The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.
By Arash Shirinbab
Eight years ago I had my first opportunity to engage as a product designer when I worked on an industrial meat grinder. My client had sold a completely functional grinder that had “naked” mechanical parts; I was brought on to “cover” it for more appeal to new younger customers.
Moreover, he wanted to solve current safety problems by adding automatic features to the product. I was taught to be proud of myself as a problem solver improving people’s lives and was eager to design a new product based on the design process I just learned. I did needs-finding research, idea generation, secondary research, detailed design, rendering and modeling. I was overconfident about my new design and my neat presentation to the client. Alas, it was a disaster for me due to last minute changes in our client’s budget: the project was cancelled and my “child” wasn’t born to be mass produced.
Until just last year I remembered that project with regret. However, today thinking back I am so glad our grinder wasn’t mass produced. How could my mind change so dramatically in one year? The secret is in my studies at CCA: MBA in Design Strategy with focus on Sustainability.
Before this program and having classes on sustainability I would care merely about designing new, innovative and beautiful things. Sustainability was then a general term for environmental issues, especially the impact of our industries and technology on nature – things environmentalists, politicians, and economists should take care of – not a designer.
But now I am learning sustainability is so much broader than tackling environmental issues. It deals with almost every aspect of human life, and tries to make natural, social, and economic systems better for us and for the future of human beings. To be sustainable we have to rethink everything and address people, culture, desires, environmental, and financial issues all together. We have to redesign things with an appreciation for and understanding of how various environmental, financial, and social systems interacts with each other.
With this vision, successful design is not just the innovative one; it is the one that weaves creativity with responsibility. It is careful and considered. It responds to all stakeholders, as well as market, environment, society, culture, and context. Designers have important role in designing sustainable objects and making everyday products green.
According to my own experience in DMBA this can happen through education. Previously, in design school I learned to focus mostly on creativity, market, and client’s requests; and in my industrial meat grinder project I just considered these issues and did not know how to see the bigger picture. However, now I can understand how un-green that product was! Although it would solve some of the users’ problems, it would make problems for existing stakeholders as well as future generations. It would use about 40% more stainless steel material than before, and needed more complex technology and equipment to be produced. To make the case worse, about 20% of the material for its parts was going to be PVC which is one of the worst plastics for the environment and humans; and the production, use and disposal of it is a leading source of dioxin fallout in the environment.
The good news is there are some design schools today that pay attention to sustainable issues, the less than good news is designing green products is not still the first priority for most designers. Valerie Casey, Executive Creative Director of Frog Design, writes: “Our first green products must be ourselves.” We need to change the designers’ mind in order to make real changes in sustainability issues.
We can make no better higher-leverage investments for the future than improving the quality of designers’ mind-ware through education. Every product that is manufactured would make a massive chain of effects on people which has started from its designer’s mind. The better the designer thinks the more s/he cared about environment and society, the more the product will be socially and environmentally friendly and the more it affects positively the life of users. If we can teach designers to think green and use some simple green principles in design process we can reduce great amount of impacts on the environment and society, and can make products and services more sustainable.
So, are you a green designer? These five basic principles of sustainable design can be a good starting point:
1. Design for quality and durability
2. Design for reuse and recycling
3. Design for disassembly
4. Use low-impact materials
5. Use energy efficient manufacturing processes