Friday, December 07, 2007

Thinking Green... Eco-friendly design can be exciting.

There's a really interesting series of posts developing over at Gems Sty, about green design. The author of the blog, KK, is an industrial designer in Singapore. He's had a number of other really interesting posts, and thinks of his site as a collection of gems he's found on the internet. Not a bad way of thinking about it, I say.

Anyway, so far he has three posts up about the GreenHouse Effect, which is a study/exploration of green/sustainable design for the home. One of the things that makes this project so interesting, to me, is that they've recognized and abandoned a lot of the traditional approaches to eco-friendly design:

1. Guilt - "Guilt is often a primary psychological emotion to exhort the consumers into alternative actions"
2. Stats - "Statistics may be quite illuminating when analyzing macrotrends - but they seldom connect intimately with the user."
3. Sacrifice - "the argument in this is that if everyone does some green thing, the world can be saved. The person is thus persuaded to make some personal, noble sacrifices for the greater good of humanity. But sacrifices are what they are: sacrifices."
4. Technology - "Important as it is, technological and material eco-innovations are seldom visible or directly appealing to the user."
5. Recyclability - "recycling is just a small component of the whole picture of sustainability. It’s often exacerbated by the fact that ‘green-as-recyclebility’ often turns up in many frivolous products, as much to assuage guilt while encouraging consumption."

As KK points out, these are all important factors to green design, but, from a design standpoint, they're not all there is. Several of them rely on scarying or coercing the consumer to use them, which, in the long run, is not a particularly successful method. You might get people to adopt the design out of guilt, but people generally don't like to feel guilty or to use products that make them feel like they're being punished or are sacrificing.

So, instead of pursuing a traditional line of thinking, their team decided to create products that are "appealing to the users not simply because they are green, but because they are inherently superior (and green too!)". It's a simple concept: Create a better product, and the fact that it's green will become a bonus, rather than the sole selling point. People want to buy the best product they can, and if you give them the best product and it's ecofriendly, all the better.

Part one shows three of their product designs (one of which, I admit that I've never heard of, but which he points out may require some understanding of Singaporean culture). I really like the table design, with the built-in trash-bin. While I think you'd still have some trouble convincing the average American to purchase a table like that, I can see something like that installed in countertops, craft tables, or lunchroom tables in schools.

Even more interesting is the WaxPod- a refillable hair wax container. The interesting thing here isn't just that it's refillable- refillable containers for things like toothpaste have beeen around for years. The interesting thing, to me, is that the bottom of the WaxPod doubles as a refillable air-freshener. As KK points out, people frequently install air-fresheners in their bathrooms. Which is, of course, where they usually keep hair wax. Why not combine, or at least allow for the combining of two products that are frequently used in the same place?

Part two also contains three products, and I'll admit that I'm actually more impressed with these. Not being a hair wax user, and not being the market for a table, I'd be unlikely to purchase the products in part 1, but I'd absolutely buy the products in this part. The first design is something so astoundingly obvious, having seen it, that I'm really surprised nobody actually markets something like this.

The design is for a product called the Black Out Lamp. It's a seemingly ordinary directional desk lamp. The cool thing about the Black Out Lamp is that, during a power failure, you can detach the head of the lamp from the base and the cord, and with the flip of a switch, the head of the lamp can be made to run on an internal battery, and function as a flashlight.

As KK points out, there's no reason to purchase two products for the same purpose- illumination- if one will work. Not only do you purchase fewer products, but you also make it easier to find. I can't count the number of times I've lost flashlights. Plus, depending on how the lamp is designed, it could easily be such that you don't have to purchase new batteries, as plugging the lamp in might automatically keep the batteries fully charged and ready for use.

The other design that I think is really neat is the Post-It Notepad. Again, this is a case of combining two products into one to reduce consumption. Since people usually only write on one side of a piece of a notebook, and only on one side of a post-it note, it makes sense to combine these products. One side is lined like notebook paper. You write in it like a standard notebook. If you need a post-it note, simply turn over the notebook, write on the opposite side of the paper, and pull it off.

Anyway, those were the designs I was most interested in, but there are a couple of others that you might find it worth looking at. This is a great example of how green design can actually be consumer friendly, and how it can get your customers/users excited about your products, even as they happen to be eco-friendly.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Hmm, this is interesting. Those points make sense, that we are not going to convince people to use "green" products simply by guilt or by telling them them they need to sacrifice something. But I'm not convinced of how big of a difference it would make even if everyone did start buying the more efficient, superior products you mention. I think the real problem is consumerism itself; people just buy too much stuff that they don't need, period. And even if all that stuff is so-called "green", it's still being produced and purchased unnecessarily. I mean, people don't really *need* air fresheners. So really it would be best for the environment if people just stopped buying them, rather than buying the more efficient one.

Of course, this is a really difficult question. I am not at all a big consumer, but certainly there are things I buy that I don't absolutely *need*. We can't expect to go back to only buying the things absolutely necessarily for our physical survival; that would certainly not be very acceptable to most people in this country. So if we admit that we *need* some things for our phsychological happiness, not just physical, where do you draw the line? Some people might say they really do *need* an air freshener to be happy.

I think one thing would just be to encourage people to not just buy blindly, just because the stuff is there in the store, but to think about each thing they buy and why it is important to them to have it. I try to live this way (and sometimes drive myself crazy over whether to get something :-p ). The real culprit is producers and the advertisers who do everything they can to make people buy things they don't need. So as to how we would bring about this kind of change, I really don't know.

I guess if products are more efficient, that is better than they're NOT being more efficient, as long as it didn't take more resources to produce it.