Design News is your tiny dose of design, technology and other important news, curated monthly by Interwoven Design. In this issue we take a dive into Checkerspot’s algae based polyurethane, Seratech’s commercialized carbon-neutral cement, Zena Holloway’s bio-designed fashion, Athos 3D printed climbing shoes and Patricia Urquiola breaking the mold in fashion.
Checkerspot launches algae based polyurethane Pollinator Kit
The bio-based material manufacturing company, Checkerspot has officially launched their new Pollinator Kit and it is available for purchase. Instead of using hazardous raw materials for making polyurethane, Checkerspot altered the traditional make up to incorporate an algae base instead of traditional oil. Not only is this product more sustainable but is so high performance that it is used in Wonder Alpine’s snow skis. Checkerspot is targeting designers and makers by putting their Pollinator Kit right right in the hands of people creating objects. Being able to experiment with a sustainable material like algae based polyurethane with an easy barrier to entry is a game changer!
Sam Draper and Barney Shanks, two PhD students from the Imperial College London, recently won the Obel Award for their carbon neutral cement, Seratech. The award is an international recognition of human development through architecture. They commercialized their research, which focuses on replacing a portion of cement with carbon dioxide emitted from factories. Currently, cement accounts for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions. Standard cement gives off stored carbon during its production process, while Seratech focuses on its Carbon Capture Storage (CSS). Not to mention this new formula is easy to scale and low cost. This is a direct result of Seratech’s raw materials consisting of raw materials that are found easily all over the world.
Zena Holloway launches her bio-designed collection, ‘Rootfull’
Multidisciplinary designer, Zena Holloway presented her exploration of grass root grown wearables and sculptures in this year’s London Design Festival. Zena creates a template carved from beeswax and implants the wheatgrass seeds. She uses this template to grow a “botanical skeleton” while sewing, cutting, and manipulating the material while keeping the natural workflow to keep an honest result. The collection, “Rootfull,” features pieces including fashion wearables, a dress, wall hangings and a lamp all consisting of this similar organic texture. These naturally generated pieces promise that the same outcome will never be duplicated, making each piece one of a kind.
ATHOS, a Spanish startup company from Barcelona, has targeted the need for customized 3D printed climbing shoes. The need stems from climbers using shoes 2 to 4 sizes smaller so the fit is as snug as possible. The pain comes second to this fit which is essential for performance. The company uses a phone app to scan a user’s foot and input other information including climbing type, color, etc. The following steps include printing, post processes and assembly. ATHOS takes advantage of a collaboration of technology of Sculpteo and HP’s Jet Fusion Technology. This allows the team to manufacture the printed shoe body easily then assemble the straps and rubber parts. The ATHOS team has recently been recognized for their innovative climbing shoes by being named a runner up for the 2022 James Dyson Award.
Patricia Urquiola releases capsule for Weekend Max Mara
Patricia Urquiola recently left her comfort zone by presenting her fashion capsule for Weekend Max Mara. This collection is dedicated to providing women with casual and informal fashion. Patricia’s past work spans the architectural, industrial and furniture categories, but has never released a fashion line. For this reason, she decided to break the mold and highlight her approach to fashion design. The capsule stems off of her extensive work in textiles and features her unconventional mixture of color. Her capsule entitled, ‘Habito,’ expresses her feeling that the clothing that a woman wears is her emotional habit. Instead of searching for a female silhouette with her design Urquiola focused on oversized, gender neutral elements. The designer explained how important it was to position herself in new situations with new opportunities and perspectives.
Overflowing landfills, giant islands of plastic floating in the ocean, the rise in material culture and consumerism, climate change, and more have alerted us as a planet to the importance of sustainable design. Our actions as individuals, as companies, as municipalities, all impact the health of the environment and the living beings it supports, including humans. What is sustainable design, and how do we incorporate sustainability into design? Fortunately there are a lot of sustainable strategies for designers, and many ways they can minimize and even reverse their impact.
What is sustainable design?
Sustainable design is an approach to design that demonstrates key principles of sustainability, which are mainly concerned with minimizing the depletion of natural resources and increasing product lifespans. There are many strategies for achieving these goals, though any given product labeled as being ‘sustainable’ may feature one, several, or (sadly) none of these strategies.
