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Environmental Design: No Such Thing

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#1 Guest_helman_*

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Posted 18 January 2006 - 03:13 AM

Recently I was involved with teaching Environmental Design to industrial design students and design and technology teaching students. This subject explores the influence of environmental considerations on the design process through a series of problem based learning projects and analysis of case studies. Design processes as they are affected by environmental and social constraints are explored.

During discussion with staff and graduates about this course I made the point that I felt that there is no such thing as 'environmental design'. In fact environmental design is design. My argument, very simplistically, was that design was about resolving problems with 'seamless compromise' (thanks Graham). This involves meeting the most satisfactory outcome for all parties involved as well as for economy, politics, society and the environment. Therefore design cannot be categorised into environmental and non-environmental design.

I had opposition from those who felt that not all projects considered their environmental impact and position. I argued that this was 'bad' design.

You may like to consider this idea in terms of good design and bad design, where bad design is design that does not take due care and consideration for the environment.

What are your thoughts about the relationship of industrial design to environmental design?

Do you agree with the view presented here? Why do you disagree?

#2 Guest_chappo81_*

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Posted 18 January 2006 - 03:49 AM

good topic

I think it all depends on the stage of the product.

ie if its a existing product with improvements being made on it, its likely that materials etc (environmental factors) have already been decided and as they work aren't really open for change.

on the other hand if the product is completely new all of these decisions can be made with reference to the environment, meaning further improvements are likely to continue using the environmentally friendly aspects.

I disagree that bad design doesn't take into consideration the environment.

As a ID'er you are given a brief and you have to design the product to suit the brief and the end users. If environmental factors aren't included in the brief it won't hold any wieght when deciding on concepts etc.
Your point on meeting the most satsfactory outcome for "economy, politics, society and the environment" is a good one, but in the end the company your working for wants to make money and sell products, so it doesn't have to be environmentallly friendly (dependent on the product of course)

#3 Guest_miroKristian_*

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Posted 18 January 2006 - 08:55 AM

I'm thinking if there is a difference between the two meanings of environmental and I do not know which meaning you're talking about? There's the environmental issues that involves being eco-friendly, and the environment as in being the living, or being environment, which is all the stuff that surrounds you. I guess my question is; are you teaching to design environmentally, or designing the environment?

All design becomes a part of the environment, not just the nice ones. Environmental issues, like wasting, on the other hand are not always design issues. Should they be? Yes, they should. But that would mean designers should have to become teachers and information givers to the business people, and that doesn't necessarily improve the possibilities of getting clients. Having that said, the eco-issues have been strongly used in branding, and should not be considered as "that same ole hippie stuff" by anyone running a business.

#4 Guest_Aphasia_*

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Posted 18 January 2006 - 03:07 PM

I think it all depends on the stage of the product.

ie if its a existing product with improvements being made on it, its likely that materials etc (environmental factors) have already been decided and as they work aren't really open for change.

In my opinion, if an existing product is being re-designed, then there is more chance to re-assess the materials which are currently being used and take them to the next level. Because you know the product works (to a certain extent) you can take the liberty of assessing the materials.

Also, you will have the chance to assess other environmental issues if the product is being re-designed. Feedback from the market could be an enourmous help.

When i read the title of the post i was thinking about your main point, before you even mentioned it. Personally i see the environmental part of the design process. And I have to agree that ignoring key issues is definately 'bad design'. Environmental Design is one other factor which must be added to the checklist.

But i feel that it won't always come down to "let's go with material A, manufacturing option Q and supply strategy 7, because they are more environmentally friendly". I can imagine in most cases the manufacturer, supplier, brief writer or other anomoly also known as "The Man" will come back and say "Actually, that one is cheaper and more efficient. We make more money, end of story!"

I guess that times are moving on and companies are realising that by being more environmentally friendly and designing their way through it they can actually save money - just look at the rise of large corporate america self-assessing their contributions to global warming. They are now doing something about it, reducing carbon emissions and also saving themselves money by improving the efficiency of the process.

#5 Guest_chappo81_*

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 03:19 AM

for sure you can reassess the materials of an existing product but more often than not it isn't in relation to environmental design, a change in material or manufacturing proces would be due to strength of the part, surface finish, suitability to manufacture process being used and price. If a product undergoes an improvement ie redesign aspects like the materials wouldn't be changed if they are currently working.

I like your point about increasing efficiency of the process, however I doubt if these companies would be doing anything about it if it wasn't saving them money.

#6 Guest_helman_*

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 03:34 AM


You raise a good point regarding 'The Man'. In fact this was the other motivating factor for this topic. In a previous role I was constantly beating my head against a brick wall regarding the benefits of designing for environment (for lack of a better description). At the end of the day option B was cheaper and so was chosen. This is present reality. It does not have to be future reality.

miroKristian wrote:

Environmental issues, like wasting, on the other hand are not always design issues. Should they be? Yes, they should. But that would mean designers should have to become teachers and information givers to the business people.

Exactly. Designers do not just create physical objects. We also create ideas, systems, ways of doing things, ways of existing.

I think that designers have a responsibility to use their skills and knowledge to drive change. We have a wide influence over many aspects of industry and society and so are perfectly positioned to do some serious educating. Just one aspect of this education could be focused on sustainability (environmental design).

To clarify a point raised by miroKristian: environmental design is designing with the environment (nature) in mind not designing the environment.

So to further this topic...Do you think designers have a responsibility to work towards sustainability? How might we do this?

#7 Guest_miroKristian_*

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 12:21 PM

I think sustainability is going to be an even bigger issue in the future than it is now. Mainly because governments have woken up ,or been woked up, with international agreements, like the Kioto agreement. Also, sustainability means not looking for the big buck at once by slaughtering the cow, but instead milking the cow for the years to come. Excuse me for the analogy...

