For Green Design To Be Good Design, It Must Be Beautiful and Functional Today, Tomorrow--and Yesterday

Green Mac

Image via Greenpeace

Apple remains our culture's most lauded example of great design. But could it be that the company considered to have reached the pinnacle of design is, in fact, an impostor?
The definition of good design is changing. It used to be that design which combined form and function in delightful and unexpected ways was good enough. But in the 21st century, that's just the price of entry. Good design today has to be beautiful and functional not just today, but tomorrow and yesterday.Consider this: in 2006, Apple ranked at the very bottom of a Greenpeace study ranking the green practices of 14 computer equipment manufacturers. And despite a slick green advertising campaign and "unibody" laptop (whose casing is made of a single piece of aluminum), Apple's products still contain the same heavy metals, monstrous hybrids and toxic chemicals they always have.

Full disclosure: I really do enjoy my Apple gadgets. I wrote this post on my MacBook Pro, I've been through more iPods than I care to admit, and the iPhone has changed my life. Also, Apple has begun working towards using greener materials in its products. There's still a long way to go, but it's a start.

Consider that every year, the amount of e-waste we put into our landfills equals the weight of 100,000 fully-loaded 747s. It's easy to realize that truly great design has a higher calling than just our present delight. Contrast that with the carpet in the Method office.

Interface office carpet.jpg

Image via Method
Interface makes this product from old carpet, and when we're done with it, they'll take it back and turn it into carpet again. Office carpet may be a mundane product, literally trampled on every day, but its design is anything but mundane. It's beautiful and functional in the present tense, but also in the past and future.

Designing to this standard requires the designer to think more broadly than ever. She must consider not only how something lives, but how it's born, and ultimately, how it dies. She understands that design is not about form, function, or aesthetics. Design is not about software, stuff, places or people. Design is about intention. And great design only comes from those who can comprehend the full complexity of a problem, and distill it down to an utterly simple solution.

Design truly does have the power to heal our world and improve our lives, but only if we understand design in its broadest and most powerful incarnation. Fortunately, there is a new breed of designers that understands that true sustainable design is about thinking macro and creating micro. They know that sustainable design is a blue-collar job, and they're rolling up their sleeves to get the job done.

It's time to:

redefine redesign

Image via Method

Guest contributor Adam Lowry is co-founder of Method Home.

More on redefining design
Greener by Design 2009: It Doesn't Matter If It's Sustainable If It Isn't Cool, and Other Insights
Quote of the day: A Stimulus for Good Design
Allan Chochinov's 10 Steps for Sustainable Design

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