28 Nov, 2013

What is the future of sustainable design? – open thread

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

As we launch our sustainable design hub, we would like you to share your thoughts on what lies ahead, where innovation is happening and what you’d like us to cover

Designers have shaped every aspect of the world we live in today. From the chair you’re sitting in, to the window you may be peering out of, conscious thought was put into each fine detail of the product’s functionality, appearance and performance. So imagine the power of placing sustainability at the heart of those design decisions, making it a ‘must’ rather than a ‘maybe’ in every product, service or creative solution. The impact could be vast but is action being taken to embed these principles within design and if so, how far has this movement progressed?

Sustainable design is picking up pace but as Adam Aston writes in his latest blog, long development time frames and gaps in knowledge make commercialisation a tough nut to crack. However, innovation in materials, such as wetsuits made from the Mexican shrub, guayule, or the versatile new building material, Zeoform, made from just cellulose and water, is becoming increasingly talked about in the design sphere. Tackling the knowledge gap that exists between designers and the materials they use, will be vital to finding eco-friendly alternatives to the most unsustainable components within supply chains.

It’s not just trained professionals that have the power to influence design though. The open design movement gives citizens the digital tools to create their own products and services and could offer fresh insight and talent. Accessible hardwares and new technologies, such as 3D printing, now allow users to become creators and find their own design solutions. As do initiatives such as the citizen science project, Bee Lab, which calls upon the beekeeping community to develop tools that can be used to gather data on bee health and wellbeing. But what are the risks of handing design over to non-specialists and how could this impact designers?

People-centered design also has huge potential to change behaviour. From a product that makes a green option more appealing to a feature that enables easy repair, designing with user action in mind can create natural shifts in behaviour. A subtle alteration, such as making a computer easy and cheap to fix so that, when it goes wrong, the owner will be repair it rather then replace it, could make a huge difference to combating a global issue such as e-waste in Bangalore.

The yet-to-be-made Phonebloks is another case in point. The concept from designer Dave Hakkens is to build a smart phone made up of easy to replace modular parts and aims to stem the throwaway culture in the smart phone market. Ideas such as this could not just revolutionise markets but also make acting sustainably effortless for consumers.

This is why, in partnership with Nike, we are launching a new content hub to focus specifically on sustainability in design. We’ll explore topics such as how to embed sustainable design in global supply chains, the impact of digitalisation, design for re-manufacturing and the impact of product life cycle as well as showcasing the latest innovation and best practice in the space. We want to take a challenging and unique approach, laying bare the issues that business, designers and society as a whole face by harbouring insight, debate and thought-leadership on the sustainable design movement.

As we launch our new hub, we’d like to gather your insight on the topic. What do you think lies ahead for sustainable design? What are the challenges facing both business and designers and how can the science behind the products and services we buy help tackle the big global issues of our time? Do you know any examples of innovation in the space or do you have a designer or thought leader you’d like to see write for us?

Let us know your thoughts by posting a comment below, tweeting us @GuardianSustBiz or dropping us an email. We’ll take your input on board and look to incorporate it within our coverage on the hub.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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