the seats for their outdoor theater. The original Empire Drive-In was created for a viewing of Todd Chandler's film "Flood Tide is San Jose, California in 2010. The idea stuck and Empire Drive-In has now been the featured installation at a number of festivals and events, including the 2012 Abandon Normal Devices Festival in Manchester, United Kingdom.
Besides watching a movie on a giant projector screen, audience members are invited to explore their surroundings by switching cars, checking the glove compartments and other nooks and crannies for long-forgotten artifacts and climb on the cars.
In a tribute to International Peace Day (September 21st), British artists Jamie Wardley and Andy Moss of Sand in Your Eye took a team of 60 volunteers to Normandy beach over the weekend to sketch the outlines of 9,000 soldiers figures into the sand. The installation was created to commemorate the people who lost their lives on June 6th, 1944 and is appropriately titled "The Fallen 9,000."
According to design website Colossal, what started with the artists and 60 volunteers grew to an effort including 500 local residents who jumped in to help after seeing what was going on.
The end result was fleeting and was washed away by the tide after a couple of hours. But these photos most definitely do the project justice:
We've seen our healthy share of design conferences over the years, but a Better World by Design in Providence, Rhode Island, takes the cake for top-notch interdisciplinary social innovation. Begun just six short years ago as a collaboration between students of the Industrial Design department at the Rhode Island School of Design and engineering at Brown University, the conference has since grown into a three-day event boasting some serious firepower in their recently announced line-up for 2013 covering a multitude of disciplines.
This year's conference will take place from September 27–29 at locations on the campuses of both the Brown University and RISD, who will host some of the major movers and shakers in design, engineering, education and more to share their ideas, stories and plans for action under the event's theme of "Pause + Effect."
The theme for this year's conference is Pause + Effect. It is a decision to make reflection a part of your creative process. Not stagnation, but rather, a state of dynamic equilibrium. Our conference is an opportunity for attendees to pause—reflect, revise and redirect their perspectives—and effect change wherever they go from here.
We asked the a Better World content team to give us a sneak peak. Here are a few of our most anticipated speakers and workshops.
Speakers Former AIGA President Doug Powell and Lead Breaker Juliette LaMontagne
The Breaker model of teaching and learning takes its lead from designers and entrepreneurs because these methods and mindsets help young people create value for themselves, for organizations, and for the world. Each short-term project answers a different challenge, convenes a unique set of collaborators and industry professionals, and results in viable business solutions. LaMontagne will discuss Breaker's most recent challenge, The Future of Stuff - a collaboration with the d.school at Stanford that tested a hybrid (online/offline) version of Breaker's design-driven model.
Speaker Spotlight on Doug Powell: Social Design - Where Do We Go From Here?
How does a designer who has been self employed for his entire career enter a new chapter, with a new employer, in a new city? Moreover, where does his passion for design-driven social change fit into this new experience? Doug Powell will tell the story of his life and career transition and connect this all to the emerging practice of design-driven social change.
In "How Furniture Design Affects Firefighting, we looked at how the spec'ing out of particular materials can cause headaches for firefighters. Now comes news of another unforeseen troublemaker in the battle to extinguish blazes: Solar panels.
Solar panels of course generate electricity, and are located on roofs. The problem is that roofs are where firefighters will typically "vent" a burning building, to release some air pressure on the fire. But smashing or cutting the holes required for venting presents an issue as firefighters can suddenly be exposed to live electricity, even at nighttime or in the absence of sunlight, from a cut solar panel. If the roof in question is metal, you've now got a live roof covered in human beings now exposed to double jeopardy.
Last week, firefighters in New Jersey arrived at the scene of a burning warehouse. Stymied by the solar panels on the roof, the building continued to burn for 29 hours while firefighters were forced to improvise. According to an article on that blaze in Reuters,
Even when systems are equipped with shutoffs, any light can keep panels and their wires energized, [Consumer Safety Director for Underwriters Laboratories, John] Drengenberg said....Experiments, funded by the Department of Homeland Security, have shown that the light emitted by fire equipment can generate enough electricity in the panels that a firefighter who inadvertently touches an energized wire might not be able to let go, a phenomenon known as "lock on."
