You are on page 1of 9

ign,we find that the equivalent in our

I iives a better soif hall-cleaninq DeS ia nin a a

SU inab 1 e WOrld
chine already exista, or is on its way, and
niiting for us to e i r a c e it and chaige
!world. AS

. . The critica1 issue-forpeople, o$ganizations,

and gowrnments alike-is knowing where
, ; we want to be. The imaginary, an,alternative
cultural vision, is vital in shaping expecta-
tions and driving transfomational change.
Shared visions act as forces of ipnovation,
and what designers can do-what we al1 can
do-is imagine some situation or condition
that does not yet exist but describe it in suf-
ficient detail that i t appears to be a desir-
able new version of the'real world.
John Thackara, In the Bubble

r For better or for worse, the material

stuff that surrounds us shapes our lives.
Pmducts have bmught what is arguably the
zenith of human comfort to thoqe who can
afford them. We're knee-deep in nseful things
such as refrigerators and qualib footwear,
y@we're also laden with the detritus of the
last generation of objehs. The &riphery of
our comfort zone is lined with waste.
The fact that al1 stuff-every
ballpoint pen, every pairof flip-flops-was
made with intention is almost as astound- . ,
ing as the sheer number of things amund
the world. Some designer ensured that it
would take scarcely any thought to use our
'z:pTI;!?.q;*" ' . ;!
A u S
+Y%>; B3

esign, we find that the equivalent in our

vn lives of a better qoif
- hall-cleaninq- O es i inU a
~achinealready exists, or is on its way, and
S waiting for us to embrace it and change
he world. A S
~ustiinab~ WorId

The critica1 issue-forpeople, organizations,

and governments alike-is knowing where
we want to be. The imaginary, a n alternative
cultural vision, is vital in shaping expecta-
tions and driving transformational change.
Shared visions act a s forces of innovation,
and what designers can do-what we al1 can
do-is imagine some situation or condition
that does not yet exist but describe it in suf-
ficient detail that it appears to be a desir-
able new version of the real world.
John Thackara, In the Bubble

<>.di For better or for worse, the material

stuff that surrounds us shapes our lives.
Products have brought what is arguably the
zenith of human comfort to those who can
afford them. We're knee-deep in useful things
such as refrigerators and quality footwear,
yet we're also laden w'th the detritus of the
last generation of objects. The periphery of
our comfort zone is lined with waste.
The fact that al1 stuff-every
ballpoint pen, every pair of flip-flops-was
made with intention is almost a s astound- -
ing a s the sheer number of things around
the world. Come designer ensured that it
would take scarcely any thought to use our

TmnCglass, designed by Emma Woofenden a n d Tord

Baontle, 1s glassware made from recycled wine a n d

coffee percolator. While we weren't paying
attention, the designy also made sure that ecological impact is detennined a t the
it would look embarrabsingly out-of-date as design stage, so in this seeming chads is a
soon a s possible. This habit of designing f or vast, often untapped opportunity forlsmart-
obsolescence, using+centuries-ol$manu- er, more ef f ective design.
facturing technologieb, has created a huge One thing that product designers
set of challenges. We could resolve them have that architects lack is speed: th4ngs '
by collectively renouncing al1 but the most can be cranked out in a fraction of tde timm
basic of material comforts. Alternatively, it takes for a building to be dweloped, The
we could accept the status quo. But while field of product design has also wolved
one approach seems retrograde, doomed quickly. In 2000, the well-known science-
to failure, the other is simply unthinkable. fiction author and renowned design vision-
Perhaps our ticket to a better, more sustain- ary Bruce Cterling released his "Viridian .
able future is to do what human beings do
best, given the chance-design our way out
of the conundrum.
The inventor Edwin Land once re- festo appealed for "intensely glamorous en-
ferred to creatiw acts such a s design, a s a
"sudden cessation of stupidity." The twenty-
first century has akeady see&a huge wave sheer gorgeousness, that would establish
of such moments, and we have had the a market in which buying unsustaintible
opportunity to make designed things more products would amount to fashion sdcide.
sustainable. We're nof lacking in creative Leas than a decade later, Cterling's vibion is
acts, ideas, or stratedes: we have them in coming to fruition.
spades. Qurgreateri bhallenge lies in h i t - Demand for truly ecofriendlp prod- .
ting al1 of these together. ucta is now growing so fast designe* can't
Product design isn't merely archi- keep up. Well into the 1990s, ecologic'ally re-
tecture for small t b b s : it's a field in which sponsible furniture amounted to little more
a whole set of dynamic and unpredictable than globs of recycled plastic melted into
Qactorsmust be considered. We manufac- the shape of chaira and sofas; today there's
&re consumer objeots by the thousands, a good chance that a sleek, top-of-theiline
and we release them into the world like office chair might be the most ecolo~ically.
flocks of birds. Today'b product designer reaponsible choice.
often has little control over where these Most of the green products on the
objects go, how they are actually used, shelf today are mere half-steps, metaphori-
whether they get haclked, axed, or modi- cal referencee to sustainability. A salar
fied, and how they're diaposed of when they cell-phone charger ehould be more than
1 ' ,

