Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Be aware and make the better choice

Increasing one's awareness and the value of each individual making better decisions were two of the main themes of the presentations by the Design Lab jurors Tuesday evening at the first International Forum on Design and the Environment.

French designer Matali Crasset opened the proceedings with a presentation of objects and spaces designed to challenge expectations. He example of Splight City illustrated how a home, like the leaf of a plant, has a nerve structure through which energy flows.

Jason Bradbury, the UK gadget afficionado extraordinaire, was filled with gee-whiz enthusiasm for various gadgets, like a water-powered battery ("This is Star Trek") and a wind-powered flashlight, which he brought along and passed around the audience. He also showed of a few of his home-made contraptions, like a working hoverboard (Think "Back to the Future with Michael J Fox) and a bluetooth glove phone that inspired Motorola to send him a cool USD20,000 for a copy. His favorite gadget, though, is a powered wheel called "Easyglider." It's like a unicycle wheel and can be hooked up to pull various contraptions.

Bradbury also pointed out the importance of timing, citing the sad case of Sir Clive Sinclair who lost his fortune in the 1980s betting on the Sinclair C5, a battery-powered one-seater tricycle that could reach a maximum speed of 15 mph. It's the kind of alternative to a moped that might find an interested market today.

Celine Cousteau opened her presentation by praising Electrolux for being one of the companies that is looking to the future in a green way, adding "Green is the only future we have." She brought us some passionate advocacy for indigenous peoples of the Amazon based on first-hand knowledge. In one encounter when she was a little girl, a woman served her something from the cooking pot. "It was a simple gesture of sharing, but she shared everything she had," Cousteau commented.

Many of the anecdotes in her presentation illustrated the point that people from other culture can have a lot to teach you if you are paying attention, whether it's how to count fish in a lake, how to take pleasure out of simple things like jumping rope or how much children have to offer. "Don't underestimate kids," she emphasized. "Teach them that they are powerful and they will make powerful choices."

She concluded by making the point that each individual's actions have consequences. "Every action you take has a reaction somewhere. And if you can inspire yourself, you can inspire the person next to you."

Electrolux Global Design Head Henrik Otto finished up the day's presentations. He opened by saying that designers need to be very curious and passionate about what they do and they have to be curious about things that are not directly related to their work. He also said that designers have to make conscious choices about materials and technology and should choose materials that will make the product desirable from a recycling standpoint.

He cited bottled water as an example of something that is wasteful because it is being shipped all over the world and because as soon as a bottle is empty, it is thrown away. A water dispenser in the fridge solves the problem if you are near your fridge, but even bottled water could be more environmentally sound if the water companies offered refills.

After the presentations, the floor was opened up for questions. One key question, which came from a blogger via this blog, was whether the need to design with sustainability in mind was a plus or a minus for designers.

"I like constraints," answered Crasset. "When I have a constraint, I know where I'm starting."

Added Otto: "The smaller a challenge is for designers, the longer they will put off dealing with it."

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