What is the solution? Solar panels are only increasing in popularity and are arguably a very important key to sustainable living. And if we could figure out how to universally prevent fires, it would already be on the table. In the meantime, designers and engineers are going to have to work out some safety factors, and more importantly, begin a comprehensive education program with emergency personnel for how to safely destroy their product.
This is one of the more fascinating experiments in small-space living that we've ever seen. Seattle-based engineer Steve Sauer wanted to see if he could turn a 182-square-foot storage unit with a single window into a liveable space, and he then decided to build it himself. Not only do we feel he's succeeded admirably, we're not sure which we admire more: Sauer's incredibly creative use of multi-level space, his unwillingness to compromise on materials, his self-machined plumbing, his IKEA-hacked surfaces... the list goes on.
The design of this space and its various features would be impossible to explain through still photographs, so thankfully there's video. Check out how bike-nut Sauer fit multiple bikes inside, peep his in-floor soaking tub, the ingenious kitchen-bin shower cubbies, and the bike shift lever in the showerhead mount. Sauer earns his living designing aircraft interiors for Boeing, but we wish he'd spend more time designing spaces down here on the ground.
A website called Plastic Bag Ban Report documents that trend (encompassing paper bags, too) with a grinding regularity. Last month, L.A.'s City Council voted "No store shall provide a plastic or paper single-use carryout bag to a customer." This month, Santa Fe got plastic bags banned and attached a fee to paper bags. Now Laredo, Texas and Vail, Colorado are mulling over similar policies.
Just yesterday, an interesting development in recycling—one that you're bound to have mixed feelings about—as brought to our attention. As more individual businesses and municipalities are starting to ban both paper and plastic bags, or impose fees to discourage their use, it's pissing off a certain group of people. No, not consumers. Recyclers.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, or ISRI, yesterday fired a blast out of their e-mail gun stating "Policymakers are banning bags and creating fees without considering the real impact on recycling, and the recycling industry... Rather than bans and fees that take away jobs and increase costs to consumers, policy makers should take advantage of the great economic and environmental opportunities associated with responsibly recycling these bags." They followed this up with some surprising statistics:
In an earlier post, I commented on how Japanese children at the school where I worked were taught to pitch in with recycling. But I failed to mention a rather strange counterpoint, emblematic of that country's bewildering contradictions: One day a horrific smell wafted over the campus. I went outside to investigate, and discovered that a farmer in the lot adjacent to the school was burning an enormous pile of tires. The wind carried the vile, black smoke all over the school and the playing grounds. I asked a teacher about this and he shrugged. "There is no place to put them," he said.
I've since learned tires can of course be re-molded and re-treaded. But I had no idea how labor- and energy-intensive it was until I saw this video. Those of you who are into molding will enjoy seeing how the mold comes apart/together around 3:15. I also dug watching how they remove the flashing, and that inflatable thingy that serves as the mold's core:
The amount of man-hours that goes into each tire, not to mention the one-hour-plus molding time, is staggering. But what I found most surprising was that despite all of that energy burned, re-molding is still 30 to 60% cheaper than creating the tire from scratch.
There's a reason demolitionists use explosive charges to take buildings down: Abject destruction is a relatively quick way to dismantle rebar-reinforced concrete. But boy does it create one helluva mess to clean up:
Smaller-scale demolition techniques require massive machinery to pulverize buildings chunk by chunk, while workers spray the destruction with a steady stream of water to keep the dust down. The resultant mess is then carted off, load by load, to landfill or a recycling center tasked with the difficult chore of separating metal rebar from the concrete fragments.
Omer Haciomeroglu, from Sweden's Umea Institute of Design, won Gold in the Student Designs category for his ERO Concrete Recycling Robot. Haciomeroglu's excellent concept not only takes buildings down in an energy-efficient way, but it systematically recycles as it goes along. "In order to overcome later separation and ease the transport of materials," writes Haciomeroglu, "the process had to start with separation on the spot. It was a challenge to switch from brutal pulverizing to smart deconstruction."
Canadian citizen Ann Makosinski has been interested in alternative energy sources for at least four years. Which is to say, since the sixth grade. Fifteen-year-old Makosinski, now in the tenth grade, has just become one of 15 finalists in the 2013 Google Science Fair competition, as she's invented an LED flashlight powered by nothing more than the heat from your hands.
