We invited three award winning industrial design and engineering studios to discuss the emerging, and at times divisive, trend toward designing products and packaging for circularity. Nichole Rouillac of level, Bret Recor of Box Clever, and Dan Kennedy of Ronin Product Development Labs each shared a dispatch from the frontiers of product and packaging design.
Nichole Rouillac: Dieter Rams is considered the godfather of design. When you go to most ID schools and many industrial design studios his 10 principles of design will be posted on the wall. I do think at the time Dieter Rams wrote these principles (in the 1970s), they were really valuable. He has inspired a huge number of companies and so many products, including Apple.
But you know, times have changed a lot. And I think it’s time to change the principles of design for the planet we’re living on today and the times we’re living through.
I love the collaboration between Allbirds and Adidas because they’re actually putting the numeric value of the carbon footprint of the product and using design as a way to celebrate that, but also to educate people. Because people cannot make better choices if they don’t know how bad the products are that they’re buying. So we need to be able to tell consumers how bad products are. What the life cycle analysis is. What carbon is emitted in creating that product and getting it into your home, into your life.
Bret Recor: We’re seeing the addiction to what we’ve been doing. We’re seeing the ocean islands of plastic. We see it out in the world. We see the impact. And you know, only 9% of recycled plastic actually gets recycled. So, where does the other 91% go? The alarming thing is – we eat it. We’re actually consuming 21 grams of plastic a month. It’s terrifying.
So, it’s not about recycling more. We have to think about replace and change. That's where we come to circularity. Not just putting out in the world, which is a one-way street. Right now, we produce products, we send them out, and people buy them. And then we say to the consumer, it's all on you. And we're still just throwing things out. Even if it's a nice thing, like a car or a television, we still dispose of it.
In thinking about a circular economy, design is one piece and then there are all these other players. In order for circularity to work, design needs to be talking to manufacturing, and to actually engage all aspects of the business side. We need to fully engage, not just look at the end use or the material.
Dan Kennedy: In an effort to reduce waste, we really want to move towards repair. We can’t be gluing our products together because then you have to take them apart with a heat gun, and it’s a real pain to do that. So better to use screws. We need a new paradigm that doesn’t hide screws under rubber feet and under labels. We always used to say, Hide it under a label. We can’t do that anymore. We have to celebrate and communicate to the user how you disassemble this thing.
Apple was very widely criticized by the Right to Repair movement for blocking access to repair. Apple was saying, Oh, you can’t touch this unless you have a license or you’re going to void the warranty. Within a short year, they’ve actually launched this self-service repair store. And you can get the spare parts, the manuals for disassembly, and you can also rent the toolkit which is necessary (because Apple is still kind of stuck in the mode of gluing everything together.) But it’s pretty amazing they’re taking the steps to do this and hopefully in time they will apply design for disassembly to their products.