How much room is there for a sustainable designer?

Well, not at first, and I stick by my definition of sustainability, but that’s more of a semantics game. I do agree with everything in that last post of yours. I just started reading this book called the green marketing manifesto, and it points out that while it is easy to feel frustrated, it also means that the earth is so goofed up, that really anything you do makes a difference.

There is room for innovation in everything, which is hard because a lot of designers need at least a little parameters to stay on task. And as we all know the best work comes from companies that encourage big risks and allow for colossal failure. So we goofed the ethanol thing, biodiesel looks a little more promising.

Right now I’m helping to build a cloth diaper company. I’ve had a designer tell me diapers aren’t industrial design, which was a bit of a blow, but at least its a product I can get behind.

How prevalent is the “long-lasting” product idea though? It seems like anymore, products are NOT designed to last forever. Items from the 40’s and 50’s have been mentioned, but I don’t see any of today’s recent products being used that long.

Basically, I’m at this point:

I want to make innovative products and/or create new ideas that actually serve a worthwhile purpose. Not just another cell phone or chair or whatever, but something that accomplishes something significant.

for example, There’s a new blowdryer that I’ve heard about, and supposedly it uses air jets of air at 400 mph, and uses only half the energy of a traditional dryer. I can’t seem to find a link though.

My point is that I want to be designing stuff that serves a purpose and in some way accomplishes something. I have ideas for everyday things that streamline the use of it and conserve resources.

So I ask:

Is ID really the right field for me?

Will a degree in ID actually help me with starting my own company to do this sort of work? Will I learn more than how to sketch and design the aesthetics and usability? It seems like art skills are the primary skill of a great IDer, as opposed to having great new innovative ideas. Is this an accurate assessment?

basically: for me, form follows function, and function follows purpose. I don’t want to create a product unless it serves a legitimate purpose. does this count only traditional industrial design, the majority or industrial design, or absolutely everything related to the profession?

all these questions about ID, and it still seems like you don’t want to be a designer…

ID is about making products. things. some of them can have an opportunity to make things better, some are styling, and some are more innovative than others. the fact of the matter is that without paying your dues, and doing some of the more standard type of ID stuff (making those “things” you don’t like), you wont likely get very far.

you will need to sketch, you will need to create innovative solutions, and you should appreciate the art and thinking that go into all products. from the sounds of it, this doesn’t seem something you are interested in, and if so, i’d forgo ID as a career.

as for stuff that lasts longer, I believe this can be achieved to an extent in any product. just by having good design alone, can add value to the product. not everything is going to change the world, but if you can design a good bottle opener for $10 that looks great, is easy to use, who says it can’t be the one bottle opener that someone buys and keeps forever, instead of some cheaper one that is tossed out in the trash. disposability is a mindset, not just a functional thing. innovation isn’t just functional either, but can also be artistic. as an example, look at some alessi stuff. nothing ground breaking in function, but i’m pretty sure if you were to buy or get as a gift a starck juicer, you’d keep it forever and it would become an object that inspires and starts conversations (although isn’t so hot at juicing).


look up the Dyson Air-blade hand dryer.

get a Ivy league ME then MBA. You wont be able to call the shots otherwise.

First off, yes to everything rkuchinsky said.

Maybe a better question would be is there room for a non-sustainable designer. True we are at the beginning of this movement, again, but I think this time it may be sticking. See any of the discussions on green, esp those with zippy.

In the future I am hoping that not being attuned to environmental stewardship will be like not being able to offer ergonomic considerations, or like not really understanding user experiences. We don’t need a guy that knows only sustainability that you run to after the fact to help green up your item, we need to all know it and be thinking “hey, here’s how this fits your hand, what you will feel like emotionally when you use it, and that it won’t make you sick by off gassing and won’t sit in a pile in the ground.”

The problems we are facing and trying to solve as designers, have been ingrained into everyone living in the western world if not the whole world for at least the last 100 years.we have been removing the planets resources and then throwing them away just as fast as we removed them.

There is nothing we can do that will ‘fix’ the problems we have created but there is alot we can do to try and change our ways and minimize the damage that has been done.we are going to have to scarfice the lifestyle we have become accustomed to “want want want = get get get”.

