Last Chance to see Useful + Beautiful

ub1Over a hundred years ago William Morris advised “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”.  The current exhibition at the Geffrye Museum useful + beautiful: contemporary design for the home revisits Morris’ ‘golden rule’ bringing together products from a range of emerging designers and established names. Each of the products is innovative in some way, whether through its use of a new material, technology or adaptation to the way we live today.

What is more, 2014 is the centenary of the former almshouses’ conversion into the Geffrye Museum, so it is fitting that the exhibition celebrates the local furniture-making trade of London, and Shoreditch in particular; one of the original aims of the museum.  

As Annabelle Campbell, Head of Exhibitions and Collections at the Crafts Council notes, “Good design is about innovation, it’s about elements of sustainability”.  Design is also dialogue, influencing the way we live, as well as responding to it.  The form and function of the objects around us influence our physical and emotional experience of a space.  ub2Climbing inside Freyja Sewell‘s felt cocoon, Hush, you have an immediate sense of retreat, even sanctuary in the midst of the museum. Our lives are so immersed in the omnipresent worldwide web, and constant connectivity of digital technology, solitude and respite are rare.  Hush creates an immediate moment of calm.  The pods are cut from a single piece of 10mm industrial wool felt and lined with padding made from recycled wool fibres, a by-product of the British carpet industry.  Wool is naturally flame retardant, breathable, durable, biodegradable, and provides great acoustic insulation, hence the name, Hush.

PLUMEN-in-John-Lewis-150-years-pop-up-exhibition-currated-by-Design-Museum-3-250x160Digital technologies are providing new materials, new ways of making and marketing products.  Crowdfunding sites offer designers the opportunity to leverage their fan base for financial support, for example, Hulger, the company behind designer-low energy light bulb brand, Plumen, raised the $20,000 they needed in a week on Kickstarter.com to launch their second product, 002, an energy efficient alternative to the 30W incandescent light bulb, in January 2014 (they eventually raised nearly $60,000).  The original Plumen 001 is exhibited at useful+beautiful, and as part of the Design Today exhibition (pictured left) celebrating 150 years of John Lewis  until August 31st.

ub3The internet enables distributed manufacturing models such as OpenDeska global platform that connects local makers and international designers.  As the customer you can browse a range of furniture collections, download and then make the furniture yourself, or get it made on demand by a maker close to you.   The Edie child’s stool (or bedside table) was designed by David Steiner and Joni Steiner to be made from a single piece of plywood on a CNC router with ‘air-fix’ construction. The OpenDesk platform provides an affordable route to designer products made in your community, and you can customise the finishes!

ub4Using the same technology as cardboard tubes, Seongyong Lee developed a process for making tubes from thin wood veneer.  The tubes are further strengthened with a coat of laquer and used as legs for the Plytube stool.  The stool weighs less than a kilo, making it more energy-efficient, and is very strong.  Plytube was part of the Craft Council’s Raw Craft exhibition earlier this year.   

ub5Both Plytube and William Warren‘s reinterpretation of the traditional woven-top stool reflect a renewed appreciation for traditional craftsmanship.  The Weave Stool is made from four identical plywood forms, with black  ash veneer, that slot together.  Simply elegant.  

Jack Smith’Folding Stool, also made of ash, is similarly clean and considered in its design, and so versatile.  The three hinged legs meet in a Y-shaped hole in the stool’s seat.  Sitting down gives it strength, yet stand, pick up the handle and the stool folds flat for easy storage in our space constrained homes.ub6   Pia Wüstenberg’s colourful, sensual and tactile vessels for Utopia & Utility illustrate Alvar Alto’s observation that “Beauty is the harmony of purpose and form”.  Stacked the vessels are decorative sculptures, but each of the ceramic, glass and wooden parts is a bowl with its own use.

With the aid of technology design can now be mass produced.  ub8Good design is available to everyone, along with the bad.  As prices of goods have fallen, so interiors now have seasonal colours and looks that are ‘bang on trend’.  The products on show at useful + beautiful have more than fleeting appeal.  Many of the designs have also consider the lifecycle of the product.  Piet Hein Eek‘s Scrapwood classic cupboard is made of new and found wood.  Hein Eek has been experimenting with offcuts and scrap wood for more than twenty years and the range now includes a chair, table, sideboard and wastepaper basket.  The Scrapwood collection is available from SCP.  ub7The Tip Ton chair, designed by Barber and Osgerby, is manufactured from a single mould, without any mechanical components. The chair is made entirely of polypropylene, so it is durable and 100% recyclable.  The chair’s forward tilt position helps to keep the spine and pelvis straight, allowing better circulation to core abdominal and back muscles while at work or rest. Greater well-being certainly makes everyday living more joyful!  The Tip Ton chair is available from Vitra, and other stockists, in eight colours. 

useful + beautiful is a wonderful prompt to consider more than the aesthetic of the things we choose to live with.  Products that have form and function are beautiful everyday!

useful + beautiful: contemporary design for the home runs until 25th August 2014 at the Geffrye Museum, so see it while you still can!  

