designing ins & outs

When I started my bachelor studies in industrial design, I wasn’t sure if more design – and more design products – actually is what we need, because there are so many issues connected with what might be called trash overflow. Though most of the projects I made don’t reflect this state of mind, but they helped me learn to walk the paths of design. Now I’m starting to see big pictures everywhere, and all those old issues start coming up again. 

trash & design

This week, the HBK Braunschweig hosted the Conference “New Experimental Research in Design” (NERD). One talk especially inspired me: Susanne Ritzmann’s lecture was titled “don’t take out the trash” and documented her design theory of trash as well as ways to sensitize design students to the connection of designing and discarding.

After talking to her, I’m infused by the idea that the end of an artifact is just as important in the design as the beginning. But that leads to a lot of other questions. In the past years, concepts like cradle2cradle and general circular economy gained a lot of traction. Also, there’s recycling labels all over.

difficult outs

But if we as designers really start designing the ‘out’ – ends of the product lifecycle, we have to understand our options of deconstruction as well as we now understand ways of production. And you can’t just divide between dumping and recycling, because dumping also inserts the trash into material circles – we just don’t know a lot about them. On the other hand, burning trash is also (not cynically, but seriously!) called

On the other hand, burning trash is also (not cynically, but seriously!) called thermal recycling. Until then, recycling meant melting things down and reusing them, but since the material actually loses quality in this process, this is better called downcycling. And if we don’t melt things down but re-use them in their actual shape, investing a lot of creativity can lead to nice products, that can’t be mass-produced and are limited by their former intentions. This is upcycling, and in a way seems to be our best shot at the moment – though it’s seldom practiced by actual designers.

These answers feel unsatisfactory. The question still in my head is: “do we have a better end for artifacts than another round in the use cycle or is this as good as it gets?”

This is of course connected to questions of materiality, and usage, and necessity. But I’ll leave it spinning in our heads for now. 



Also published on Medium.

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