Most impressively, she built it out of parts she ordered on eBay and bought at Home Depot, with the exception of an aluminum tube her father acquired from a university machine shop. Check it out:
Sure, it might not be bright enough to dazzle a helicopter, but the fact that it requires zero batteries, and that Makosinski was able to compose a working prototype for just $26 Canadian, indicates she's onto something. Can't wait to see what her senior year project is!
It's strange that what we in developed nations think of as a recreational activites, like camping and/or grilling, mimic the real-world living conditions of those in developing nations. But that can lead to some interesting design crossovers. A good case in point is the SolSource, a solar cooking grill originally designed and tested with nomads living on the Himalayan Plateau, where there isn't a lot of firewood, fuel-gathering is a chore, and the burning produces unhealthy smoke.
Having proven its mettle under rugged real-world conditions, the SolSource is now making its way to the rest of us via Kickstarter.
Everyday, SolSource cooks food for large Himalayan families. It withstands sand storms, wind, snow, and -40 degree temperatures. We've used it around the world, from grilling Kobe beef on the streets of Japan to making popcorn on the Mall in Washington, DC. Just point it towards the sun and start cooking. As long as you can see your shadow, you are good to go!
The SolSource was designed by One Earth Designs, a San-Francisco-based outfit "dedicated to bringing better energy options to people around the world." To that end company founders Scot Frank and Catlin Powers have been working with rural communities in the Himalayas since 2007, and they formed the company last year to design clean energy technologies.
Following the relatively quick success of the SolSource, the company—which has since expanded to 18 employees covering R&D, Sales & Marketing, Business & Operations, Admin and H&R—went to Kickstarter to dig up $43,000 for tooling and a proper production line.
For those of us living in the developed world, the simple act of cooking doesn't require much: You turn on the stove, and leave it on for as long as it takes to cook whatever you're preparing. But for those in developing nations, simply leaving a pot of anything on the boil can lead to disasters both ecological and humanitarian.
In developing countries, the basic need to feed a family has huge challenges: Staple diets require long cooking times, yet there is little access to energy and water. Lack of clean fuel means using charcoal or tree-wood for cooking. Cooking over a charcoal or wood fire means smoke inhalation. Little income to afford charcoal means cutting down trees. Cutting down trees results in deforestation as communities quickly use the tree wood around them, digging up the roots when desperate. Deforestation leads to foraging further afield, which is done by women and also girls, often taken out of school. Foraging as far as 5-10 km per day leaves women open to violence. Poverty will not end if girls don't have time for school, women spend 4-6 hours of their day cooking, and the environment is ravaged.
As you might remember from earlier posts like this one or this one, an intense amount of woodworking used to go into furniture designed to hold sewing machines. But these beautiful cabinet-desks are now largely unneeded, and it is not uncommon for sewing machine collectors to literally break these things up and use them as firewood.
A similar object with a similar problem is the stand-up piano. Once the proud, previously-expensive possession of many a pre-radio music-loving family, these are now literally being given away on Craigslist. And after reading an article about how one Oregon furnituremaker was attempting to repurpose them, Instructables user phish814 got an idea of his own. "This project," he explains, "solves the dilemma of not having adequate workspace in an apartment or other venue in which an unsightly workbench would look out of place."
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously embarked on a mission to only eat meat that he'd killed himself—an achievable goal when you're a dot-com millionaire and have the resources to set up the logistics. Brooklyn-based designer Martina Fugazzotto, however, is a woman of more humble means who set a slightly different quest for herself: She would grow her own food. First on a balcony, then in a concrete backyard in Brooklyn.
Though she's a designer, Coroflotter Fugazzoto is one of our brethren in Graphics/Web/Digital rather than Industrial; that being the case, she doesn't have that closet some of us ID'ers have to keep physical objects we've worked on. And though she enjoys her 2D design work, "At the end of the day, there's nothing that physically exists that I've made," she explains.
Feeling that void led her to start a garden, where she could exchange physical toil for the reward of bringing something three-dimensional into existence. "I needed something more tangible, something that was so much more real in the world," she says. Working out of a tiny concrete plot behind her Brooklyn building, Fugazzotto soon branched out (pun! Sweet!) from houseplants into vegetables.