 

 

Virtuous circles of conscious consumption

UnknownIn the midst of exhibitors proudly displaying their new wares at May Design Series, Stephen Gee, Director of Resource hosted a discussion on the circular economy with Sophie Thomas, Co-Director of Design, RSA, Mark Shayler, Managing Director of Ticketyboo, and James Bell, Environmental Consultant at FIRA.

Our industrial economy can be described as a series of massive conveyor belts (“Remaking the industrial economy“, McKinsey Quarterly, Feb 2014), sucking in raw materials and resources at one end, channelling them through manufacturing and production processes, often located in different geographies, pushing products into retail networks, where they are consumed, then discarded and replaced with surprising rapidity.  90% of all products are waste within 6 months of purchase.

Resources are increasingly limited, and ever more in demand, so their prices are rising, and volatile.  As well as increasing costs of supply, demands for resources are growing with three billion more middle-class consumers forecast  by 2030 (from a presentation by Dr Markus Zils, CEO Returnity Partners).  The linear, one-way production model is under increasing under strain.

A circular economy aims to recover and restore products and materials, eradicating waste.  This is not simply recycling,  when large amounts of embedded energy and value are lost, or efficient manufacturing processes, but systemic redesign to create a continuous flow of products and components.

Circular-Economy-Concept“The circular economy is a generic term for an economy that is regenerative by design. Materials flows are of two types, biological materials, designed to reenter the biosphere, and technical materials, designed to circulate with minimal loss of quality, in turn entraining the shift towards an economy ultimately powered by renewable energy.” The Ellen McArthur Foundation

The system diagram (pictured above, from the Ellen McArthur Foundation) illustrates the necessarily distinct paths of biological and technical components or nutrients.  Biological nutrients can easily return to the biosphere without depositing synthetic materials or toxins. Technical nutrients can continuously circulate in closed loop industrial cycles.  We have some way to go.  At the moment, in the fast-moving consumer goods industry roughly 80% of the $3.2 trillion worth of materials used each year is not recovered.

sthomas1To illustrate what that means, the toothbrush, that humble, innocuous aid to our daily routine uses 1.5 kg of material in its manufacture (see the slide from Sophie’s presentation, left). We replace our toothbrush every few months, so that is 6kg per person, per annum, just on toothbrushes.  Sophie Thomas, designer, co-founder of the Great Recovery, is on a mission to create more circular systems through good product design.  “Waste really is a design flaw” (Kate Krebbs, ANRC), quotes Sophie, and a Design Council report notes that about 80% of environmental costs are pre-determined during the product conception an design stage.

cc09a86259a7649b0ce694a3d5ac4650The Great Recovery project has sketched out four design models for a circular economy, represented by the multicoloured loops at the top of the page.  The inner loop is ‘design for longevity’.  Designing products that can be repaired or upgraded.,  Products that are well made and reliable so users have a strong emotional attachment, like your favourite pair of jeans.  If they are Nudie Jeans then you can get them repaired for free at Nudie Jeans Stores, or they can send you a repair kit free of charge.  If beyond the point of repair, then Nudie reuse them (and gives you 20% off a new pair), or recycle them.

20140531_WBP003_0The second (orange) loop is ‘design for leasing or service’.  Companies are constantly trying to deepen their relationship with us, urging us to register accounts, and sign up for newsletters. They might even speak of compelling customer service, but often still conceived as a linear consumption pattern.  But it is services, rather than the products themselves that we use, so voice calls, videos, hot water, and clean clothes rather than phones, tablets, boilers, and washing machines.  A service-based model changes the relationship.  The manufacturer owns the products, and materials (increasingly valuable assets), so keeping the value in the system.  Think Zip Car or Google’s vision for its driverless car,  Leasing products could allow for higher design specification.

1399989163490A02_ADEN_LargeThe third (yellow) loop is ‘design for re-use in manufacture’ where products are returned to the manufacturer for upgrade or new components.  These products are designed for disassembly via a reverse supply chain.  Two recent winners of the Furniture Makers’ Sustainability Award have taken responsibility for their products’ end of life to the heart of their businesses.  Senator International (2013 winners) and Orangebox (2012 winners, Aden chair pictured left), both suppliers to commercial clients, have their own dedicated recycling plants, and both target zero landfill.  Sometimes simple things, such as marking parts with a material identifier, means they can be recycled properly, other interventions require a more thorough design appraisal.  Good design means less material, more durable products, and less manufacturing time, easier to dissemble, repair and update.   What if legislation required producers to have responsibility for the end of life of their products?  When they don’t it is a cost to us all, directly, and indirectly to deal with the waste.

umbrellaThe outer (green) loop is fast-flowing products, such as packaging, that can be reprocessed (recycled) into new materials.  Designing with this in mind increases the value and ease of material recovery by reducing contamination.  For example a spray dispensing bottle made sole out of one type of plastic is easier to recycle than a bottle with multiple types of plastic and metal components.  Trying to recycle my child’s broken umbrella illustrates the challenge of mixed materials!

