add a comment
“Our goal is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world, with clean air, water, soil and power – economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed.” -William Mc Donough, TED 2005 conference
“We do not want sustainability, because that is not enough. We want real quality.” – Michael Braungart
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough, an architect and Michael Braungart, a chemist is a seemingly utopian concept that challenges our current design principles and the ‘cradle to grave’ manufacturing models. The book is not just a commentary or an outcry on our present day design deficiencies and manufacturing externalities. It goes beyond that by laying out new remedial design principles, guidelines and even a case study to show that is more rooted in reality than it is in its utopian ideologies.
The physical book design in itself quite novel. Rather than using paper from wood pulp or cotton fiber, it uses synthetic paper made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers. Apart from being waterproof, durable and recyclable, it also serves as a “technical nutrient”: one which can be broken down and circulated indefinitely in industrial cycles. This is the ‘Cradle to Cradle’ concept in action, where design enables an alternate upcycle-able material thus relieving precious trees from performing a diminutive role as a raw material for paper.
The book starts off with a critique of the current design and manufacturing guidelines that have their underpinnings in the Industrial Revolution. According to the authors, the economic revolution driven by the desire for acquisition of capital lead to the ‘Cradle to Grave’ concept and more emphasis on efficiency. They conclude that except a few generally known positive side effects, most industrial methods and materials are unintentionally depletive.
In a world in which we accept waste as the norm and less waste as an improvement, manufacture products that have been designed for the worst case scenario, use chemical and energy brute force to produce them and measure quality of living by high economic standards, the ones that go unaccounted for are the ecological health and in many ways human health as well. The authors see this as a design problem where we have unquestioningly accepted flawed design principles that were by-products of the Industrial Revolution and call for a ‘Industrial Re-revolution’: The ‘Cradle to Cradle’, C2C design methodology.
I could see three underlying principles that drive the C2C methodology:
- Eco-Effectiveness vs Eco-Efficiency: While eco-efficiency aims at improving existing industrial systems so that they can produce less waste and pollutants, eco-effectiveness aims at a new industrial system that does not generate pollutants or deplete natural resources. A good example would be replacing coal plants with wind mills or solar panels. The idea that materials should be ‘upcycled’ not just recycled is also one of the tenets of eco-effectiveness.
- Waste Equals Food: This is a principle borrowed from nature where everything has a purpose and is a nutrient for something else. Similar to the biological nutrients, the ‘technical nutrients’ enable to create closed loops in our man-made world. Thus once a product has been designed, it is ‘upcycled’ to the industry, a number of times throughout its life cycle and then safely returned to nature.
- Respect Diversity: This is C2C’s response to the current ‘one size fit all’ design principle. This principle necessitates respect not only for biodiversity but also for geography, culture and the uniquely human element. Or more simply, its design that is adapted to local conditions using its unique ecological and cultural diversities.
As a methodology, I think C2C has immense scope for sustainable design. First, it recommends a mindset shift for designers to shed their loyalty to the ‘Industrial Revolution’ age design principles and adopt a new principled approach for a sustainable future. Some of the suggested approaches are quite feasible and could be implemented with much less investment. One approach is to assess all the materials that are used in a product and categorize them on the levels of harm they pose to humans and the environment. Remove all chemicals that we definitely know are harmful. Another useful approach is to design products that are easy to disassemble and its different parts clearly marked so that they can be recycled effectively. These are elements that I think stretch C2C from a mere framework for sustainable design to an actionable toolkit.
I can also see the merits of the ‘respect for diversity’ principle and the ‘one size fit all’ shackles that designers bind themselves with. In my opinion, this is a more near term design challenge given that the consumption gravity is shifting away from the West towards China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies. With much less notion of environmental awareness, safety and health, these young economies would soon find themselves caught up in a ‘Re-Industrial Revolution’ than a ‘Industrial Re-revolution’, that C2C advocates for. Designers could play a vital role if they could respect the diversity for the cultures and geographies that they design for and come up with more ‘eco-effective’ solutions.
However, I have two main concerns about this framework. First, the ‘Waste equals Food’ principle is one of the vital cogs of the C2C framework and I doubt if this is fungible. Even though exemplified by some examples, the book does not go beyond that to discuss ways to identify those systems. It’s unfair to expect the authors to come up with such a universal design rule too. May be only few materials qualify and a strict adherence to this principle might leave designers with very few options or might prove to be both expensive and time-consuming. With out this principle being validated for various situations, I doubt if it would differ much from other sustainable design principles such as ‘The Designer’s Field Guide to Sustainability’.
