If Products Could Speak – Would They Say “SendMeHome”?

Always looking for Spime ideas that do not rely on a mega infrastructure of sensors and data networks – like this simple concept SendMeHome via TechCrunch. It’s a site that let’s you register an object with a unique code, and they sell little stickers you can place on the object. Oooh, a business model that does not rely on advertising, but on sticker micropayment. The service sees two primary applications for these stickers:

1. A lost and found function that tells the finder where to return the iPhone, Paddington Bear, or other treasured object.

2. A story telling function as people pass objects around the world and people tell their stories- A nice idea for things that wind up on eBay.

There’s no grand Utopian environmental mission from SendMeHome, but it does provide a way to add sentimental data to objects, thereby increasing their social capital.

Forgot About the Carpet Mother

But really, this is the best example of sustainable design that I have ever seen.

Wire Mother Carpet Mother

Harry Frederick Harlow’s experiments on rhesus monkeys demonstrated primate connection to fuzzy, soft objects in the absence of a real, actual mother monkey. Notice how baby monkey clings to carpet mother. When given a choice between food and terry cloth, monkeys who had soft, tactile contact with their terry cloth mothers behaved quite differently than monkeys whose mothers were made out of cold, hard wire. The carpet babies were healthier and happier because they had formed emotional attachment through cuddling. Herein lies the design challenge. I can’t currently cling to my Prius dashboard, or my Tweet-a-watt. What if I could.

Design to Influence Behavior Change

In prep for a panel talk at SXSW on Designing for Irrational Behavior organized by Robert Fabricant, these are emerging examples from design, tech, engagement marketing, not-for-profit, academia, social networking… telling the story of how people who design things are creating participatory platforms that lead to more conscious consumption and use of things. 

Backstories: Where does it come from, what’s in it, who made it, how did it get here? 
“where it comes from”  
These Flocks by Christien Meindeertsma. And a book by the same artist, PIG 05049.
May have inspired this “BAA Code” concept from Icebreaker, a New Zealand wool company.
Background Stories by Arlene Birt tells the story of 3 chocolate bars.
Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles tells you the backstory of five products.
“what’s in it” 
WorldChanging Product Label for their book, one of the most comprehensive labels, created by Dawn Danby and Jeremy Faludi.
Skin Deep cosmetics database of ingredients by the Environmental Working Group
“who made this”
Dole Organics tells you who grew your banana.
Digital ICS gives farmers the ability to report on fair trade conditions and organic farming.
Etsy.com of course allows you to converse directly with the craftsperson who made their goods for sale.
World of Good is Ebay’s effort to connect buyers with organiations that aid artisans and craftspeople in the developing world.
Twittering the Earth: 
CeNSE : HP’s Central Nervous System for the Earth
Environmental Traffic Light Greener Gadgets Concept
Conscious Consumption: How do I own and operate my things for more positive social and environmental impact? 
The Prius dashboard remains the best example of how to design for better environmental impact, at the personal level.
The Onzo home energy management kit enables me to know how much power I’m using, and to manage it.
The Powerhog kid’s home energy piggy bank meter – a conceptual product from the Greener Gadgets competition.
Standby Monsters – another simple conceptual idea from Greener Gadgets.
Eco Rio android phone.
Conscious Collective Consumption: How are we as a society using our things for more positive impact?
SMUD’s utility bills tell Sacramento residents what they’re consuming vs. their neighbors.
Personal Kyoto project from Eyebeam, using ConEd bills to chart your use against others.
Wattzon.com lets me calculate my own energy use in clear simple kilowatt hours, and compare to what everyone else is doing.
Energy HubGreen Box and now Google PowerMeter are all working on energy display devices connected to the Smart Grid.
EcoNeighbuzz greener gadget invites your neighbors to share you stuff.
Tweet-a-watt! the ultimate greener gadget (and winner of the competition) – DIY, social behavior, awareness, it’s got it all.
Participatory Design: How do we co-create the future? 
Designers Accord multiple platforms – one site won’t do. Wiki, Yahoo Groups, and participation in existing communities to collect the intelligence of 100k + designers globally
The Heya Toyota Project asked about the future of transportation.
Nokia: Calling all Innovators ideas for social and environmental change.

Designers Accord NY Town Hall Wrap Up

While it was hard to be a control freak “not_organizing” an “un_conference,” I still had fun at the Designers Accord’s first Town Hall.

