(Photo of Rusty Green Star by Tim Samoff via Flickr)
With HauteGREEN coming up next week, I’m sure Jeremy Faludi over at WorldChanging would be interested to find out which green designer outshines everyone, since he’s eager to find out if there are any superstar green product designers. I found his post extremely interesting because he brings up some very valid points on the state of product design and development today, which are problems that Ponoko is attempting to eradicate.
He focuses on what it means to be considered a truly green product designer (and whether or not it’s possible). And judging by the many in-depth comments he got, there are a lot of industrial/product designers out there who have strong opinions about what the barriers are to designing green for the masses.
His first point is that designers lack individual control over the whole process of product design and manufacturing because the actual product development life cycle involves not just the designing part, but the business behind it, the manufacturing and distribution process, and the science and technology involved in the materials and how its used. Most of these aspects are out of the control of the designer. They’re also often limited to the specs of a client and/or the demands of the market and the tools they have access to.
His second point is that the very nature of sustainable design requires expertise in so many areas, namely science and technology, that no one designer can claim ‘superstar’ status since most green work is collaborative with scientists, engineers, business people, marketers, etc.
His underlying appeal to address these issues for the long-term is this:
. . . little one-off crafty pieces, no matter how hip and trendy, won’t stop the freight train of industrialism from running over the planet; they will just make quiet crunching noises as the train roars over them and slows down half a percent. What we need is a transformation of mass-manufacturing, nothing less than a second industrial revolution, as several luminaries have pointed out before.
Now while we’re not yet at that point – I think we’re making some big steps toward that. What we at Ponoko are trying to do is take a step toward that change in mass-manufacturing by changing the way designers and makers can make, sell, buy and distribute products – basically the whole product development life cycle. All those steps like manufacturing, distributing, and selling will be under the control of the designer. They can focus on design, rather than other environmental factors at the different stages of product development.
To address his first point: we want to change mass-manufacturing to personal manufacturing where the environmental impact is less because of just-in time production (once customer buys a design, it will be locally manufactured), and local distribution.
To address his second point: There is a whole slew of amazing new technology out there right now that can facilitate collaborative design and development of sustainable products. It just hasn’t been harnessed yet to apply to a new model of making and selling. With technology as it is now and how it will be very soon, like the advancements in rapid prototyping, desktop manufacturing software and tools and basically the web – all these together can be used for the benefit of creating, making, selling and distributing sustainable and personal products.
It’s a very ambitious goal. But one I think can be reached. In the end, I agree with many of the comments that there doesn’t really need to be a superstar designer (although it wouldn’t hurt to have a few) – just a growing army of green designers getting through to the consumer market via a more accessible and efficient way. As the network grows and personal manufacturing takes off, designers can really focus on designing green and making a difference.