Second, the authors make it seem that the mass adoption of sustainable design would fruition if only designers could change their mindset about design. I think corporations and consumers and their respective mindsets towards sustainability also play an equal role if not greater in this regard. The authors did a great job in describing the drive for economic prosperity as the propeller for ‘Industrial revolution’ and the flawed design principles that it gave rise to. But did not address the fact the propeller has not changed even today and corporations do get rewarded more for short-term earnings than for long-term sustainability. The main reason that corporations cite is the cost associated with revamping the entire organization, including the value chain and C2C’s cost expectation is no exception to this. Even when designers change their mindset to come up with eco-efficient C2C designs and when corporations are willing to introduce such a product to the market, consumers’ unwillingness to either change their behavior or value ecological benefits than economic, could be the killer. The less than jubilant adoption of electric cars and solar energy without government incentives, despite their superior eco-effectiveness compared to their incumbents, are good examples of these design issues.
In conclusion, I think C2C is a great framework for designers providing them a new way of thinking about sustainability. However, the C2C methodology is not an elixir for all the woes of an unsustainable future but rather a good nudge for designers and in some ways corporations, to start thinking about ecology in addition to economy and equity.
Lee, Deishin, Bony, Lionel, ‘Cradle to Cradle Design at Herman Miller: Moving Toward Environmental Sustainability’, Harvard Business School Case, May 2007
Stouthuysen, Peter, ‘C2C Theoretical Framework’, C2C Network (http://www.c2cn.eu/sites/default/files/C2C_theor_framework.pdf)
William McDonough at TED 2005
Tags: Business, innovation, Modeling, Prototyping, Serious Play, Simulation
Models are efficient tools of collaboration. So says Michael Schrage. His book, “Serious Play,” is about building many models, prototypes, simulations – and using these tools for all the learning, sharing, and forecasting they can provide.
“Serious Play” tackles the goals and pitfalls of modeling. It focuses on the diverse roles of modeling, and on the interplay between simulation, communication, and innovation. The book encourages rapid prototypes and simulations as tools to facilitate collaboration between groups. This is where “play” fits in. Collaboration, ideation, enhancement, and the simple fun of trying new things each have a role in the process “Serious Play” advocates.
Through anecdotes and case studies, Schrage explains modeling, simulating, and prototyping, and emphasizes how the three tools of “Serious Play” can promote collaboration between engineering, manufacturing, design and management. Numerous styles are mentioned, including: spreadsheets, 2D and 3D electronic drawings, sculpted models, printed prototypes, and manufactured prototypes. Costs and benefits are associated with each.
According to Schrage, creating value is the essence of the prototype. With each cycle of prototyping comes the opportunity to improve the quality of the product. More than just quality, however, rapid prototyping can allow a variety of different focuses. Improvements, cost reductions, and product enhancements can all be explored through iterations of the prototyping process.
While collaboration and value creation are each big picture goals of prototyping, many pitfalls also exist. These pitfalls can hinder the value of a prototype. “Serious Play” suggests avoiding models that have no inherent purpose, that fail to benefit a particular party, that are too elaborate to effectively use, and that fail to facilitate a discussion between different product teams. The book also argues that the value of each model should be considered and evaluated by realistic business metrics.
Schrage’s style is almost exclusively anecdotal. Stories of product designers, modelers, and innovators blend together as the book progresses, and behind each story lies a hidden gem of insight. Each insight is as valuable as the last; creatively achieved, and relevant to the real world. Schrage argues effectively for the value prototypes bring to communication and collaboration, and for the value that cheap modeling has brought to the economics of business.
The book’s value is in its insights. But while very insightful, it struggles with organization. At times the book loses itself in its anecdotes, and fails to thematically tie its insights together into coherent themes. Selected blurbs are blocked out of the page, and are as likely to agree with a poignant point as they are to summarize an anecdote, repeat a commentary, or make their own point. The problem with this is that, although the points are insightful in themselves, it becomes difficult for the reader to quickly grasp where each point fits into the bigger picture.
The book seems determined to offer ideas for a multitude of scenarios, model types, and businesses, and in so doing loses some focus. However, the variety of business practices, prototyping styles, and methodologies help provide a examples, or if you will, a “model” for a large section of reader needs. The variety allows the savvy reader to re-read particular sections that may apply specifically to their business strategy, and to pick up general practice techniques as they go along. This should be beneficial to the sect of readers who are currently exploring prototyping within their business model, and for those of us interested in ideology that guides when, where and how we should prototype.