The Problem of Proprietary
One of the big issues raised in a number of talks was how to get over the problem of proprietary. How do we work collaboratively in a field filled with client-owned data, secret strategies, even young start-ups with smart sustainable business ideas who want to invest in patents and keep things quiet? The push for greater transparency may come from the fact that it will soon be the only viable PR strategy – focus your external communications efforts on disclosing the decisions you make internally. With the great mistrust and disgust held not just by the general public towards business but also by the executives that run businesses, we may just start to see complete disclosure as a business strategy, in an effort to defend a company’s credibility.

More on the DA NYC Town Hall from Core77.

We’ve got two post-scripts from last week’s DesignersAccord Town Hall get-together at Smart Design.


Amy Johannigman: Designers Accord Town Hall Meeting

Last Thursday the Designers Accord held its first New York City town hall meeting in Smart Design’s Chelsea offices. Designers Accord is a multidisciplinary coalition of designers and other professionals, which aims to spark collaboration and “create positive environmental and social impact.” These town hall meetings began last year on the west coast to serve as a venue for face-to-face interaction between individuals eager to share their ideas about sustainable design, and about how to inspire the creative community to think and act in socially and environmentally responsible ways.
This crowd of designers and other sustainable enthusiasts alike gathered for some light fare and settled into an informal discussion led by Jen van der Meer, a board member of Designers Accord, and ten other presenters. In light of the Designers Accord’s mission, presenters discussed an array of issues that define the opportunities and challenges currently facing the green design movement, at both local and global levels. Here are three key issues they raised: the imperative of knowledge-sharing projects, the initiative to extend social design causes, and the right balance between open-sourcing green technologies and private property rights for developers.

Knowledge-Sharing Projects
Andrew Personette, of EcoSystems, shared his concern for the lack sustainable education. His solution is the upcoming “Design Green Now” series coming next month to local New York City design schools. The free three-part series will feature New York City industry buffs exploring the themes of materials, energy, and waste in an effort to empower the design community with sustainable design know-how and rhetoric. Be sure to check out the Design Green Now site for more details of this April happening.

Realizing the need for better green networking, Wendy Brawer has co-created The Green Map System. Using a common iconography, The Green Map provides a resource for local mapmakers to share their communities’ green happenings on a global scale. The project has spread to 53 countries and become open to the public to participate by adding their own local green sites on OpenGreenMap.org.

Stephan von Muehlen is the Director of Energy Hub, a company striving to help consumers track and reduce their energy consumption. The company plans to create a user-friendly product that allows both utilities and consumers to easily access and monitor real-time building energy usage. He explained how the product would create efficiency incentives for both power producers and consumers, and the need for utilities to engage consumers in the process of reducing their electricity consumption.

Social Design: Local and Global 

Social design is both a local and global issue these days. Dan Grossman and Kristina Drury from Project H Design was on hand to speak about their newly completed Learning Landscape playground in Uganda, a project that they hope to launch in the US as well. Project H Design is a nonprofit organization created to support local and global product design initiatives for Humanity, Habitats, Health, and Happiness
The new NYC chapter of Project H is seeking active members to participate in more local and global issues during their monthly meetings. First up on the chapter’s list are the local issues of education, waste, and homelessness.
Also speaking on Social Design was recent RISD graduate Pali Dacanay. Pali’s love for design and concern for society has brought her to Uganda and back, among other places. Pali shared her desire to connect and better harness the energy of the design community locally to work toward better solutions for energy, education, and healthcare globally.

Open ReSource: How “Open” Should They Be
Open-source technologies in green design facilitate brainstorming and collaboration in the field; but the model of open-sourcing incited one of the more interesting conversations of the evening. Edward Siahaan of the Bressler Group and Paul Galli from Martha Stewart called for more open-sourcing for providing those benefits. As a creative community, we certainly want to share the innovations and knowledge of green design, whether it be through wikis, websites or otherwise. But then patent attorney Frank Martinez noted the competing value of intellectual property: As much as we want an open discussion, could open-sourcing actually stifle innovation by eliminating the lucrative and valuable incentives of patents and property? Patents are a good policy to the extent that they encourage innovation. But in the case of innovations that can be used to save the planet, which is the primary impetus underlying green design, should public policy prohibit private domain?

With Great Knowledge Comes Great Responsibility
A “Better Battery” is what John Humphrey, Sustainable Energy Partners, came to discuss. The diversity among electronics and mobile device batteries and chargers seems to expand with every new product launch. The Greener Gadgets Design Competition has received notable entries on this topic annually, yet naysayers have replied that a universal standard “will never happen” because of the financial incentive for electronics and mobile manufacturers to maintain the status quo. In the face of this negative assertion, one attendee pointedly proclaimed that we as designers should not accept this defeat in resignation. We are committed to a brighter future, so we should work aggressively with all allies to institute a standard, demand compliance with it, and push for more universal standards within our designs.
To that effect, Core 77‘s Allan Chochinov reminded the room of the designer’s “privileged position.” As designers, we have an ability and obligation to design better and cleaner products, and to convince our clients that greener is better. As Chochinov said, “we know too much” not to design in sustainable manner: we recognize the dire urgency of our global climate crisis, and we also hold the power to help redeem society by shaping the market for green goods and services. Small steps will no longer suffice; we must be bold in our actions and strict in our practices. We can only design ourselves into the change we need. We need to be conscious of designing fewer artifacts and more systems and services.