Love 'em or hate 'em, there's no denying that Nooka has pioneered a design language unto itself. Founder Matthew Waldman and his team have successfully reinvigorated a familiar form factor with novel UI elements to essentially remix the wristwatch for the digital age and beyond. But if his latest venture seems like a radical departure, it's worth noting that it's not the first time he's explored eco-conscious design: back in 2010, they unveiled a packaging design that can be reused as tupperware.
Indeed, Waldman cites Nooka's experimental packaging—as well as their 2012 Dieline Award winner—in the Kickstarter pitch for his latest venture. We can only imagine that the concept behind his new product, Pothra (rhymes with Godzilla's sometime nemesis), was a virtuous cycle of coffee-fueled ideation about what to with the coffee grounds. (There must be a joke about a watched pot never boiling, but your humble editor happens to be a bit overcaffeinated to focus on punning at the moment.)
It's definitely food for thought (or rather, food waste for thought), though I'm curious as to whether there are other benefits or disadvantages to using coffee grounds They're certainly a staple of household compost systems, but I imagine the resin precludes the possibility that the raw materials might be converted into fertilizer. Conversely, they note that they're looking to use biodegradable resin, which raises questions about the lifespan of the product.
Detail - each Pothra is unique, depending on the roast of the beans
The EU-funded SPREAD project on sustainable lifestyles in Europe in 2050 has come to an end, and all deliverables are now available.
Check out the videos: short movies present what sustainable living can look like in 2050 through the lens of promising sustainable living practices that already exist today, while video scenarios envision future societies that support more sustainable living.
In design school these days, we've gone so far around the 'sustainability' bend that it seems like the word might have lost meaning all together. That's why whenever we see a unique take on the cradle-to-cradle conversation; it's a breath of fresh air. The most recent addition to the canon of sustainable design comes from the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design's Hannah Dow, in her senior BFA thesis project cleverly entitled, Temp Tools.
I created Temp Tools aiming to stir up the conversation about the complete life cycle of objects; Thinking about where our items go once they leave our house in a garbage bag. I hope that with Temp Tools, I can get people thinking about other things they own that could be designed in a similar way as the tools, with sustainability in mind.
Hannah has been developing the tool line, consisting of a skewer to roast marshmallows or hotdogs, a spatula, and a shovel for nearly 8 months. Each tool in the line can be fitted to a stick to be used as a makeshift handle and will fully degrade in nature leaving only flower seeds in its wake. While sustainable design will never embrace the 'hey, just toss it out' mentality, maybe we can still do a little guilt-free littering with our Temp Tools.
We asked Hannah to share with us some insights into both the material exploration and product development leading to Temp Tools:
Core77: How did you develop a composite material strong enough to create a durable 'temp tool'?
Hannah Dow: The material the tools are made of is what comprised my first four months of the project. After trying to find a man-made, biodegradable, strong material that I could purchase and coming up empty-handed, I realized I needed to do my best at making whatever it was that I wasn't getting elsewhere. The composite material is completely natural and biodegradable after use and strong and rigid during its role as a tool. If put into production the tools would be made using a 3-4 part mold seeing that the material is a kind of liquid wood mixture.
Of all the things other companies might copy from Apple, we wish it would be this: Apple has announced that they've achieved their 100% renewable energy target for all of their data centers, as well as their campuses in Austin (Texas), Elk Grove (California), Cork (Ireland), Munich (Germany), and their homebase in Cupertino.
A combination of geothermal, wind, and solar—like their 100-acre solar farm next to their Maiden, North Carolina data center, pictured below—provide all the juice these facilities need, obviating the need for coal. Their latest data center, currently under construction in Oregon, will reportedly add hydropower to the list.
What's staggering is how quickly the company was able to ramp up their alternative energy sources. In 2010 just 35% of Apple's worldwide energy usage came from renewable sources; now they're at 75%, if you add up all of their corporate facilities around the world. "We expect that number to grow as the amount of renewable energy available to us increases," the company writes. "We won't stop working until we achieve 100 percent throughout Apple."
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.