Sacrifice is a word that does not seam to be part of the modern language or societies. we have been sold an ideal world by advertisments and fashion culture.but it is now coming into the mainstream that the advertising and sales dream we have been living isn’t a dream at all.

The whole system we live in needs to change to be truly sustainable.

we are currently’ Ivy’ growing as fast we can with no regard for anything else blocking out the sun light to everything living around us.
When really we should be like the ants working together socially to benefit everybody and everything including the habitat around us. Ants give back the nature they don’t take away.

As designers we can make a difference we at the beginning of the design process so we can change things. but the main obstacles that we face are the big corporations (££££) and the consumer stuck in the habit of cheep disposable products.

like everything it will take time hopefully it wont take too long

Not surprisingly, I land in the same court as Richard here. A neglected part of sustainability is the durability aspect… instead of making things recyclable, making them indestructable.

Currently this does not exist much at the lower tiers of products because consumers have not asked for it. For example, my father-in-law wanted a new watch, but he wanted the cheapest watch possible. He bought a $17 digital watch, loaded with hard to use features, that is falling apart afte 2 months. I also needed a new watch, but I wanted it to last. I bought a Swatch about 6 months ago and it still looks brand new. It has one feature, it tells time (and is classically simple) and I think it will last (ironically it was designed to be disposable, but the battery is so easy to change, that doesn’t make sense).

There are plenty of products that fall into this category, especially simple housewares and small electronics. If you move up the chain just a little bit and get a decent krups toaster, it will last a long time.

That said I certainly understand Carton’s point of view. At first glance electric, ethanol, or hydrogen might seem like magic bullets, but in truth none of them are. As global demand for mobile power (ie car juice) increases, the solution might be regional. Maybe an efficient, sustainable, easy to make fuel for China is different from North America, and from Europe, though similar enough as to be in the same vehicles, streamlining the production of cars and making that more efficient.

I get where Asango is coming from as well. If we wait to get that perfect solution to be worked out we might be screwed beyond all recognition, so we have to start. Men landed on the moon with tin foil and their best guesses. The did the math by hand. Surely we could start making progress on some of this stuff.

the north has great points, though I semantically prefer the word “prioritize” over sacrifice. Sacrifice implies just giving something up, while prioritize implies that you are making a choice, you would rather have this than that.

i think we can all agree that it is as complicated as man/bear/pig.

Keifer. No one here will be able to tell you if ID is right for you. You will have to read objectively and make the best guess possible. You will grow and change a lot in college. Guessing on that is a bit of a crap shoot. Make your most educated guess and corse direct as you go. Good luck to you.

Design is not a static thing. It bends to the values, goals, opinions, etc. of the designer. I think that is one of the things designers like, being able to bring some of their personal thoughts to a product or problem. So there is no generic reason why a person who wishes to focus on sustainable design can not do so.

Will 4+ years of an ID program help you become more knowledgeable about how to be sustainable when you design and how to convince others to believe in your view? It will help, but not a lot. Generally speaking, I think that the university based programs will give you a better foundation than the Art and Design schools but I doubt you will leave any program and that day know how to correctly make every choice designers must make in terms of sustainability. There is simply too much to know. I believe that several schools offer a degree in sustainable engineering (including Babson) but that is quite a different career path.

More than all of that though, you have to have an internal passion for making better things because, although it looks fun, ID is an extremely challenging discipline to try to learn. The most basic thing, just learning to accurately communicate your vision to others (sketching) can take years to develop. Long frustrating years. And, even those who get a boost by having huge natural talent often stumble as they transition past the challenges of expressing their thought accurately with a pen. The other challenges like: having the ability to conceive of things that people want, convincing people that your vision is correct, being able to navigate the challenges that come in engineering and production without losing that vision. It all takes time, confidence, humility, patience and typically the thing that sees you through the frustrating times is that passion for creating. For wanting to see your vision produced and embraced by the consumer.

As you know, being a designer is not the only way to make a difference. I am not sure it is the right path if you do not have that passion for creating. I think that is critical.

I imagine that you know this but it seems like the best thing an individual can do at this time is:

  • Avoid eating meat and especially beef (latest issue of E magazine)
  • Avoid air travel (
  • Live close enough to work so you do not have to drive or own an automobile (
  • Avoid buying bottled drinks and packaged foods

Indeed, This is great but their is much more someone can do and it is relatively cheap. The No. 1 place to look is in the home/apartment.

