In an idealistic version of ID, you'd never set out to design "a pair of headphones;" you'd aim to design "a way people can hear their music, hands-free, while performing a variety of activities." In other words you'd start with the problem and design the solution with no predetermined form factor. In the real world, of course, chances are slim you'll have this luxury when your firm is contracted by a company in the business of making headphones.
Design competitions, on the other hand, hew more to that ideal state of ID. The danger there is that absent hardnosed clients and budget constraints, rigor goes out the window and the fanciful predominates.
But industrial designer Nick Ross' entry in the James Dyson Award, the Axolotl Selective Bio-Harvester, hits that sweet spot: It attacks the problem of deforestation based on rigorous research, not just preconceptions, and the proposed solution is meant to solve that problem the way an industrial designer would solve it.
What I mean by that last part is this: A protestor tries to solve deforestation by chaining themself to a tree. An environmentalist activist might organize rallies. A town council might ban logging and force companies to go log some other town's forest. A materials scientist might try to develop a viable alternative to wood. But what Ross did was design something that comes out of a factory and does the existing job in an entirely different way, one that changes the impact of the job itself. "Instead of directing this project in a 'save the rainforest' protest, I opted for a realizable and commercially viable solution," Ross explains. "I felt this would increase the possibilities that my research and concept could become a viable solution that would benefit the forestry industry as well as the forest."
First, the research part. Ross, who hails from New Zealand, spent roughly four months in Sweden immersing himself in the practical issues of deforestation:
I collaborated with 9 Swedish forestry companies. I organized various seminars during the project in which I invited company representatives, machinery operators and forest owners. A variety of research methodology was implemented, including on site ethnography of machine operators, multiple interviews with environmental and forestry specialists and field visits to witness current damage and effects. Throughout the entirety of the project my findings and conclusions were validated by the various people involved. The entire process was documented and compiled into a thorough report that was made available following presenting the research and final concept to a well received audience made up of representatives from all regions of the industry.
Secondly, the proposed solution Ross developed, much better explained in video:One thing the video does not explicitly mention during the animated demo: That green log, the "bio-log" made from compressing and bundling up the removed branches, is meant to be used immediately as fuel by the vehicles on-site.
A New Zealand news source reports that Ross' entry "won" the James Dyson Award, which we believe is a misprint; they likely meant Ross' concept has been shortlisted, as the announcement of the National Winners won't be announced until the end of August.