Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sustainable Design 2.0 - The case for Evolutionary Design - Part 1

I began to revisit my own ideas and reflections about what design is all about recently as I prepare my curriculum in my new work place. One thing that I would like to revisit, and perhaps ‘preach’ about is the whole idea of Sustainable Design, the idea that products are supposed to be self-sustaining, the idea that when one embarks upon the design of any types of products, the role of the designer, or designers, should be to ensure that the product itself would have minimal or no adverse effects on the environment.

However, upon reflection, would these necessarily be good enough? I remember in my 2nd year of work after my graduation, as a young design engineer, this whole notion of ‘Eliminating Waste’ as opposed to ‘Reducing Waste’, was rather new. Propounded by, of course the Japanese, through their eyes of Kaizen or constant improvement, the whole ‘Eliminating Waste’ idea was to look at waste as something to be abhorred. This definitely took designers on a slightly different route towards a more environmentally route in their lines of work, but upon looking back, is the mere elimination of waste sufficient at all? Could perhaps this notion of eliminating waste too was more influenced by humanity’s realisation that they have no more physical and literal space to host their wastes, rather than a noble manifestation of them really wanting to do something about the environment. But I should not dwell on that in this post.

The idea that I would like to put forward is something that I’ve blogged about...this whole idea that Sustainability should be more than just about thinking of the birth-to-grave concept of product design and development. Why not eliminate the idea of the product even dying at all? Could we just design something that perhaps have an almost unlimited lifespan, or at the very least, make it possible for these products to lead a much longer shelf life than they do currently? This notion is something that I’ve coined before as Evolutionary Design - an area of design that perhaps look at the notion that the product is itself ‘growing’, or ‘evolving’, together with its intended users.

One case in point was the Stokke’s bed for babies (my post here), which is a classic example of what creative thinking, and a deeper understanding of how humans grow and evolve, would enable a product to have an (almost) unlimited lifespan, perhaps only governed by human fickleness for newer styles and designs. But then again I’m digressing right now, and perhaps this could also be something that designers could be looking into as new materials and possibilities emerge in these exciting times.

Perhaps what I am propounding now is the whole idea that a product should grow together with its owner, or owners. So on a larger scale, the whole house should be transformable into customisable living spaces, that are easily configured to suit differing needs, over time and space. I think there are already living and work spaces in other parts of the world that are suited for these functionality, and I think it will just be a matter of time before this is a standard practice all over.

And how about product design, the ones that people would usually associate with those practical, day-to-day gadgets? Well I can’t think of one at the moment, but definitely one area that we can look at are items that we take for granted in our day-to-day usage of them, or perhaps those that has the tendency to go out of style. The humble umbrella perhaps, or a modular remote controller! Or how about our shoes, yes our shoes! The challenge would be then to ensure its relevance in this fickle-minded society of ours, where fashion tendencies WILL change over a shorter period of time. But like I said, this is perhaps a secondary component with which the advent of marketing and new technologies can resolve creatively.

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