Weekly Recap: Figuring out Problem Spaces

The week before last (like every other week actually), was crazy! We took a vote on our ‘favorite’ problem spaces, selected three solid areas of friction in the e-waste cycle and presented this at Cisco.

So after all the meetings (Skype and tête-à-tête), visits to repair shops, desk research and interaction we came up with a huge ( and kind of scary too) flow of resources, constraints and problems that the formal sector, the informal sector, the bridge between the first two, the makerspaces and the repair shops.

There were two versions of this mapping. One beautifully chaotic mapping, courtesy of Lisanne. You will find some occasional scribbles from Iain on this one. And another more clean (presentable is the important word here) version – thank you Tarun! Not to be stereotypical, but my mother would swoon over this boy’s handwriting like I did (I think Lisanne might have as well)!

 

Image-1The neat one!

We narrowed down every possible problem we could identify into six main ones that encompassed all others on the map. We did get into a little of a tie-breaking issue for which Sruthi came to the rescue, and ultimately got our three problem spaces that will define the rest of this project. The first – people in the informal sector are perceived poorly by citizens, the second – there is a general lack of education and awareness about e-waste amongst citizens, and third – there’s a notion of ‘unprofitable’ e-waste, material recyclers aren’t willing to take in.

The informal sector does consist of marginalized society – poor ragpickers and kabadiwalas. While these people might not actually have the recycling technology that institutions like E-Parisaraa do have, they have an intrinsic knowledge of the recycling process – what can be recoverable and what cannot, how material can be extracted without much technology – and spatial awareness. Where the formal sector lacks in its waste collection abilities, the informal sector shines. However one doesn’t get a very ‘healthy’ image of the informal sector and its practices. The general perception of is one of poverty, dirt and illegal recycling methods.

Now coming to why we chose this as a problem a space. The informal sector, like mentioned above, has invaluable resources in terms of both manpower and collection skills (the informal sector currently handles 95% of e-waste that enters the cycle). The poor perception however is possibly leading to an unwillingness to associate with them and ergo, smaller numbers in terms of the amount e-waste that even enters the cycle. If we could address the negative perception that exists, we could potentially increase the quantity of waste that is given up for recycling.

As with a lot of issues there’s always a lack of awareness and education. Indians don’t know or simply don’t care about their e-waste. CEE told us that there’s just one page in CBSE textbooks that talks about e-waste. (From the amount of desk research we’ve done one page doesn’t cover it. At all.) Pretty shockingly, some of the repair shops didn’t know what e-waste is. (Getting worried, anyone?)

Sahaas has 1.2 tons of e-waste the no one is willing to pick up. Why? Because it’s ‘unprofitable’. WIth the overhead costs of formal sector recycling I suppose looking for ‘profitable’ e-waste is key to survival. But this doesn’t excuse the amount of unattended e-waste that’s potentially ruining the environment and taking up space. Makerspaces like the Banjarpalya Makerspace could be likely partners in dealing with this issue. Waste of one is resource of another, or so we hope!

 

IMG_6754Three way video call, Cisco style.

Our Cisco meeting was on Dussehra. Cisco was closed for the festival (we figured this out a few hours before the meeting). Security opened the place just for us (#feelingfancy). It was eerie, the office didn’t even smell the same without all it’s employees. (Is perfume that potent?) Barcelona has finally come on board, yay! We finally got to meet and have our first official three-way meeting. The Amsterdam team, with Dutch Design Week going on up there, had the meeting not at Cisco but at Jan’s home. His dog was the cutest distraction ever (insert heart-eyed emoji here). They’ve been conducting research on smartphones using the love/hate letter as a design tool.

Our upcoming sprint focuses on what we can do to address these three problem spaces and come up with three clear concepts that we can narrow down on. Good luck to us!

 

Weekly recap: All. Of. The. Meetings.

This week has been pretty packed, with meetings left, right and centre. We’ve Skyped with Ketki Gadre from CEE (the Centre for Environmental Education), chatted with different electronic repairmen, had a coffee with Abhijit Sinha from a Makerspace in Banjarpalya, hung out in Jayanagar with some folks from Saahas and met with Hasirudala at their office. In between meetings, we’ve been busy making sense of all of the conversations we’ve been having, and what they mean for the direction of our project; we need to sort out how we will be moving forward in time for our Cisco meeting next week. Whew. Hold on to your hats…

Mapping out this week's meetings.
Mapping out this week’s meetings.

On Monday we had our Skype session with Ketki from CEE, which was an informative discussion; we talked about the three most important points that CEE sees as crucial to mending the cycle of e-waste, from (1) spreading awareness, to (2) focusing on a strict implementation of EPR (extended producer responsibility), and (3) formalizing the informal sector. Right now, CEE is working towards gathering qualitative and quantitative data about household e-waste (they’ve gathered around 5 000 responses so far, and which we can’t wait to get our hands on that #datagoldmine) as well as working with SEWA (the Self-Employed Women’s Association), a unionized organization that allows for an informal party to be part of a formal process acting when as the middleman. It’s an important step towards bridging the gap between the two sectors, and one that the CEE wants to continue doing with other similar organizations.

The Repair Shop with the best name: To Too Do.
The Repair Shop with the best name: To Too Do.

