Petrochemical Incident Design

There is something missing from the discussion of the oil event in the Gulf. Something that directly relates to all of us as designers. We are past the stage of trying to figure out an innovative way to plug a hole. We can continue to directly apply our profession in a way that can change the outcome of this disaster.

We design and make things. As designers, we choose the materials and processes to make them. We decide on the product lifetimes, packaging and transportation.

The material that is flowing into the Gulf is the material that forms or powers the vast percentage of what we do. We have a greater responsibility in the ownership of this product than many people in the chain.

Imagine that the captured product was branded, given a logo and an identity. (Insert brainstorm link here) Imagine that the crude oil was refined and the products, gas, oil, plastics, chemicals were kept isolated so that it was not just anonymously consumed along with the rest, but could be intentionally directed to shape the views of the public about consumption. This raw material, branded oil product becomes loaded with meaning and even potentially value.

There are several courses that could be imagined. BP, British Petroleum, could use this design effort in a way to try and put a positive spin on the overly negative one. Products and services could offered that would use this branded oil product in a way that would advance the message of the company. In all likelihood this would be directed at a conservation or environmental message. Like the color green in their logo. Perhaps the branded oil product, BOP would be offered at a reduced price or even free of charge. Free BOP gas for hybrid cars for example. This design funded by BP would be red cell design.

The second way to imagine the product is on the environmental front. Using the branded oil product in products that encourage consumption of less plastic. For example, the logo shows up on products that use 25% less material and uses the captured oil product. Percentage of the proceeds go to conservation or investment in ways to prevent this from happening in the future. Cynical approaches could be to mold plastic tableware and label it with the logo and message and force recognition of disposable comsumption.

The logo, material and fuel that comes from the captured source, anchors the message, it turns the abstract message of conservation into a physical product.

The double edged sword of this is that we must recognize that the tons of plastic products we design, and the tons of fuel that go into the fast, two person cars we sketch and lust after, are our responsibility. This associated a negative quality with almost all of what we design. The challenge is to turn it into a positive, or at least inform the public that a product can be slimmer and trimmer and still be just as good, and civic minded.

The design challenge could almost be thought of as Red Team vs. Blue Team, design for the oil industry, design for the environmental message. That should keep everyone on the political divide properly motivated.

And some skate shoe company can use the branded oil product to make the punk message version. Nike must already be thinking of ways to use this to kick glue free shoes into wider acceptance.