Fortunately for those of us “time-pressed” innovators, Schrage recognizes that “Serious Play” is not easy for everyone to quickly read and apply. He recommends that some of us instead read “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Innovators,” or “The One Minute Modeler.” For the generalist, looking for tools to apply, I agree. However, to give us some quick tips, Schrage concludes his book with a “User Guide,” where he outlines specific steps that even the time-pressed can take to seriously play.
add a comment
“Design is first and foremost an intellectual process. Contrary to popular belief, designers are not artists. They employ artistic methods to visualize thinking and process, but, unlike artists, they work to solve a client’s problem, not present their own view of the world. If a design project, however, is to be considered successful (and that would be the true measure of quality) it will not only solve the problem at hand, but also add an aesthetic dimension beyond the pragmatic issues. I consider design not to be a series of “creative” one-offs, but an integrated process, from planning the appropriate communications strategy to designing functional and beautiful objects as well as ( for example ) implementing electronic stationery on clients’ systems. What clients say and what designers hear are too often very different things. Design is a powerful tool to help clarify the problem. It is only when a common understanding has been established between client and designer that effective results can be achieved. Design quality needs an integrated approach: look more closely than expected, ask many questions, think laterally, get involved in things you shouldn’t, do more than you are supposed to and have fun doing it. Problem solving is one thing, aesthetic pleasure another. Combine the two, make the engineer sketch like an artist and make the artist analyze like an engineer, and you are half-way there.”
– German designer and typographer Erik Spiekermann.
The Design of Business by Roger Martin April 25, 2011Posted by S.T. in Design Thinking.
1 comment so far
Roger Martin is the dean of the Rotman school of business. In his book, The Design of Business, he nicely unfolds the importance of reconciling analytical thinking and design thinking in order to gain competitive advantage. Starting from post world war II period, Roger Martins tells us the story of sustainable businesses and how some business owners have created breakthroughs in the market over time. The book contains several case studies such as McDonalds, Target, RIM, etc. and how the CEOs/managers could come up with promising methods for delivering innovative and efficient businesses.
In short, the main question that the book arises is: “how to design a successful business?”. Author offers the notion of “knowledge funnel”.
The knowledge funnel is the progress of mystery to heuristic to algorithm. Author argues that successful organizations are ones that are able to extract business algorithms from obscure issues. It seems simple but it is a challenging journey that starts with a question and might end to a strategy.
In summary, knowledge funnel process is:
1 – Exploration of mystery that involves pondering over a concept or an issue
2 – Heuristic which is understanding the mystery and narrowing it down to a manageable size
3 – Running, controlling, and studying the heuristic until finding the formula.
It is about looking at a problem form the client perspective, arising a question, trying innovative and original ideas until finding the right rules or set of processes.
He also compares two school of thoughts: “analytical thinking” and “design thinking”. As he describes in his book, the model for value creation requires a balance and reconciliation between these two approaches.
Analytical thinking is the old school that is based on rigorous and quantitative analysis. The goal of this strategy, as he explains, is mastery through diligent analytical process.
Design thinking or intuitive thinking, that opposes the old-fashioned one, involves creativity and original innovation. It is when the person knows without reasoning.
I want to take a break from the book and gently remind you of what Don Norman stated in his article – Design Thinking: A useful Myth.
“What is design thinking? It means stepping back from the immediate issue and taking a broader look. It requires systems thinking: realizing that any problem is part of larger whole, and that the solution is likely to require understanding the entire system”, he says. I believe that the core of Norman’s view is Rogers’ knowledge funnel and the balance between analytical and intuitive thinking.
Although he emphasizes the importance of the knowledge funnel for design thinking, not every mystery can become an algorithm. It is more true when it comes to methods that requires high level of tacit knowledge which is hard to codify. Another challenge is balancing between analytical and intuitive thinking within organizations. Most often, companies choose – not intentionally necessarily – either exploration or exploitation and neglect the other one. Third challenge emerges when the competitors follow your algorithm. To stay competitive, you need to start over; in other words, the process of knowledge funnel is cycling and not linear.
The development of design thinking asks for continuous practicing and staying in balance. Companies need to know how to delve into the knowledge funnel, pay the price for understanding an unknown situation, devise question(s), explore valid solution(s), and be able to exploit those solutions efficiently.