Sustainable impact is calculated by reviewing the impact of the product in four areas: ecological damage, human health damage, resource depletion, and social impact. Sustainable designers ask themselves what the impacts in these four categories might be at each stage of product development, and how they might be minimized or avoided. They do life cycle assessments to determine those impacts precisely, and to compare the impact of one product to another.
The Product Life Cycle
The product life cycle includes four main stages:
Raw materials: the impact of extracting raw materials
Manufacturing: the impact of manufacturing the product, including material processing, transportation and factory processes
Use: the impact of consumer usage of the product, including the potential duration of use
End of Life: the impact of disposing of the product, including the potential for recycling and material recapture
You will sometimes see the product life cycle split into 5 or 6 stages but they are all fundamentally the same. Sustainable design looks at each of these stages and reviews the potential for impact in each of the four impact categories above. Does the extraction of the raw materials involve human health damage? Does the use of the product harm the environment? Can the materials be recaptured at the end of life, or do they constitute permanent resource depletion?
This framework aids the designer in decision-making at every stage. While there is always some degree of impact, decisions about what materials to use, the durability and source of those materials, the form and assembly of the product, the manufacturing processes involved, and many more.
The Sustainability Toolbox
Here are some of the key tools in the sustainable design toolbox. This is not a comprehensive list but includes the tools we find especially powerful. You’ll notice that many of them reference and depend on one another, and this is no coincidence. Many of the tools support and facilitate the use of additional tools. While it may not be possible to implement all of them, it is always possible to take advantage of sustainable strategies to participate in responsible design. More and more designers agree that it is irresponsible not to consider these strategies. Many of the decisions that influence social and environmental impacts are controlled in the early design phases of the product, well before it gets to the consumer. This is where we have the most power to make a difference.
Materials & Use
If you review life cycle assessments, you’ll quickly see an unsurprising pattern emerge: fewer materials means fewer impacts. It’s a pretty reliable guideline. Considering the volume of material needed for a product and making an effort to minimize that volume is a great way to lower its impact. Could your form be streamlined in some way? Play with the structure to learn the smallest amount of material you can use while preserving functionality.
Longevity is not only about durability, though this is of course important to allow a product to survive over time. Longevity means that, for whatever reason, people want to keep your product over the course of their lives. They want to treasure it and pass it on to others. Perhaps the product can be repaired or rarely needs to be replaced. Duration of use is an incredibly powerful metric in impact calculations, spreading the impact over decades.
Designing a product to be recyclable is a tricky proposition, in part because the recycling system is limited and varies from one region to another, and in part because it depends highly on being able to isolate component materials at the end of life. It requires thinking about the key materials of the product, how they will be assembled, any adhesives or hardware that may be involved, and whether or not they can be disassembled. While it may not be possible for every element of the design to be recycled, the fraction that can could be improved with thoughtful material and manufacturing choices.
‘Design for disassembly’ is a popular phrase in the industry at the moment, and for good reason. This design approach creates products that are built to be disassembled at the end of life to facilitate recycling. Many of the hurdles of recycling arise from materials that are theoretically recyclable in isolation but impossible to handle when indefinitely bonded to another material. It can make repair an easier service option for the product as well. Many products, especially those with technological elements, lock the user out upon failure or end of life. Design for disassembly solves this problem of access and empowers the user to maintain and repair the product as needed.
Modularity allows a product to be reconfigured to suit the needs of the user. It is tied to longevity, disassembly, repairability, and recyclability. A piece of furniture that is modular is more likely to work in multiple homes across a user’s lifetime. A modular storage system is more likely to have a damaged element replaced than to be discarded altogether. This approach is compatible with a service model of design as well.
Objects that can be repaired have an exponentially longer lifespan than those that cannot. Think about clothing and shoes from the turn of the century, products that would serve the user for decades and still be passed on. This strategy is tied to disassembly, longevity, modularity, and service models. It can be achieved through empowering the user to repair the product themselves, or it can be part of a service system that is offered by the producer.
