By Alex Lobos
I recently offered a new class on design and sustainability at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Industrial Design department. We explored topics such as emotional attachment, materials selection, and timeless design, in order to improve product sustainability and encourage a longer, more meaningful lifespan.
The spirit of the design process was heavily influenced by Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa’s “Super Normal” philosophy. According to this philosophy, some products are created with such simplicity that they become icons of their own category. These products are so ordinary that they actually become extraordinary.
Another key element covered in the class was emotional attachment. Products that connect deeply with their users often turn from plain artifacts to bridges that connect users with other people, enjoyable experiences, and the overall environment. The implications of emotional attachment are important for sustainability since products with these attributes have longer lifespans. In order to achieve products that aligned with these concepts, students applied the following strategies.
TIMELESSNESS: Good design never goes out of style.
Students tried to create products that looked like they had been around for a long time and were durable enough to be handed down to future users.
Mortar & pestle sets. Robert Fish (top) and Joshua Rivers (bottom)
In the case of Rob Fish and Joshua Rivers’ mortar and pestle sets, there was a lot of attention put into creating shapes that were simple, elegant, and engaging. Human factors played a big role in making sure that the products felt “just right” in hands of the user, from proportions, to shape, to even weight. Models were created using rapid prototyping as well as aluminum sand casting, combining state-of-the-art technology with traditional manufacturing processes. The end result are artifacts with strong personalities that make you wonder if they been around for many years.
Will Alusitz - teapot
Will Alusitz’s teapot shows an interesting combination of features that reflect traditional Asian designs with contemporary, contrasting details in the handle and lid.
PRODUCT EFFICIENCY: Nothing superfluous.
Design concepts went through multiple iterations, each one stripping away unnecessary components, shapes, parts, processes and interaction. The goal was to bring products to their most basic form and function.
Robert Fish - tape dispenser
A tape dispenser by Rob Fish is created out of single pieces of sheet material, using simple processes like bending, pressing and cutting, in order to create functional details without compromising usability and appearance. Imperfections in the metal add personality and the perception of longevity to the product.
Leslie Rose - tape dispenser
Leslie Rose’s tape dispenser design pushes minimalism to a higher level by attaching only a small cutting piece to the tape roll, maximizing user interaction with the product.
Gino Santaguida - tape dispenser
MATERIAL EXPLORATION: Strong, graceful, and unadorned.
Students focused on materials that were easy to manufacture and that could last for a long time. The idea of materials that could “wear-in” and “age gracefully” were important considerations.
Students noticed that wood, metal, glass and ceramics often had these characteristics, confirming why those materials have been used throughout history by so many civilizations. The final designs celebrate the materials chosen; turning them into focal points of the design and avoiding hiding them with unnecessary processes or finishes.
In some of the projects, the same design was manufactured out of two materials. At this point, students used “Eco-Materials Adviser”, a plug-in in Autodesk Inventor that enabled them to evaluate and compare the environmental impact of many materials. This tool was extremely useful to students in determining which material offered the best environmental advantage, and then connecting that information with notions of perceived value and physical appearance.
Chen Guo - Salt & pepper shakers
Chen Guo’s poetic set of salt and pepper shakers shows how plastic is a good option for high-volume production, while wood offers character and durability for shorter runs. EMA also made evident that for the wooden version, eliminating finish coatings improved environmental performance while enhancing wood’s natural beauty.
Alex Bennett - salt & pepper shaker set
In the case of Alex Bennett’s design, it was interesting to discover how glass proved to be very good material for low-energy manufacturing and easy recycling. Additonally, a glass version allows for a more traditional manufacturing process that makes each individual piece slightly different and unique.
Abby Hogg - Salt & pepper shakers
Angela Corrado - salt & pepper shakers
For more information on the course, CLICK HERE or email me at Alex.Lobos@rit.edu
Everything in the built environment is designed, from the smallest computer chip to the largest city. With Autodesk software, users can reduce the environmental impacts of their designs. Visit the Autodesk Sustainable Design Center: autodesk.com/sustainabledesign.