Here is a short visual summary of the book. Enjoy it!
A couple of links on design education April 11, 2011Posted by Jon Pittman in Design Thinking.
add a comment
Here are a couple of posts about design education
- Don Norman on the need for technology in design education – http://www.technologyreview.com/business/37216/?p1=BI&a=f
- A Mind Map from John Maeda at RISD about design education – http://risd.cc/dHU5vC
The Story of Stuff April 11, 2011Posted by dellahuff in Design Thinking, Systems Thinking.
The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard
Review by Della Huff
In The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard walks us through the materials economy step by gory step: the extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of consumer goods, or as Leonard calls it, “Stuff”. In each chapter, Leonard delves into the processes and materials involved in creating our Stuff, illustrates the environmental and social costs created (through a lot of scary data points), and, thankfully, also offers reasons to hope and describes areas which are improving – or at least aren’t worsening – and provides some viable alternatives for our current systems. One thing is for sure: after reading The Story of Stuff, it’s impossible to look at your ‘Stuff’ the same way again.
The book is meant to be a wake-up call, because as Leonard says in the book and in her documentary of the same name, “you cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely”. If we want Earth to remain habitable, we cannot keep extracting its key resources at an accelerating rate and transforming them into disposable Stuff. She shares scary statistics like these:
- We lose 50,000 acres of trees a day globally to deforestation for the making of our paper, furniture, houses etc.
- In the U.S., each person uses 200 gallons of water on their lawns per day during the growing season.
- It takes 256 gallons of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt.
- The average gold wedding ring creates about 20 tons of hazardous waste.
The book is a intentionally controversial, polarizing, and a shocking. It’s been called “an anti-consumerism diatribe” and even “community college Marxism in a ponytail.” This is because she asks a question that is very unpopular if you are involved with the making, selling, and consumption of Stuff: “Are we consuming too much?” Leonard posits that the world’s economy, ever focused on growth, now depends on consumption at an ever accelerating rate. Because of this, Stuff is made to break, to be thrown away, to pile up in landfills so that companies can sell more Stuff.
To some, this sounds like a conspiracy theory. To others, it sounds like a truth that’s just hard to hear. Many detractors have tried to discredit Leonard’s facts and figures in the Story of Stuff (you’ll find as many detractors as supporters if you google “The Story of Stuff”), but it is very difficult to discredit her basic premise that we are consuming resources at an unsustainable rate.
My biggest takeaway from book was Leonard’s overall approach to the issue of sustainability. Leonard is a systems theorist. While many activists focus on a small part of the consumer goods lifecycle (e.g. fighting strip mining, hazardous waste disposal, or wasteful transportation of goods), Leonard believes that one much understand the entire lifecycle of extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal in order to contextualize each step within the process, and to understand the incentives up and down the value chain that influence each step. Solutions must address each step of this value chain in order to succeed. This spoke to me as a business school student, and I found this to be especially relevant to our study of design: no object, system, or business model can stand alone; each is part of a greater system which must be carefully considered in order to maximize the design’s usability, efficiency, and sustainability. Therefore, the design thinker ignores systems thinking at his/her peril. To ignore the broader ecosystem leads quickly to the design graveyard.
It can be easy to quickly become depressed while reading The Story of Stuff. The data she shares on declining animal species, toxic chemicals in our food, air, and water, formaldehyde in our clothing, and toxins in cosmetics is terrifying. Luckily, it is not all depressing news. At the end of the book, Leonard presents a vision for a better world. So, while The Story of Stuff outlines everything we’re doing wrong, Leonard does her best to show that it is a fixable problem, and that there are alternatives to the consumption cycle that we have developed. She tries to show that we all have choices in how and what we consume, and that these choices don’t require completely relinquishing our Stuff, but rather adjusting our thinking around it.
As Leonard says, “It’s not like gravity that we just gotta live with. People created it, and we’re people too. So let’s create something new.”
If you’re interested in watching the 20 minute documentary, which has reached over 10,000,000 viewers in over 200 countries, you can watch it on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/storyofstuffproject#p/u/22/9GorqroigqM
You can also check out the eponymous blog at:
Design Thinking Is a Failed Experiment April 6, 2011Posted by Jon Pittman in Design Thinking.
add a comment
Check out Bruce Nussbaum’s views on Design Thinking. He was one of the original proponents of the term, and now is reconsidering its usefulness.