UnknownImprovements in technology and efficiency are central to more sustainable lifestyles, but there are other parts of the puzzle.  Mark Shayler challenges us think about our relationship with consumption.  Currently, around 80% of products are discarded after a single-use.  ‘Disposable’ products are a myth.  As Michael Braungart and  William McDonough, authors of “Cradle to Cradle: Re-Making the Way we Make Things, note the “away” in throw away does not really exist.  What is more, in spite of the fact that, we consume twice as much as we did in 1974, but we are not as happy.

206Shayler describes a transition from unconscious consumption to conscious consumption to conscious unconsumption, urging us to “buy right, buy once”.  For a revealing illustration of consumption in contemporary society visit the Victoria & Albert Museum to see the Prix Pictet, the global award in photography and sustainability.  I was captivated by Hong Hao’s My Things (pictured left), the result of daily scanning his consumed objects.

There is much to be said for moderation in all things.  This chimes with the first design model of longevity, through physical and emotional longevity, and the second loop of re-envisioned service-based business models.  There is value in the customer relationship.  What is more there are opportunities for companies to be champions through editing customer choice (removing unsustainable products), influencing customer choice through marketing messaging that reiterates a brand’s value, and production innovation.  Average, or ‘a bit less bad’ is not really an aspirational brand value.

And now I’m off to try and to upgrade and repair my laptop!

Image credit: Google, Hong Hao, Nudie Jeans, Orangebox

Related links:

Will Google’s self-driving pods spell the end of the road for car ownership? from the Guardian

Driverless cars: In the self-driving seat from The Economist

 

Dieter Rams: 10 principles for good design

Dieter Rams is considered to be one of the most influential industrial designers of the twentieth century.  Rams has been given numerous awards, most recently the Lifetime Achievement Medal at London Design Festival 2013.  As Head of Design at Braun, the consumer electronics company, Rams set out to design useful products which would be easy to operate, and enjoyable to use.

During the 1970s, Rams became increasingly concerned about the world around him, and his impact as a designer.  In 1976, Rams gave a speech in New York about responsible design.  In the speech, he highlighted the  “increasing and irreversible shortage of natural resources”, noting that good design avoids waste.  People are central to Rams approach to design, and he made a link between our physical surroundings and our wellbeing, “I imagine our current situation will cause future generations to shudder at the thoughtlessness in the way in which we today fill our homes, our cities and our landscape with a chaos of assorted junk.”

Rams distilled his views into his ten most important principles for good design, sometimes referred to as the “Ten Commandments”.

Good design is innovative.
Good design makes a product useful.
Good design is aesthetic.
Good design makes a product understandable.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Good design is honest.
Good design is long-lasting.
Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
Good design is environmentally friendly.
Good design is as little design as possible.

Rams described the complex, interdependent systems that we inhabit, “Everything interacts and is dependent on other things; we must think more thoroughly about what we are doing it and why we are doing it”.  This statement is true both at the macro level of society, and the micro level of the home, a product itself must be functional, but it also has to function in its context, the home.

350The first product Rams designed for Vitsoe was the 606 Universal Shelving System (1960) which is functional in itself, but also adaptable to many environments, whether home, office, or bridging the two.  The 606 Universal Shelving System moves with you, with the units being reconfigured, and added to, to suit your space.  Our units are on their third rehang, and have sat as easily in a modern office as they have in the drawing room of a Victorian home.  The unobtrusive design lends itself to any situation.  The storage equivalent of the perfect little black dress!

Photo credits: A photo of our copy of “Dieter Rams: Ten Principles of Good Design”; image of 606 Universal Shelving System from Vitsoe.com

New Designers 2013

newdesigner

New Designers 2013 was the biggest yet with over 18,000 people visiting. We were part of the thronging crowd absorbing the wares of over 3,000 new design graduates from around the UK.  It was sensory overload.  As I was under some time pressure, it was a supermarket sweep approach, but those that caught my eye included:

  • Isatu Hyde’s No Excuse Foods A ceramicist, Isatu has fused her beautiful vessels with all the additional resources the enthusiastic amateur forager needs to create the No Excuse Foods concept.  The simple, sensual flasks  are made of glass and porcelain, with either cork or silicone bungs and labelled with clearly illustrated how to guide to make seasonal drinks from local edible resources, wild or other!hyde
  • I loved ‘Lux’, the hybrid solar light from Tom Elsmore that would shine sunlight (via a solar concentrator and fibre-optic cable) into the darkness of my study, even capturing the colours at sunset, and compensating with LEDs when the sun has set.  The steam-bent ash light stand is elegant too.
  • For the space constrained, I liked the humour and practicality of Joseph Kennedy’s range of artefacts (his word), that can be be hung off the wall when not in use.  The wobble stool would be a far more aesthetically pleasing replacement to the Swiss ball I use as my office chair.

While I was hunting for carefullycurated, my husband and youngest daughter had their portrait stitched by Harriett Riddell, one of those selected to be part of “One Year On at New Designers 2013”, essentially the best of the previous crop who are in their first year of business.  Here take on the troublesome two:

riddell