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Sunday, 30 July 2017

Designing for the future: trends we need to consider now

This blog post is a part of Design Blogger Competition organised by CGTrader

A maker’s decisions are ultimately directed by the designer’s vision. Designers and Makers are creating, mixing, adding, applying, collecting materials so there is always going to be some sort of waste at the end of the process but that waste needs to be resourceful and sustainable. We need to consider that upcoming trends in design use materials and processes that are ecological; reducing our carbon footprint and how our designs and creations affects the environment in the long-term. Richard Black at material supplier, Flints acknowledges that environmental products ‘are the future, they have to be!’ supporting the increasingly apparent fact that not only is the making industry very wasteful but also uncompromising in seeking alternatives which address environmental needs. 

In recent decades we have taken for granted the sophisticated processes and synthetic materials available to the designer and maker. Nowadays there is a growing awareness that our environment cannot tolerate non-biodegradable products and their means of disposal. Although changes to models of practice are not always welcomed, change may be necessary.

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Reading a journal from the Victoria and Albert Museum online archives describing the 1875 Exhibition 'On Waste' at Bethnal Green Museum London, brought home to me the inescapable connection between waste disposal and the economy and that this issue is not new. Economy plays a large role in the issues of the environment; business has flourished from the need to dispose. ‘Job Creation in the industrial age could only be achieved at the cost of increasingly severe pollution problems and the depletion of non-renewable resources’ (Desrochers: 2011, p.1). Waste and its disposal suddenly became a much greater issue when the Industrial Revolution opened up mass production using new and sophisticated materials. ‘Many individuals were willing to trade some environmental degradation for a higher standard of living’ (ibid p.2). This problem has escalated reaching into all areas of manufacture, which is why we have concerns over the health of our environment today.

In terms of the Waste Hierarchy currently set out by the EU Waste Framework Directive the bottom line is that we need to strive for ‘prevention’ of waste and the mission statement of many waste disposal companies is ‘zero waste’.

From interviews I conducted back in 2012 during my degree in Theatre Practice: Prop Making I concluded that people are perhaps aware of environmental concerns but do little to act on them. This is still the case now. ‘We are in a very wasteful industry’ Company A stated ‘the nature of the beast is that it is very difficult to control’. With prop makers using different materials on every project it would be impractical and somewhat impossible to have recycling and disposal bins for specific materials ‘It would also need an enormous space that they would have to put aside for different requirements…it would be a massive task to try and monitor…’For a prop maker the current make consumes your thinking: Will it last through the run? Is it safe? Is the quality to a high enough standard? Makers rarely think beyond the making, as Company A explains with the exhausting nature of the industry ‘you can have the best intentions but…when its 3am in the morning you really don’t care- you just want to get your job done…’. As a maker myself I can sympathise with this. In the industry you are always thinking one step ahead, looking for the next job; projects often overlap so there is no time to worry about what happens to a prop once its sent off and placed under the supervision of the production team. From my own experience there is little communication about where the prop ends up and it is no longer the maker’s ‘problem’ once handed over to the crew. The prop maker loses control of the prop in terms of regard to where the materials will end up and what they are doing to the environment when disposal is needed. If a production company can make money on a prop it may be kept intact. Company B explained ‘the stuff will go to hire places, it has value, some films store it in containers at Pinewood for tax reasons; it has assets, the tax breaks if they still own it’. Company B also added ‘As far as waste management goes, you try to not have any- because its bloody expensive!’.
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Environmentally friendly products such as sustainably sourced timber, paint and fabrics seem to be a lot more expensive. This is usually the case when a product or process is newly introduced because ‘eco-friendly’ usually means not cutting corners as well as using suppliers who are sympathetic to your principles. This invariably makes the costs higher. 

In our modern world our models of practice are constantly being scrutinised and developed to match new technology and legislation. However, change is a gradual process and trying to bring about change for the better takes a lot of uptake in terms of getting people involved to bring about action. We are bombarded with tips and tricks in order to break our lazy habits and attitudes to environmental concerns. The Plastic Bag campaign introduced in 2008 and widely published by the media provides us with a prime example. At first it seemed to be impossible that we should stop using the supermarkets’ plastic bags; but now, for many of us, reusing and recycling is a way of life.

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This awareness needs to resonate with a varied audience for increased understanding and and ideally be implemented at the start of an individual’s creative learning. Company C explained that understanding about wastage ‘can start when you’re a child before you’re even at school…part of the parcel- not some big deal…‘let’s mix up some paint. No listen let’s mix enough paint'”. This will then stay with the practitioner right up through college and into professional practice impacting on their design and making choices. Company C continued ‘In my opinion and a lot of people in the industry think colleges are not even preparing people to be makers let alone makers who are Green’ (2012). Therefore a review of education requirements is needed.

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If professional makers don’t have the time to investigate new methods, there is always the opportunity for trainee makers to collaborate and invest their time in a project with Green aspirations creating an opening for new learning, innovation and invaluable pioneering research. This would also give the college recognition and perhaps new options for funding from government grants. So a solution to incorporating into models of practice greener materials and greener practice could be to involve student practitioners. This view was endorsed by Sean Myatt, a puppeteer and senior lecturer in theatre design at Nottingham Trent University, when I spoke to him at the Julie’s Bicycle Green Network Meeting, March 2012. We discussed the importance of student-led curricula when feedback from enthusiastic young practitioners can lead the way to constructive change for the better and “challenge the industry”. 

We face a changing future financially and ecologically. Changes in practice and developments in our industry will be imposed upon us as new technologies and environmental concerns are introduced. With our progressing technology will new processes help to eradicate the waste we currently create? 3D printing comes to mind. This form of ‘craft’ uses technology to replicate a design using different materials. In it’s infancy I attended the ‘Power of Making’ exhibitions at the V&A in London where it was discussed how 3D printing will soon become a commodity and accessible tool for anyone to use. For me the importance of this new development posed the question, will the processes makers have been using, be outmoded now that you can go from design to finished product in two steps without the process of for example, creating moulds that create a lot of waste material.          
         It's an interesting question but I think that the sculpting that goes into prop making is going to be hard to replace fully with digital modelling, but that might change when scanning and sampling develop…so to your question…the answer is probably that these materials will be part of the future but maybe in new formats’. (Daniel Charny, curator of PofM Exhibition 2012)

In order to appeal to entrepreneurs and make an impact in the industry an Eco-Plan Package with green guidelines could be established and made obligatory for all designing and making businesses. This package would encompass all information about materials’ environmental specifications, disposal and advice on 'greening' the individual’s practice. There are health and safety guidelines and assessments so why isn't our environment cared for with such high priority?  

Designers and Makers need to be encouraged to use biodegradable products and processes that are currently available, and to tweak and tailor these materials to their needs. Before long, today’s innovative changes will become accepted procedures and new models of practice will emerge.