A project by Happiness Brussels designed by Anthony Burrill in London, this limited edition poster was made to benefit the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. The poster’s message is simple and direct, but it takes on an emotional resonance when viewers learn that it was silk-screened using oil collected off of Louisiana beaches after the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the years some artists and artisans have let the choice of material imbue their creation with symbolic significance – e.g., guns melted down to make a peace sculpture; pottery made from the volcanic ash of the Mount St. Helens eruption; objects that incorporate pieces of the Berlin Wall, etc. It adds another dimension of meaning to the object and makes you think.
Back in 2009, Frito-Lay did a good thing. It introduced the world’s first manufactured 100% biodegradable packaging for its healthy SunChips snack products. Made from plant-based materials, the SunChips bags are said to decompose completely in just 14 weeks, returning to Mother Nature all that it borrowed. Better yet, designers weren’t asked to make major sacrifices. SunChips packaging, undoubtedly printed using vegetable-based inks, could be as colorful and detailed in design as its less eco-friendly competitors.
Everyone should be happy, right? What’s not to like about a tasty whole grain snack that is good for the body and good for the earth. Well, for one, the noise pollution. The high decibel crinkling sound made by the environmentally friendly packaging every time the eater reached into the bag for another handful of chips was so loud that it made it hard to hear the TV and annoyed roommates who were trying to get some sleep. Frito-Lay tried to put a good face on it, admitting that yes, the bags were a little noisier, but not a big deal. The uproar on Facebook and YouTube, however, refused to quiet down. Consumers felt they shouldn’t have to put up with ear torture just to help the earth.
You’ve heard the barroom ditty “99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer. Take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall”? Well, try this one: “33,000 beer crates forming a wall, 33,000 beer crates …”
Asked by their client, Atomium, to construct a temporary pavilion in Brussels to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal World Exhibition, SHSH, an architectural firm with offices in Brussels, London and Sendai, constructed a “package” exhibition space out of 33,000 recycled plastic beer crates.
“It’s strange that the bulb, an object synonymous with ideas, is almost entirely absent of imagination,” comments Plumen on its website. The UK-based compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb maker is determined to change that. Calling its product the “world’s first designer energy-saving light bulb,” Hulger, the British electronics company that designed Plumen, has challenged the notion that CFL light bulbs can only come in three shapes and must, by necessity, look unattractively utilitarian.
Plumen — which draws its name from “plume,” a bird’s showy feathers — is bending the gas-filled tubing the way a glass blower manipulates molten glass into sculptural forms. Like other energy-saving bulbs, Plumen products use 80% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last about eight times longer. The savings may not just be in the electricity usage; consumers may decide to forego the cost of a lampshade and just enjoy the decorative style of the bare bulb. Right now Plumen bulbs are only available in the UK and Europe, but the company says they will be introduced in the U.S. soon.
On the hard-packed sands of California’s Mojave Desert stands a surreal sight. Hundreds of decommissioned commercial jets are lined up row after row, in the middle of nowhere. Their engines are taped shut with Mylar to keep out drifting sands. This is a graveyard for retired jets, many of which originally cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. Now they only serve as awnings for rattle snakes and reptiles that take shelter from the unrelenting sun. Some planes may be stripped of useful parts that can be reconditioned. Others may be bought by a third-world country or short-hop commuter startup. And still others will simply languish there for years – a kind of “Stonehenge” of the 21st century.
Most designers know that typefaces like Poster Bodoni take up more physical space on a page than, say, News Gothic Condensed, and that choice of typestyle not only affects readability but the credibility of the message as well — for example, never, ever typeset the CEO’s letter to shareholders in Comic Sans. One thing that designers probably haven’t thought about is how much ink each typeface consumes on an office printer. Well, a Dutch company called Printer.com did. It compared 10 of the most frequently used typefaces on a Canon inkjet and a Brother laser printer (both set at 600×600 dots per inch), using Arial as the baseline font.
Urban transportation planners everywhere are grappling with the question of how to move traffic faster, cleaner, greener and cheaper. They have urged people to ride bikes, telecommute, buy hybrid vehicles and mini-cars, but here’s a concept from China that is truly original – a super gigantic bus taller than an overpass that straddles the road creating a moving tunnel that regular cars can drive through. Bus passengers board on the upper level from elevated platforms, while smaller vehicles drive under and through the bus. Ultrasonic waves alert trucks too tall to fit to go around the bus on another lane. A stop light activates to stop cars in the tunnel when the bus needs to make a turn.
The “straddling bus” was exhibited at the 13th Beijing International High-Tech Expo in May and a pilot model is being built in Beijing’s Mentougou District by its developer Shenzhen Hashi Future Parking Equipment Co. Powered by electricity and solar energy, the straddling bus can carry between 1,200 and 1,400 passengers at a time and travel at speeds of up to 60 km per hour. Developers claim that it will reduce traffic jams by up to 30% on main roads and can be built in a fraction of the time that would be required to construct a new subway. The bus is also projected to save up to 860 tons of fuel annually, reducing carbon emissions by 2,640 tons. There is also no need to build a parking lot to house buses out of service; they can be left straddling the road.
Placing manmade installation art in a national park seems counterintuitive since national parks were established to preserve and protect wildlife habitat. But the 1,491-acre Presidio is unlike any other national park. Set in San Francisco’s tony residential area, it overlooks the Golden Gate entrance into the Bay, the reason why it served as a military outpost for 219 years (successively under Spain, Mexico and U.S. rule) until Congress closed the army base in 1994 and made it into a national park. Today, the Presidio is a mix of forested hiking trails and historic buildings converted to other uses, including the Walt Disney Family Museum.