make decisions to b*, to demand, to repair,

an ecosensitive sheen. It should be made, orto opt out.
aaed, and retired with biological clwemess Design guru >ohn Thackara writes:
and tic lightest of impacts. Tiny, hesitant "We've built a technology-focused society
impnvements are a terrific way of perpetu- that is remarkable on means, but hazy
ating brolken system, but many of the com- about ends. It's no lopger clear to which
question al1 this stuff-tech-is a n an-
swer, or what value it adds ta our lives." If
we atep back from the aurfeit of stuff, we
can see the systems for change orbiting
We must bring about a full-scale around us, but only i$ we get involwd will
they be able to mainbain their momentum.
We decide whether ty share things with a u r
neighbors or hoard them in the attic. We're
' Shce,the mid-1990s, crafly ecodesign has the ones who can altgr our clothing, custom-
ize our furniture, an&ihoose to uae things
and clean. We now know how to t u r n un- for years longer than is expected. Rather
than waiting for gre$n products to appea?-
stamped, sanetioned: and ready-we can
demand them, or cre4te' them ourselvetl. o 0
,.hediaassembled and made anew. We can I


In the Bsrbble by John Thackara

(MIT Press, 200s)
aide their punriew, thereby failing to play John Thackara has been tracing the cutting edge of
design and sustainability long enough tTsee how
our cultivated%bsessions with technology actually
operate on a grand scal Rather than microscopes,
he contends, we need 'fnacroscopes" to see the
able to come up with great solutions f or the patterns and irnplications of al1 our small design
complex challenges that humana create, yet decisions. Design e.Josts,'after all, to serve human
ends, and some of Thacjtqa9s most compelling
and critica1 ideas focus Qnthe concept of design-
ing less for technology
more for people.
t ,
il I /I

1 -

' . Opposite, le& These 100 pment recyclable Dalsouple

- . rubber floorihg tiles are pm$ttced in a system that recycles
. almost aii of the waste gene&ted during manufacturea
Opposite, right:These hay and resin garden chairs de-
signed by Jurgen Bqr for Dmog Deeign can be composted at
the end of their lifespan.
Left: This David Hertz-deaigqed coffee table is made using
' Cyndecrete,a compositema$ from natural mineral6 and
recycled mateniala. I
. ,, .
ii ! T


"Although many ptople perceive design

to be al1 about appearances, design is not just
about the way things look. Design is also about
the way things are used; how they are cornmuni-
cated to the world; and the way they are pro-
duced. The dance of the big ahd the small entails
' a new kind of design. It imdves a relationship
between subject and objeot ind a commitrnent to
think about the c o n s e q u e ~ of
c ~design actions be Iike? Whfit would you eat, what clothes r
before we take them, in a stite of mind-design would you wear? If you went out today, wodd
mindfulness-that values p l p , time, and cul- you know how to buy-much less create-sus-
tural-difference." ! tainable products?
' I
Eternally Youn:Time in De& by Ed van Hinte
(o10 Publishers, 200s) a