In the end, for the governments and the businesses, it is about money and when they add up every cost, if sustainability remains on the plus side, it will prevail. And with every cost, I'm thinking as an example of the total costs of the tobacco industry; the tax euros vs. the money spent on health care. This is not to say that it is my opinion that goverments are only looking for money and do not care for the wellbeing of its people, but that money allows the health care. And it would be better not to spend more money curing something that less money was gained from.

Also, with sustainability, there are the grass roots solutions, that are solutions to real problems that have come from the users. Here's a link to a project, that I took part in in 2004.


#8 Guest_GYOKO_*

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 08:37 AM

I need to say something about this topic..
There is a difference between design and environmental design. And the bottom line is - how much environmental? Even if you want to make it 100% environmental, there are many things that just cannot be simply resolved. On many stages along the process you will need to take decissions of more or less environmental. And in most cases, the decissions are made between the lesser and the greater bad.
I did quite an extensive research on environmental design and thats what I came up with.
It should an older post of mine here with "environmental design" title.

#9 Guest_Aphasia_*

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 02:45 PM

Agreed, the future will be about sustainable solutions, but it should be more than that in the product industry. Products which are thrown away more frequently than others should be designed from the end of their life cycle back to the origin point.

I think it's one of the Herman Miller chairs which has been designed in this way.

I think also the "Cradle to Cradle" methodology from Michael Braungart and William McDonough will catch on. Well i hope so anyway. Looking at how materials from products are taken from viable sources and designed to be used again after the product lifecycle has ended.

During a lecture by Michael Braungart, he spoke of the new Airbus (double decker aeroplane) seat cover material which he helped engineer. It's so friendly to the passengers that it's actually edible.

#10 Guest_GYOKO_*

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 03:39 PM

sustainability is the key issue. in this case, designers need to act as educators.
its a field that needs to be explored more deeper in the education. the present design education is not up for the challenge (with rare exceptions of certain institutions)

sustainability is not only environmentally friendly...its profitable as well, on the long term.

#11 Guest_helman_*

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Posted 24 January 2006 - 02:31 AM


Yes I agree that in most cases a project gets to a point where the designer must decide between more or less 'bad' approaches especially with regards to the level of environmental 'integrity' of a product.

I disagree that there is a difference between design and environmental design. I will use your percentage analysis to demonstrate.

If a product is 80% environmental and 20% everything else (aesthetic, function, ergonomic...) then surely this would be classified as a poor solution: a 'bad' outcome. A solution that is great for the environment is not necessarily good for the economy or society.

A product that is 100% environment is probably useless - the point here is that design, in general is about finding the middle ground between all the appropriate desired outcomes. If a product is entirely centred on how environmental it is then it probably lacks user focus, marketing value and societal influence.

A design solution that is, for example, 30% environmental, 30% ergonomic and 30% function could represent a much better design solution because it is more likely to achieve that middle ground: a 'good' outcome.

I don't think there should be this entity called environmental design because it is not realistically possible, as you point out, to create a good design solution by focusing only on the level of environmentalness of a solution.

'Seamless compromise' = environmental design = design

#12 Guest_GYOKO_*

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Posted 25 January 2006 - 11:59 AM

i think that you are confusing something here... ergonomy, aesthetic and function have nothing to do with the environmentalism of the product itself. the choice of materials, the production, life and after-life of the product have environmental charachter.

there are problems for examples ,like the use of aluminium. its light and recyclable material, but the production of aluminium is not very environmental friendly. so which is the lesser bad?
the more right choices, better environmental design. thats how it works. without compromising on the function and the form. However, you will come at one point that you cant achieve 100% environmental design without sacrifacing something else.

#13 bowlofnoodle


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Posted 27 January 2006 - 04:49 AM

There are design innovation that satisfy both environmental and desirability issues.

Product that is simple usually is more efficicent and uses less material and weight. For example, if someone invent a new vehicle something like a go-kart which is simpler and lighter, and also make it interactive where you can drive around and nudging your friends with a bumper, it would be alot more fun to drive.

#14 Guest_helman_*

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 05:32 AM


I agree with your last post, and, at the same time, I disagree.

you are confusing something here... ergonomy, aesthetic and function have nothing to do with the environmentalism of the product itself. the choice of materials, the production, life and after-life of the product have environmental charachter.

No I'm not confusing these issues. I would say that these things are all seperate entities that come together in harmony to form good design.

I am suggesting that these elements must all be in balance to reach the best possible solution to a design problem.

the more right choices, better environmental design

Exactly! That's my point. This does not mean that you are ONLY making decisions based on the environmental impact. You still have to weigh up all the important criteria.

#15 Guest_GYOKO_*

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 10:23 AM

yeah, i see what you mean now. well, I guess there is a logic in what you are saying.
i, togheter with a friend, designed a 100% environmentaly friendly go-kart by the way :D)) using hydrogen power, 3 electro-magnetic weels, universal design for the seeting, it had only two buttons on/off and start, it was guided with a joystick, the construction was planned to be from recycled aluminum, the body from recycled impregneted paper, and the tires as well, no rubber at all, recycled impregnated paper, which can be re-filled, and the design was organic as well.. you can also use a helmet like the fighter pilots use, with data writen on the shield.
it was really hard to answer on all this restrictions, since I was concerned not only with environmental design, but with the form in general, and universal design as well. I wanted this to be accessible also for handicapped people, as well as for children and grown ups as well..

we got shortlisted for the "best use of technology" award by volkswagen. 2004 ...

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