Single-use products are a major contributor to landfill waste, and circular systems that allow users to share a product or service give a product a more productive lifespan, serving far more users. Citibike is a great example of a service model, it allows users to borrow bikes when they need them, and users who rarely bike don’t need to purchase a bike they won’t use. That the product stays under company ownership means that they have a lot of control over how the product is maintained over time and disposed of at the end of life. The responsibility for the product is shared between the owner and the user.
Producer + Consumer Responsibility
While warranties are available for certain categories of products, they are rare in commercial goods and very rarely extend to cover the entire lifetime of the product. Increasing producer responsibility is one tool to discourage design for obsolescence or rapid failure. When the producer gets the product back at the end of life, suddenly many opportunities for recycling, repair, material recapture, and re-manufacturing emerge.
Products that can be repurposed for alternate uses once their original function has been fulfilled, or perhaps in concurrence with their original function, offer the user versatility and efficiency. Perhaps it is not the entire product but a specific component that has a second or third life after the first. These strategies are often discovered by consumers out of innovation or convenience, like a damaged cup or bowl that can be repurposed for organization and storage, but they can be planned by the designer as well.
The strategies don’t stop here but we hope this gives you a taste of what sustainable design can look like. Consider these strategies, and assess their potential for use in your design projects. Assess your own purchases for signs of these tools in use. It can be challenging but it can also trigger great innovations and a fundamentally better design. It is deeply rewarding to create and support sustainable design.
The Smart List is a monthly list of multi-media recommendations on everything design, curated by Interwoven Design. In this issue we share three great books on sustainability. Being educated about sustainability is now a critical part of being an industrial designer. It helps us understand why our projects need to incorporate sustainable design practices wherever possible. That said, it’s hard to feel educated about it when the topic of sustainability is so overwhelming. The way we talk about it is often too vague to feel real or relevant to our everyday lives. These books, and others like them, tell specific, vivid stories that bring the reality of the need for sustainable design to life. They take a vague idea like “impact” and give it weight and dimension. These compelling stories help connects the dots between theory and practice.
The World Without Us
by Alan Weisman
Many books about the environment catalog case studies of the impacts that our human activities are having on the planet. They are warning signals, threatening impending disaster if we don’t change our ways. In The World Without Us Alan Weisman takes an entirely different and fresh approach in which the human species is eliminated in the opening pages and the remainder of the book is spent painting a picture of how the Earth will adapt and develop without us.
Weisman works from expert interviews with engineers, zoologists, astrophysicists, and more. He also uses present-day examples of sites that have been abandoned by civilization like Chernobyl as jumping off points for his speculative future. He uses the concept of a loud, conspicuous absence to tell the story of our impact. Our intricate civil infrastructures would collapse and be subsumed into nature, erosion and underground flooding would cause our cities to crumble, and the entire planet would undergo a process of re-wilding. What would remain of human civilization? What would be the most lasting of our contributions to the planet? Weisman answers these questions and many more.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
by Elizabeth Kolbert
Mass extinctions are planetary events wherein diversity of life drops exponentially. There have been five mass extinctions in the last half billion years, and scientists today say we are in the midst of the sixth, predicted to be the worst since an asteroid took out the dinosaurs. Of all the species that have existed, scientists estimate that perhaps 1% remain. The instigating event for this particular mass extinction? Humans. In The Sixth Extinction, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert highlights the growing mountain of endangered species, like Panama’s emblematic golden frog, including stories of many that have gone extinct on our watch. She outlines the nature of extinction with historic examples like the American mastadon, giving the reader a foundation for understanding the evolutionary and ecological frameworks around species extinctions. She then narrates her adventures with experts in dozens of fields including botany, biology, and geology. She writes vividly and with compelling clarity to highlight these quiet disappearances happening all around us, all over the world, each a study in human impact, influence, and power.
by Rachel Carson
Silent Spring was serialized in The New Yorker in the summer of 1962, and published in book form that fall. Rachel Carson’s passionate, ominous warning instigated immediate national debate about the use of chemical pesticides and to what extent science, corporations, and governments were responsible for their effects on the environment.
Carson’s research outlined how insecticides, weed-eradicating chemicals, and agricultural sprays were leaching into food and water sources, endangering ecosystems and human communities alike. Her revolutionary text kicked off a grass-roots movement to preserve the environment through local and national regulations, and was the cry that brought environmental awareness to the attention of the public. Silent Spring is considered one of the most important books of the twentieth century and, though it is now 60 years old, holds up as a social alarm and a call to action, a critical catalyst for the modern day environmental movement.
