Monday, November 10, 2008

A Better World by Design -RISD/Brown 08

In 1971, Victor Papanek opened his now-famous book, Design for the Real World, with this incendiary passage:
“There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them. And possibly only one profession is phonier. Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress others who don’t care, is probably the phoniest field in existence today. Industrial design, by concocting the tawdry idiocies hawked by advertisers, comes a close second. Never before in history have grown men sat down and seriously designed electric hairbrushes, rhinestone-covered shoe horns, and mink carpeting for bathrooms, and then drawn up elaborate plans to make and sell these gadgets to millions of people. Before (in the “good old days”), if a person liked killing people, he had to become a general, purchase a coal mine, or else study nuclear physics. Today, industrial design has put murder on a mass-production basis. By designing criminally unsafe automobiles that kill or maim nearly one million people around the world each year, by creating whole new species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breath, designers have become a dangerous breed. And the skills needed in these activities are carefully taught to young people.” (Papanek, 14)

Two decades later, in the 1990s, social entrepreneur Paul Hawken published two seminal books (The Ecology of Commerce, 1993 and Natural Capitalism, 1999) that sought to point the way for a change that encompassed both the pragmatics of business and environmental sustainability. His most recent book, Blessed Unrest (2007) argues that there are a million organizations out there now working for change, and although they may seem “atomized”, modern communication tools are making these efforts come together and reach that famed “tipping point” of change.

Indeed, in the last five days, it has felt for me as though the tipping point was NOW. This weekend, just days after the most important US Presidential Election in a generation, I found myself speechless with amazed excitement at the RISD-Brown student-run conference “A Better World by Design”. This conference was conceived last spring by Brown engineering students; the committee then broadened to include three RISD Industrial Design seniors: Mike Eng, Tino Chow, and Winston Mi. By the time of the conference, a mass of volunteers had signed on, and many of them were from RISD-ID.

The presentations and workshops at A Better World by Design bombarded you with example after example of pioneering people, projects, and organizations begun in the last ten years (mostly) that used technology and design to make a difference, and a profit. This was the biggest change for me: the acceptance that the greatest change would come with a partnership between the shared interests of people, planet and profits – as the Triple Bottom Line philosophy puts it. A Better World by Design showcased a design reform movement that was not content to stay on the margin, but was working to change the center. This would be the path to the wide-scale change needed.

Since only about a dozen RISD-ID juniors were able to attend this weekend, I would like to use this week’s blog essay as an opportunity to document and share some of the projects shown at the conference (or other related case study of examples which you can share and which inspire you).

Listed below for now is simply that, a list of some of the people, organizations, and/or projects featured at A Better World by Design. Please choose one or two, and briefly research it. Write at least 300 words about it, with an illustration and web references, and post it on your blog by next Sunday at 9pm.

This exercise will help alert us all to contemporary design solutions we might never have otherwise known about. It will begin an easy to access source of visuals and case studies to inspire. It also will help maximize the critical energy of this conference, and spread the word across the RISD-ID department, and beyond. A Better World by Design ’08 was run by RISD-ID seniors. Please consider helping to continue this initiative by getting involved, in one of many possible ways.


Main site and blog:

A Better World by Design
Blog site:

See speakers, sites, bios, etc for more links

Please also see the class member links (posted on the class site: site) of these conference participants:

Chiu, Megan; Cho, Karen; Clare, Michael; Maruyama, Aya; O’Connor, Jon; Peloquin, Eric; Reilly, Hayden; Van Vleet, Liam; Yi, Boram.
(Please let me know if I missed you and/or you have links you want to share now.)

Afrigadget blog with lots of links and examples: on cell phone business model for worldwide conversion to electric cars. Amazing!!!!!
Triple Bottom Line
John Elkington and SustainAbility
ReUse People of America
Urban Ore (California salvage)
Tibetan Monks & temple out of Heineken bottles
Sugarcane waste (fagus?) and recycled paper
Recycled blue jean denim insulation
Designers Accord
Material Facts
Patagonia & PET recycling
Hermann Miller, incl shipping & packaging in a returnable blanket
Circuit Board options to reduce toxicity
The issue of Certification and Govt Regulation
Nau apparel:
Apple, Google, Whole Foods, Amazon, REI, Caterpillar, Hermann Miller as green companies that position themselves first as effective companies.
Seth Godin, Tribes
TerraCycle cleaning products
Architecture & Design have no Hippocratic Oath: “At least do no harm.”
A Prius is more damaging to build than a Hummer – research this comment (prefab houses)*** Site with many subsites
Jim Collins on Visionary Companies
NASA plants that filter indoor air quality?
Fireplaces that burn denatured alcohol?
Need for home automation systems, an open field?
Janine Benyus, TED talks
Box Fish to Mercedes concept car
John Todd, visionary developer of plant based water treatment systems
Living Machine Systems, now a registered trademark of WWT
Lily Pad as model of cleanliness
Red Sea kelp as model for contact lens & hospital surface germ free
Gecko tape
London Swiss RE building out of glass-like fiber model
Pax Scientific and the nautilus waste water device
Bumps on Blue Whales and increased efficiency on wind turbines and airplane wings
Water Bears and protecting vaccine delivery in 3rd World countries
Termite houses as models for cooling structures
Biomimicry Guild. Business model of institute and guild
Nature’s 100 Best by EO Wilson
GreenBuild in Boston, Nov 08
John Jevins, How to Grow More Vegetables, 1970s
Colin Campbell, China Study on the politics of food and health
Cradle to Cradle
recycle to down-cycle
Corporate compliance & Regulations: EU-ROHS
Design for Disassembly
GrameenPhone – bottom up development
Microfinance and design
MicroTurbines/ microcombines
Decentralized prosperity as a basic aspect of democratic societies?
N/S Korea night lighting as example
Amory Lovens
Cameron Sinclair & Architecture for Humanity
Design Like You Give a Damn, see “best chpt written on history of humanitarian design”, by Kate Sinclair
Solar cookers and pastuerizing water
Biodiesel and solar cookers to rid cooking oilof waste
Integrated solar cooking: solar cooker, rocket cooker, hay box
Production Solar cookers for village businesses: 1000 loaves a day at bakery
And much much more.

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