Its proximity to urban surroundings has also resulted in some interesting collaborations. In 2009, For-Site Foundation (a nonprofit dedicated to the presentation of art about place) in partnership with the Presidio Trust invited 25 designers, artists and architects worldwide to propose custom-designed habitat for the wildlife living in the park. From there, 11 concepts were chosen for a site-based art exhibition called “Presidio Habitats: For the Place, Of the Place.”
If you think you’ve seen this chair before, you have. Emeco’s Navy Chair has been around since 1944. So why was it such a sensation at the 2010 Milan Furniture Fair in April? And why is Design Within Reach hosting events to tout that it has the retail exclusive on the product? It’s because this 21st century model is made from recycled plastic Coke bottles – 111 of them, more or less, hence its name the 111 Navy Chair.
Puma calls their new shoe container their “clever little bag.” Twenty-one months in the making, Puma and Yves Behar’s fuseproject collaborated to design more earth-friendly shoeboxes. They experimented with new folding, shipping and waste reduction techniques, but the improvements were more incremental than monumental. Finally they decided to get rid of traditional shoeboxes (the source of 21 tons of waste a year) altogether and look for an entirely new design solution.
The result is a “clever little bag” that uses 65% less cardboard than the standard shoe box, has no laminated printing, no tissue paper, takes up less space and weighs less in shipping, and replaces the plastic retail bag. The bag is also “stitched” with heat, instead of woven, thus reducing labor and waste. It fits compactly into a suitcase for travel, and afterwards can be recycled.
Puma also claims that the millions of shoes packaged in their bags will reduce water, energy and diesel consumption by more than 60% per year on the manufacturing side alone. Switching to bags will cut paper usage by about 8,500 tons; electricity by 20 million Megajoules; fuel oil by 1 million liters, and water consumption by 1 million liters. On the transportation side, Puma expects to save 500,000 liters of diesel oil. Also by replacing traditional shopping bags, the difference in weight will save almost 275 tons of plastic. Very clever, indeed.
Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from “Design Is the Problem,” the latest book by Nathan Shedroff, chair of the MBA in Design Strategy program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Contrary to the book’s title, Shedroff presents practical, specific and executable solutions to designing for sustainability, covering topics from biomimicry and life cycle analysis to dematerialization.
Recycling is an important tenant of sustainability, but in order to be effective, products need to be easily disassembled into component parts and separated by material. If this is difficult, these products simply end up in the landfill instead.
The worst parts, in terms of recycling, are those made from two different materials bonded together, because they can’t be easily separated. The Cradle to Cradle framework designates these as “monstrous hybrids.” A good example of this type of hybrid would be milk and juice cartons that come with circular pour spouts and caps built into the side. The plastic cap and spout can’t be recycled with the waxed cardboard, and yet there are no easy ways for recyclers to separate these quickly. While this design is particularly convenient for some users, it makes recycling nearly impossible (a good example of opposing goals). The only way to recycle these is for users to cut the plastic spout from the rest of the container before placing them both in a recycling bin.
Since Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb in 1879, designers have often used the familiar pear-shaped product as a graphic device to represent a “bright idea.” Think again, designers, because the European Union restricted the sale of incandescent light bulbs in favor of compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs in 2009. It also targeted the phase out of Halogen bulbs by 2016. Cuba and Venezuela actually started phasing out incandescent lights in 2005. Other nations have scheduled phase out plans – Australia, Ireland and Switzerland in 2009; Argentina, Italy, Russia and the UK by 2011, and Canada in 2012. A late adopter, the United States will begin phasing out incandescent lights in 2012.
In the mountainous village of Granados in central Guatemala, Peace Corps volunteer Laura Kutner came up with a way to solve several problems at once – the need for more classrooms, the shortage of building materials, and the abundance of plastic trash littering the ground.
Kutner rallied the community of roughly 860 people living in the village and surrounding area and together they collected more than 4,000 discarded plastic soda bottles. From there, students and volunteers used sticks and hands to cram the plastic bottles with more plastic — used bags, packaging and grocery sacks – to give the containers heft and form, then stacked them like bricks held in place by chicken wire, and “stuccoed” them with a cement-sand mixture.
This advertisement for City Harvest was filmed entirely on an iPhone in a single shot. It was created and produced by The Mill NY, in collaboration with Draftcb, a New York City marketing communications agency.
The ad was made to support City Harvest, which collects over 270,000 pounds of excess food from restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers and farms daily and uses it to prepare and deliver over 260,000 meals per week to community food programs in the New York City area. The apples in the video represent the amount of food wasted in New York City every day. City Harvest states that it is the “world’s first food rescue organization.”
For the past three years, Johnson Banks in London has done a year-end clean up by recycling their old magazines and passing them along to friends and clients in the form of Christmas greetings. This year the UK design firm ram-punched the shape of a snow man. A tip they passed along is that Design Week “punches brilliantly.” It could be the weight and uniformity of the paper that cuts clean, the vibrant ink holdout on the sheet, or good design karma projected from the magazine.
The start of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this week seems like a good time to look at some of the posters produced on the subject. These are from Good 50×70 (aka Good Amsterdam), a nonprofit initiative aimed at promoting the value of social communication in the creative community, inspiring the public via graphic design, and giving select charities a database of communication tools they can use in their campaigns. Good 50×70 hosts an annual online contest inviting designers to create posters on seven critical global issues, as described in briefs by seven charities. The best 30 responses in each category as chosen by a distinguished jury are cataloged and exhibited worldwide. Here is a sampling of Climate Change posters produced from the brief provided by the World Wildlife Fund.