the case for a new design degree: bio-d

When I first began teaching ‘Design for Sustainability,’ I proposed the following equation: form + function + sustainability = comprehensive design. It was a formula for discussing a ‘new’ kind of design, and a means of distinguishing it from the ‘same old same old.’ This new math of comprehensive design added sustainability, and in total, made design more powerful.

In the same spirit, I find myself drawn to a renaming of the professionals themselves. I’ve been reading the book Biomimicry in Industrial Design by Carlos Alberto Montana Hoyos. In this book, his graduate thesis published in 2009, he refers to ‘bio-industrial design.’ Aha, I thought. The profession of design needs to be reminded of its purpose, which is, to make sustainable development possible. A name change might signal that purpose. A name that inspires a way of thinking and making. A name that aspires to a nurturing relationship between the earth and its human inhabitants. A name that calls attention to the necessity for such a partnership now. Maybe design curricula and the degrees that are awarded lead the way.

So here it is. No longer simply Industrial or Product Designer, but Bio-Industrial Designer. Bio-Product Designer. Bio-Graphic Designer. Bio-Transportation Designer. There is power in language, just as there is power in bio-design.


Posted in Curriculum, Design, Education, Sustainability, Uncategorized

it takes more than optimism to be a designer…it takes doing

I have always understood design to be a creative and optimistic endeavor. Those who think, create and make are usually responding to a desire to address a challenge. They make something useful and necessary. They create to improve, to inform, to make something better. In some cases, they imagine something completely new and different. This takes optimism.

I’m channeling this inner optimist as I struggle to make sense of the recent election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. To be an optimist, a designer, I have to be able to imagine a world in which good ideas have a place to be. A place or context where my efforts, and those of all creative endeavors, can be focused.

What is this future where ‘climate change does not exist?’ What is the context of a non-renewable energy tomorrow? How do I reconcile my study of environmental issues and deep concern over the consequences of non-restorative patterns of consumption with what is being said by the Trump team?

The answer is: I don’t. And that gets me to the point of this post. Nothing has changed. What we know about the world is still true. What we need to do however, is do more. Continue to make, certainly. But also incorporate into our making the best practices as we know them to be. No more com-promises or ‘half-promises.’ Car efficiency standards? Check. Renewable energy standards? Check. Clean production, product take-back, zero-waste? Check. Check. Check.

Posted in from making to doing

an acid test for design

Reading The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert made me aware of something potentially as disruptive as global warming. In addition to enhancing and accelerating climate change, carbon dioxide is changing the pH of the oceans. Last fall, Jessie Kawata and I had the opportunity to speak with Dr Jerry Schubel, President and CEO of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. During that ‘Coastal Conversation,’ we proposed that design is a critical component of any adaptation action plan, particularly in addressing sea level rise. Now I realize we underestimated the role of design…..since there is no ‘technology fix’ to ocean acidification, how can we apply design thinking to fundamentally change the systems that produce and release carbon dioxide?

Posted in Design, Education, Sustainability

life cycle thinking is something you can see

sustain i c o n s 1.0 Everything we do effects some aspect of sustainability, and though we don’t always talk about it, we do think about it. To help you share your ‘life cycle thinking’ with others, I’ve created a set of sustainicons that you can use to visualize and highlight your thoughts and ideas. It’s only a start. The keyboard-based system is shown in the sustain i c o n s 1.0 pdf, and some examples are shown below. If you have ideas for more, please send them along and I’ll add them to the list.

Interested in biodiversity? Add the biodiversity sustainicon to your signature: {+}.

Are you a great recycler? Highlight your practices with a recycling sustainicon: ///>//>/.

Do you use renewable energy sources or have a solar array on your roof? Use the renewable energy  =(+)= , and solar energy sustainicon =(o)=.

Are you a designer that has used sustainability strategies in your work? Have fun with the bio-inspired system, [{^}], zero waste system [0], and design using one material [1] sustainicons.

Concerned about the presence of potentially harmful chemicals in the environment? There’s a sustainicon that visually describes how a chemical (in this case Mercury) moves from a man-made system into the environment: [Hg]>{Hg}.

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Posted in Sustainability, Uncategorized, Visualization

form + function + sustainability = design

It’s great to be a designer, especially today when the comprehensive thinking, making, doing toolkit of design is just what is needed. If we are hoping that development will be sustainable, then design is going to have to create it. If products and services need to be re-imagined and re-done so that they don’t cause adverse harm at any stage of their life cycle, then design has to get smarter about how design and the environment are interlinked and interdependent.

This is a difficult and exciting undertaking, but first design has to take on the challenge. It begins by recognizing that sustainability has to be part of every design outcome. Hence the equation. Simple addition that can change the world we design.


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Posted in Design, Sustainability, Uncategorized