At Interwoven Design we like to incorporate sustainability into our process wherever possible, and this includes sustainable prototyping. In this article we outline our casting process and review the Checkerspot Pollinator Kit, a renewable polyurethane resin that can be used for casting. Our clients rely on us to develop innovative solutions quickly and economically, which means that we move from sketches to prototyping quickly. We iterate potential design directions in-house to reduce turnaround time and keep product development costs low. Making urethane casting molds in-house allows us to do small batch prototyping and testing at a low cost before sending a more resolved solution out to a casting or injection-molding contractor, saving our clients time and money.
How does the casting process work?
Once a design direction has been finalized and is translated into 3D CAD (Computer Aided Design) software, we choose one of two casting strategies:
We design and 3D print a mold based on the negative of the component
We 3D print the component itself and then make a mold from it
The approach we choose is driven by the needs of the final component and the intended manufacturing material. If the final component is meant to be flexible or semi-rigid, like a high density foam part, we print the mold, as a flexible component can be removed from a rigid mold. If the final component is intended to be rigid, we print the part and cast a mold from it, as a flexible mold can be removed from a rigid component.
Once approach is set, the two-part urethane is mixed in the directed ratio to start the chemical reaction that cures the material, turning it from liquid to solid. If we want to tint our resin to more closely approximate the final product, we tint the parts before combining them as urethane can set quickly. The mix is poured carefully into the mold, trying to avoid bubbles that could detract from the final casting. The curing time can vary but it’s good to leave the casting for the maximum time specified as thinner elements will cure more quickly than thicker ones. In later stages of development the casting may be sanded, painted, or finished in some other way to make the prototype feel as close to the final product as possible.
Incorporating sustainable practices
We consider environmental impact throughout the design process, pushing for the products we design to be sustainable to the greatest degree achievable for a given project. Considering sustainability at every stage of a product development cycle is essential to discovering opportunities for environmentally thoughtful design. These stages include research, form, construction, material selection and sourcing, manufacturing, and more. In early stages of a project, finding sustainable strategies for a development phase can take extra time and be restricted by budgets and practical constraints within the project.
Access to sustainable materials that facilitate low volume in-house casting is a game changer, as the more closely we can approximate final materials, the more accurate our product testing becomes. Not only does it allow our designers and clients to hold, wear and interact with the product, but it allows for high-fidelity field testing and validation. Depending on the product category, a client may choose to test products in-house with their own teams or outsource testing to a team of engineers. The ability to quickly generate and iterate prototypes that closely or precisely mimic the final material keeps testing costs down and helps projects stay on schedule.
Checkerspot performance casting materials
Checkerspot is a company that focuses on sustainable, high-performance casting materials, serving makers, designers and fabricators. Their innovative materials feature over 50% bio-based, renewable content, challenging a market saturated with oil-derived materials. They manufacture materials by “optimizing microbes to manufacture unique structured oils produced in nature, but not previously accessible at commercial scale.” Each organism contains oil that can be extracted, these lipids are the key component to Checkerspot’s biomaterials. Optimizing the qualities of sustainable materials like algal oil allows for peak product performance for the intended user as well as the environment.
The Checkerspot Pollinator Kit
We had the opportunity to put Checkerspot’s Pollinator Series Cast Urethane to the test in our studio. Our designer’s appreciated the thought put into the labeling of the kit components and instructions for the mixing and casting processes. We also liked the smooth user interaction with the sustainable packaging design. When we poured the mix into our intricate mold, the materials cured evenly and captured fine details, proving that there is no need to sacrifice performance when using sustainable alternatives to mainstream oil-derived casting products.
There you have it!
Here at Interwoven we enjoy pushing the boundaries between design, sustainability, material science and technology. Playing with new materials invigorates our design process as well as our studio-practice. Have you tried working with a new sustainable material recently? Tell us about it! Prototyping sustainably with 3D printing and bio-based material casting is just one way we can participate in the movement towards more responsible, environmentally considerate design.