Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Design is the Problem

Design is the Problem Cover

Design is the Problem: The Future of Design Must be Sustainable

In Design is the Problem, Nathan Shedroff examines how the endemic culture of design often creates unsustainable solutions, and shows how designers can bake sustainability into their design processes in order to produce more sustainable solutions. Rosenfeld Media, 2009. Read More >

Just sticking this here mostly so I dont lose track of it. Am just starting a project to do with sustainable design and I wish Nathan Shedrof's book was already out just the contents page is a really helpful framing of the issues but at least there is a webinar next week. If you cant wait here is an interview.

The one thing I dont think he is covering (that I found his site while searching around) is the idea that design REALLY is the problem: innovation, the endless spewing of new fashions and designs. If there was only one mobile phone design (open source) allowed in the world:
1. parts, tooling and efficiency, not to mention costs would improve
2. no more fashion cycles, design for obsolescence
3. many people would customise their own artifact, to add personality
I guess what i just said was the idea behiond the Volkswagen. Does anybody have anything recent/interesting on this subject? Regulators could look at this - what is the environmental cost of having more than one phone design in the world? I've posted before on wartime economy standards in book production. I guess you would need a slightly more Maoist approach to regulation (not light touch).



Mario Vellandi said...

I too am awaiting Nathan's presentation. You can see an older video here: http://tr.im/hw75

Addressing the first item is a hybrid responsibility of both industrial designers and engineering. Indeed, increased components standardization to existing norms (on a product platform and across the industry), and extending new parts' designs for longer product life cycles, makes sense from a business and environmental perspective.

Fashion is a tricky matter in itself as there's a pervasive cultural element to it. What we do need to focus more on is Endurance. Even if the materials and manufacturing are cheap, like in designing for low-income folks, the product has to last. That way it can be handed on to others, and perceived obsolescence is relative to the owner (current and potential).

Agreed on product customization; increase the user experience and decrease the potential for discarding an item due to loss of interest or changing fashion.

paul macfarlane said...

Well said Mario and John.
My question is this: Where can the market forces be pressured? Boycotts are so far a mark of activists. For mainstream to move away from disposable fashion in any sense, something must take its place in desirability. A new celebrity cult--can we imagine the most famous celebrities only wearing three outfits and promoting "less'-then you have to stop the agents from letting designers get to them with freebies to start the avalanche of designer desire.
A huge, famous thing has to start a new cult of desire for simplicity indeed.
Even Think Simple magazine is an example of the exact opposite.
The change must come, surely.
Id do it myself, but nobody cares (thank God) what I wear and have.

John Grant said...

Thanks guys - I think we are onto something - yes people need to be able to express themselves, but that doesnt have to drive excessive production (=sales)? The funny thing is that those who have taken self expression to the extreme tend to have very enduring styles (goths, gilbert & george) - its sort of sad when people feel the need to reinvent their false self presentation (madonna, michael jackson)...?

Nathan Shedroff said...

The main challenge to centralized decision-making (the Moaist approach) is you're always at the whim of luck and ignorance. You could get lucky and have a Steve Jobs determining your device's specifications, or 90% of the time, you could have someone like, well, name any world leader. Centralized approaches aren't Natural and, as such, aren't sustainable. Vital approaches need to balance competition and cooperation, centralization and decentralization, in order to be successful.

Plus, smart organizations need to meet costumers' needs and, fashion aside, these can't (mostly) be met with one device--or one approach to engineering or sustainability.

The only lasting ways to handle this challenge is to rest the natural price of things (such as total cost accounting) and to put these values in the market and let the market optimize them. That's partly the role of government (which is its own design opportunity) and partly the role of society (which designers also have a lot of influence on).

John Grant said...

Hi Nathan, isnt technorati wonderful!

Good to have you here anyway and really looking forward to the book (when is it out?)

It's an interesting debate. Maoism made some pretty spectacular mistakes over agriculture and pig iron smelting that had dramatic impacts on economy and lives. Hard to argue at the moment though that our free market (free for all) approach to light touch regulation is exactly a recipe for good design in both senses either :)

Apple according to Greenpeace is a bit of a shocker and for every good design there has to be 100 bad designs in every meaning of the word bad. Probably mainly for a lack of any broader systems perspective in mainstream design thinking.

If we had a regulatory target to converge on fewer suppliers and more standardised designs there could be some intelligent policy instruments; eg up or out is a good one, you set a target for environmental impacts (eg energy efficiency) and either ban or tax to hell anything that doesnt make the cut. That's already how it works with cars and CO2 in the EU.

I'm not necessarily proposing anything more radical than the wartime standards (eg the UK book economy standard - or the fact there were a very limited number of plane designs). I guess it depends how much you judge the current situation as an emergency, vs a bit of a mess.

I'm seeing a lifecycle analysis guru next week & I might ask him if there would be a way to look at what 'the long tail' and fashion cycles/churn/obselescence in a market like mobile phones costs (in waste, proliferation of parts etc) vs gains (in innovation). Broad brushstrokes. My guess is that if we had half the number of phone models we would probably save more than 10% of the embedded energy & other key measures. With 2B mobile phone handsets in the world...

Was chatting to someone from the Design Council today and the ability for leading edge design thinking (about what is possible, to drive sustainability and other key public agendas) was a very high priority for them

Mostly it's a thought experiment, but we do need some fresh thinking on living well with less; and less choice might be welcomed (vs rationing actual access to mobiles, which would not)?


John Grant said...

Many will have seen this but if not:

The Paradox of Choice features Barry Schwartz in a provocative TED Talk with a different view on social psychology - too much consumer choice makes us unhappy. Not just when you’re buying salad dressing; Schwartz looks at some wider sociological impacts of increased choice. (00:19:48)

barry schwartz ted talk