Durability and endurance create interesting

enough chalienges to have preoccupied rhe polluting methods?"
Eternally Yours Foundation for eight years. Their Datschefski is a real enthvsiast for .
work is characterized by radically i v v a t i v e en- sustainable alternatives-as well as a passionate
gineering, as well as the sortlof delicious Dutch-
product design that edges into conceptual art.
They celebrate the objects we want to keep in our
possession, and they wrestleawith the paradoxes
of longevity: long-lasting thiiigs can mean less things must be cyclic, solar, and safe; that an
consumpti~n-os the preservation of mistakes. object's total beauty must not be underrninecfby
This book is the result: a luxurious, hidden impacts-are a refreshing rerninder t v t
distinctive little publicatian bound in embossed products need not be complicated to be effeccive.
, gold foil, with an exquisite tjinding that exudes Casting a wide net in his estimation~.
care and preciousness. You'll want to keep over objects as well as buildings and food- .
which is exactly the pbidt. Datschefski contends that almost al1 environ- '
mental destruction is related in some way to ''
rcoDesi$n: n>e Souvcebook by Alastair Fuad-
Luke (Chronicle Books, zbo8)
Although as of yet there is no such +ing as a
truly sustainable product on .the market, Alastair
Fuad-Luke's ecoDesign (7h.d Eco-Design Hand-
book: A Complete Sourcebook for the Home and cally toward the future.
.: ., Ofice in its second edition) js a pragmatic look
at the current approaches, including everything
from multifunctional furniture to innovative
materials, solar gizmos, and ~energy-efficient
refrigerators. His is the one ynd only source-
book to catalog the various attempts at making
sustainable products-as we¶1as the materials,
organizations, and designers responsible for
the prototypes. Heavy on pictures and light on

eory, ecoDesign celebrates any an every ap-
proach to austainable produkt desig , even if the
results are marginal. ThoUgh it cleariy iííustrates w p e t , which comes in up to eighty-one different cola
- how much farther we have ty go, &e sourcebook endless design combinations.
> . .
8 ,

Al1 good intentions,become null
and void when thinga cease to work, so
objects such a s electronilcs need to be
stable enough to functiofi-to say nothing
of surviving a n onslaug4t of hungry
insects. Crushed sunfloqer shells can make
great coffee tables, but they make really
terrible solar panels. Withdut plastics,
we'd have neither pacempkers nor drip

is a matter of what we do with the material8

i ,
nitrogenous or overfertiiized soil, they might be
able to offer an intkr&ting solution to some of
Europe's agricultura1problems.

' ,

ing shape as viewers move kqund them. Thom

Faulders lined a listening r+n;l with NASRs
memory foam, a material 1Snpi neglected because it
failed to withstand e x t r a 6 tqnperatures in space
thvty years ago. Down heri on earth, our feet
leave deep, clear footprints icfoss Faulders7sroom.
And what about natiiraf daylight, es-
sential to the happiness of building occupants?
Besides skylights and lightitubes, a roof can be
lined with translucent Aer gel. The lightest sub-
stance-onearth, it works a,s a champion inkulator,
while 6itering daylight. There are even ways to
of electroluminescent vines embed- bring natural light into thi unlit .rooms of older
or much larger buildings, by chameling real sun-
light from rooftop collecto S into dark interior
spaces many stories below! We can sit in a patch
of sun in a basement rooq aSidwatch as the'light
shífts with the cloud coved ,

five times lighter than purj gluminum. Working

on the same principie, Axetf'?hallemer's inflat-
able Airtecture structures :eplace matter with air.
Airtecture supports whole rooflines and bears
a building's load with air pressure, fabric, and
various engineer&g heroici.
A reminder that tliere's far more inven-
tion out there than we can even begin to keep track
of, Transmaterialis a guidejto the posible. oo

m' in&allations. Sachiko Kodarna

Takeno created their Prohrrde, Flow b
Design and Environment: Global Guide to
Desigtzing Gmener Goods,by Helen Lewis, John
Gertsaki, et al. (~reenleak2001)
Designbg for sustainabiliq means building

energy absofiers, used to pmted car

bridges between disciplines abd praenting
solutions in languages that,are foreign to most
designets. So theie is a critica/ space for bwks
on sustainable design that fill F a t reaim: an-
notated, n~mbered,cross-linMed, and brinmiing
with frameworks. Design 4 Environrnent is,
somewhat paradoxically, aiddeplypractica1 aca-
demic book, targeted at the-$sinesspeople and
managers who make so m ny of the decisions
abour our. material culture, ,I
"Designers are at the significant
point of conjunction between technological
and cultliral worlds. They ar4 therefore in a
privileged position to captiud and act on signals
for changk." T


Related Interests