Book Review: Designers, Visionaries + Other Stories

"Everybody has a view on sustainable design" said Jonathan Chapman when they launched their book 'Designers, Visionaries + Other Stories' at this year's 100%design show in London. Both Chapman and his partner Nick Gant (founders of the IF:Lab) started the debate of what is 100% sustainable at the show in 2006, and have now published the outcome as "a collection of sustainable design essays". For them, the term sustainability is all about diversity and manifold answers. "What's needed is a multitude of views" which is exactly what you'll find in the book. "The idea is to make its read an experience for the reader so he can build up its personal view to make a positive change" explains Chapman. There's definitely something in it for everyone, and as Chapman continues: "everybody nods at different parts". By reading this book, you'll end up with a more accurate view on sustainability. And that's not surprising, as leading sustainable design thinkers have each written a chapter for the book.

It starts of with no other than Alastair Fuad-Luke, Re-defining the Purpose of (Sustainable) Design. He declares that "Designers urgently need to move beyond the confines of aesthetic fascism and fetishism tied to the purpose of money making". His solutions are to 'co-design' in order to trigger new outcomes and to spark design ideas "with, for and by society". And yes, there's that part where Fuad-Luke questions whether co-design can be applied to commercial products.

The next chapter is entitled Design Redux by Stuart Walker. The question he asks designers to find answers to is: "How can we live decently?" To answer this question, Walker suggests changing the process of that used in design schools today, away from paper- or computer-based communicating methods, towards "intuitive, hands-on, physical and reciprocal methods that respond to the world as it is". Applying this new strategy to existing objects, not only leaves us with aesthetically pleasing result but also with a responsibility to the environment and social equity. Walker picked several existing products to show how they can be incorporated into a new functional design.

The following chapter is by Ezio Manzini, "the godfather of sustainable design" as Nick Gant called him! Its title: the Scenarios of Multi-Local Society makes it clear that it's about creative communities, active networks and enabling solutions. Manzini is proposing a scenario building exercise, introducing cases of social innovation in order to create a "new and practical vision of a sustainable future: the multi-local society". Titles like "Small is not small and local is not local" definitely promise interesting points of views

John Wood wrote about Relative Abundance and Fuller's Discovery that the Glass is Always Full. Wood analysed "why we are in such a mess", by looking at what designers created before and after 1927 when Coca Cola introduced the first non-refundable bottle, until today, where "designers have failed to live up to their full potential in regards to the environmental impacts". Woods question he's trying to answer is therefore "not what kind of skills designers need, but what is their deep, long-term purpose and potential in upholding the well-being of the biosphere as a whole?"

The chapter Clothes that Connect is written by Dr Kate Fletcher. Fletcher, a leading specialist in sustainable fashion and textile, believes that "fashion is eating itself". She describes how fashion has disconnected itself from reality and its pressing problems such as climate change and poverty. These subjects don't normally make it to the catwalk, until now, where "fashion is transforming itself". Fletcher says "we are living in changing times: Tiny companies are making shareable clothes tuned to alternative models of social activism and giant companies are announcing plans to go carbon neutral and introducing Fairtrade cotton." In this book, Fletcher presents her conceptual project "5 Ways", based on the key points: Local, Updatable, No Wash, Nine Lives and Super Satisfiers.

Last but not least are Jonathan Chapman and Nick Gant's introduction, addressing questions like "So Why design anything at all?" and "100 per cent sustainable?" as well as their (In)conclusion. Enjoy and let yourself be inspired by the various views on sustainability and the drawings by the visitors who participated at the 100%sustainable event in 2006.

The book is available in hardback (£76.50, $166) and paperback (£22.46, $45) via ::Earthscan and ::Amazon ::IF:LAB

Tags: London

2014 Gift Guide

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