Smart Design, which has become an Adopter of the Designers Accord, concluded the evening by explaining the practical significance of this decision for their business. They have invested in better technology for video conferencing to reduce their carbon footprint from traveling. They make it a priority to educate clients on environmental impact decisions. They strive to create better products rather than just “green-wash” their designs. They realize that the “green customer” is in fact more than just an elite niche market. As another attendee pointed out, “the self-described greens” are not currently the majority of consumers. But even so, the majority does appreciate green practices and products, and thus as designers we should aspire to appeal to the “green” in everyone.

Jacqueline Gordon: Making Sustainable Design Truly Sustainable

The first New York meeting of the Designers Accord, held on March 5th at Smart Design, attracted a diverse crowd of people interested in positively influencing environmental and social issues through design. Many participants described current projects they are working on, including an upcoming panel discussion series on sustainable design sponsored by DesignGreenNow and the development of a personal home energy modeling tool by EnergyHub.

Sustainable design is not being marketed well. Most consumers and companies perceive sustainability as a luxury, and as such it is an optional premium that they can choose, and choose to ignore. The Designers Accord recognizes that designers are in a powerful and privileged position in which we can greatly influence the environmental and societal impact of the products we produce. The four P’s of marketing (product, price, promotion, and place) can be aligned with the two P’s of sustainability (planet and people) to create responsible and profitable design. It is the responsibility of designers to show businesses ways in which these six P’s can synergistically work together. Businesses make decisions based on their bottom line and it is the designer’s job to find creative solutions that are simultaneously beneficial for their client from economic, environmental, and socially responsible perspectives.

This is the only way that sustainable design can become truly integrated into the design process. As long as businesses perceive their profit and productivity as being challenged by environmental and social responsibility initiatives sustainable design will remain a niche market in an uphill battle. Sustainable design practices need to become an integral part of the design process, rather than remaining as a distinct entity that is perceived as a superfluous add-on to traditional design. Organizations, including the AIGA Center for Sustainable Design, O2, and ProjectH are helping to promote these ideas within the design community. Designers need to convince businesses that consumers care about these issues and create products that allow consumers to illustrate these preferences with their purchasing power.

The recent New York meeting of the Designers Accord illustrated that designers are looking to incorporate sustainable design into their work and want a forum that does not exist, yet. They want a place to find information and share ideas about sustainable design practices and initiatives. I propose that an existing group, with an established membership, take this on by creating an interactive discussion forum in which members can ask questions and engage in a collaborative dialogue within the community. I would include a resources section that encourages members to both upload and download documents that might be of interest within the community. There is a desire for this type of sustainable design clearinghouse and the lack of such a forum is a barrier to busy practitioners interested in incorporating sustainable design into their practices. Multiple participants at the Designers Accord meeting shared this sentiment. We need to create a platform that gives designers easy access to information and a community if we want sustainable design to become truly sustainable and fully integrated into the design process.

Thank you to Amy and Jacqueline for sharing their thoughts on the evening!


NYU ITP: If Products Could Speak Class 5 The Role of Business

We’ll talk about the greening of business, and how to build the case for environmentally friendly products and services.

Why does greenwashing occur?

The company aims to reap benefits of the higher margin consumers will support if they believe a product is “green” – and assume therefore higher quality. However if there is no proven environmental outcome, the company runs the risk of falsifying green claims.

There is also a strong desire to neutralize the effect of environmental activists who have painted a negative picture of a company.




If Products Could Tweet

For the second year in a row a DIY project wins the Greener Gadgets Competition – this time it’s a crew from Make Magazine who hacked into a Kill-a-Watt in order to give the device a Twitter voice.

The Kill-a-Watt power meter will “tweet” the daily kilowatt hours consumed to the user’s Twitter account. Make is releasing this project as an “Open source hardware” project – in other words, any ITP student can make these, modify them and make a commercial product from the ideas and methods.

The idea taps into human universal concepts of shame and competition. The creators feel that “there is a social imperative and joy in publishing one’s own daily KWH – by sharing these numbers on a service like Twitter users can compete for the lowest numbers and also see how they’re doing compared to their friends and followers.”