Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Moving from a 'User-centric' to 'Green-centric' designs

The mantra "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle" seems to pervade more and more of the media right now, as the world population realizes the fragility of the state of health of this planet, and the subsequent major adverse effects that would happen if no remedial steps were to be taken. But can design do anything about this state of affairs, and perhaps, just perhaps, if even though it doesn't have a Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point effect, can something be done at the designer's point of view in order to make this world a better place to live in?

One idea that perhaps might just work, is to move away from the concept of user-centred design that seems to be the 'in' thing right now, and really, move into a more 'Green-centric' design. In fact, I would actually say that perhaps being green is in 'fashion' right now, so one might not really think this as something that is something that revolutionary! But before we draw the conclusion that this convergence is just an issue of renaming a particular design-centric approach to product design, I do believe that designers can do their part in more ways than one in order to make products really GREEN!

One idea that I would like to offer is to do away with customised parts for each model of a particular product line, so much so that a few product lines are actually using some common components within the overall make-up of the final products. If I'm not wrong, I have read somewhere that Xerox (I think!) actually did something like this for their product lines of copier machines. So their engineers, when coming out with designs of their copiers, has an explicit intent to enable some components of these copiers to be 'future-proofed' in any newer product models or lines! So old models that have either gone to the junkyard due to wear and tear, or simply being replaced by newer models, would be able to be cannibalised! Cost savings..check, being green...check, faster product 'design-to-market' time...check. Well, I suspect that companies are already doing this, but can we then have even more companies to do this, companies that perhaps this simple business/design model can actually apply, and of which the impact is more public? Like what you may ask? Perhaps we can start off with the pens that we are using! I mean do we really need the fanciful cylindrical plastic outer casings, when the main writing tool is actually the ink-filled cylindrical centre-core!

Or how about our water bottles, the bottles that come along with the purchases of our bottles of Coke, Green Tea, and other drinks! Would it be ok if we have, instead of drink stalls, 'refill' stations instead...stations where a drink consumer would be able to get his refill, without ever the need to buy another bottle. Well there's always a new bottle if he wants to get one, but he would need to exchange it with his old bottle! Is that being a little green, or what!

Another business model that perhaps might just work is something that I had in mind for a couple of months now. You know how when one purchases an electrical appliance from any major appliance store, just like (in Singapore that is) Courts, Best Denki, Harvey Norman, or even in other places, the after sales service is just dependent on the warranty that is provided and perhaps ends there totally! Right? Well how about a better business model, that is both a win-win situation for both seller and consumer, and at the same time, sustainable as a business profitable model and 'green-centric' too!

Hmmm, to know more, stay tuned then!

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