For apartment dwellers.
-Change Lightbulbs to CFL’s
-put a jacket around your water heater
-turn your water heater down to 120 to 140 F
-Jacket the water pipes with insulation that are exposed next to your water heater
-insulate your doors and windows with weather stripping
-attach a rotating spray nozzle to your kitchen sink
-Use lo-flow shower heads (the more expensive the nicer they spray)
-unplug appliances when not in use (to prevent phantom power)

For House dwellers
-do the same stuff but you can later have a energy audit done to find leaks in insulation and air ducts.
-maybe later you can think of retro fitting with energy appliances and solar voltaic cells.

The Key issue these days is energy use. We suck a ton of energy uses from coal. This Coal is blasted from North Carolina mountain top removal which leaves mountains leveled and local kids with chronic asthma. Coal Powered Plants is one of the leading cause of Global Warming.

Using Eco-friendly materials is great but we have to solve our energy problems first. I am sure we could implement different means of energy consumption like on the go energy generating. “Charge your cellphone while you walk!”

  • Nau is back at it. They were bought by H*rny (I’ve been edited!) Toad.

  • I work for a company that prides itself on making ultra-long-lasting products for dogs. Stuff that outlives one dog and is passed on to the next. Sales are still great!

  • Also, I was easily able to source 100% recycled materials for about 15% of our product line for FW08 and beyond. We are working on a new product that will be 90% recyclable (trims not recyclable) through Patagonia’s common threads program.

My take on sustainable design is more focused on a “conquer from within” approach. While it would be great to start a sustainable design firm or design products for a company that only creates green products, that’s a pretty narrow niche. I like to inspire and help facilitate the greening of companies. It is very rewarding!

you can live as virtuous a lifestyle as you want, but it doesn’t mean that everyone else will. sustainable products seem to devolve into a luxury market alot of the time. the rich want their sustainable products like they want their hand knitted rugs, their organic foods, and their designer what have yous. the average man cares as little about sustainability as he cares about good taste.

In the economy of the past 40 years we have had an extremely bizarre set of circumstances which make it cheaper to import new shoddy goods from abroad than to repair quality goods. once (if) the global economy balances out, and or raw materials get more expensive, consumer goods will be worth more. i think we will see a return of careful purchasing, leading to better design and consumers with an eye towards durability. if a toaster costs a day’s pay instead of an hour’s, people will look for one that lasts instead of grabbing the first disposable one out of wal mart with automatic bagel detection and integrated frying basket.

you can live as virtuous a lifestyle as you want, but it doesn’t mean that everyone else will. sustainable products seem to devolve into a luxury market alot of the time. the rich want their sustainable products like they want their hand knitted rugs, their organic foods, and their designer what have yous. the average man cares as little about sustainability as he cares about good taste.

It is true that Green washed items are for people who love to sniff their own farts (South Park) but the common guy, can be educated on the fact that he doesn’t need to spend a lot of money to have “good taste” In fact it is more sustainable and inexpensive to by food from locally grown markets and pick up meat from local business. To be claimed “organic” the farmer has to pay huge registration fees. However, it is free to say, “all natural.” I especially like the fact that I can talk to the person who grows my food and they are happy to show me the fields in which they grow it.

A new, popular movement is the Community Supported Agriculture. Before every growing season, people pay the farmer a fee. Than the farmer uses the money to grow food. Than, every month the farmer delivers the food. This isn’t a grocery bag of vegetables. This is like a crate. The same has started with eggs and milk.
Vintage clothing shops has become a huge rage because of the wild and fun clothes for cheap. People have started community swap and sows to make new clothes out of old.

People are realizing the money they can save by doing improvements on there house. and the old timer who won’t throw out his refrigerator, no matter how many times it breaks, is probably doing us a favor by not throwing it in the dump.

Most luxury goods that claim “sustainable” are green wash and are for people who pay attention. The many average Joes that I know might not know about the benefits of greener lifestyles at first, but they will take the time to make a decision on what is the best route for them.

This movement is an infant of a movement. Some believe it will become the next Industrial Revolution. Right now people are very new to the subject so it easy for them to be swayed towards green wash.
It is true with most of the people I have worked with in the office of Sustainability Initiative. that we go through times of hopelessness and depression to optimistic excitement.