We took a stroll on Tuesday to hunt for repairmen working at refurbishing shops in and around the Fields of View area. We were looking to ask them about a couple of hunches that we had after talking to CEE: that the number of repair shops today should be decreasing, and that the costs of repairing should be increasing. Unfortunately, we were really only able to talk to phone repair shops – as well as one PC store – but we still were able to gather some valuable insights from some super helpful guys. First off, the number of stores in the area is about the same as it’s been, but online repair shops (where customers can simply send off their phone to be fixed) have put a bit of a damper on business. Additionally, issues that customers have with their electronics are really problem-specific: it’s hard to say whether or not that repairing costs have significantly increased or decreased. However, all of the repairmen stated that they do often recommend that a phone is replaced instead of repaired, if the phone is quite old, or the problem is more serious (more so than a broken screen, for example. That one is common, which was… comforting to find out). Also, the lack of contracts make it much more easy for customers to feel that they can throw out a phone; they aren’t locked into paying a fixed fee for the next three years, so really, what’s the difference? #Yolo, or something. One more fact: everyone gets repairs – from the savvy youngsters to the um, slightly less savvy.

The rural Makerspace, image via Fablabs.io
The rural Makerspace, image via Fablabs.io

We met Abhijit from the Makerspace at a Coffee Day that same evening. After some much-needed caffeine, we asked him questions about the work that the space is doing, and how he thinks that something like a makerspace could fit into the cycle of e-waste in a city like Bangalore. The space itself is located in a rural area just outside of Bangalore, and is environment where people – mostly school-aged children – have an opportunity to explore and work with new materials outside of an institutional environment. And in Banjarpalya, it’s all about your mentality: you’ve got to want to get your hands dirty and fearlessly experiment if you really want the Makerspace to work for you. Although we’re still not exactly sure how the Makerspace fits into puzzle, it was great to meet Abhijit and talk about visiting the space at some point (because who doesn’t love a road trip?).

Saahas, Jayanagar.
Saahas, Jayanagar.

Our next meeting was with Saahas, at their lovely office in Jayanagar (seriously, Iain fell in love with the neighbourhood. His eyes lit up and he got all mushy and everything). We talked about the work that they’re doing with schools, and how getting children involved in e-waste recycling programs sort of spurs on their parents and teachers to also get excited about it. Saahas deposits the e-waste they collect to E-Parisara (a formal recycler), but right now, they’re sitting on a lot of unwanted e-waste as it’s not financially profitable (which, after hearing that, made a sort of comical light bulb form above our heads; it’s definitely a point of interest for our project). Overall it was a very informed meeting, and we’re looking forward to meeting up with them again as the project progresses (mostly so Iain can go back to Jayanagar, really).

Some of the (yes, messy) notes we've been mapping out.
Some of the (yes, messy) notes we’ve been mapping out.

Finally, our meeting with Hasirudala: we met them in their office at Jain University on Thursday. The previous Design Across Cultures project Rubbish! worked with Harisudala, as the organization deals with waste collection, segregation and recycling. They’re currently looking to expand into e-waste, and one of their focuses for this is to change the public perception of the informal sector. That is, they aren’t so keen to dismiss the informal sector as something that’s altogether bad; rather, they want to help them to get proper licenses and subtly change certain practices (like using equipment beyond, say, a hammer and a screwdriver to deal with e-waste) so that they can elevate their work. It’s quite a different approach to the informal sector that we’ve heard so far, and after sitting down at Infinity post-meeting (Infinity is lovely, btw), we talked for well over an hour about it (among other things, of course, like Sruthi’s experience with Halloween in Bangalore. Apparently it’s not a thing). There’s still a lot of wrapping-our-heads-around everything to be done, but we’ve started to map out different things – from the pros and cons to formalizing the informal sector, to jotting down the resources, conflicts, problems and links of the different people and organizations we’ve met with – and it’s getting clearer in our minds. More or less.

Unrelated doodle drawn during the video calls. N'Sync inspired.
Unrelated doodle drawn during the video calls. N’Sync inspired.

Oh, and – almost forgot – we had a video chats with Amsterdam and Barcelona, which is always fun. With Amsterdam, we talked about what we’ll be presenting next week, and tried to line up some of our sprint goals. We’re hoping that for our next sprint, we’ll be able to work more closely together, and really – gasp – start to merge the project together. It’ll be complicated but hey, we’re up for a challenge. We’ve survived the heat so far (it’s a snuggly 34°C at the moment) so we can pretty much tackle anything. As for Barcelona, they’re really just starting out, so it was more of a meet-and-greet sort of a session. They’ll be focusing more on research and trends, as opposed to a tangible output for their project. But we’re still going to #tryhard to find a way to make it all relate. Go Design Across Cultures, go.

A screen grab of our nifty Tumblr.
A screen grab of our nifty Tumblr.

If you’re not already following our Tumblr, then check it: We’re posting photos, links and fun little doodles daily. So go ahead. Click that link. We don’t bite. Over and out.

Pretty much sums of the week. Thanksgiving-themed.
Pretty much sums of the week. Thanksgiving-themed.

Ps: Last weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving so Happy Thanksgiving from Lisanne to one and all. Cheers.

Designing for the future: Getting jugaad with it

Where do you see your designs in the year 2050? Are they outdated visually? Culturally irrelevant? Perhaps. As designers, we’re taught to stay away from trends: design to withstand the test of time. And while this heavily poetic phrase is often a focus for visual design, it is only more recently been brought into the public eye in regards to industrial ecology. As our lives become more and more inundated by our personal electronics, the longevity of these items should be brought into question. With the overwhelming growth rate of e-waste, and cases of various cities like Bangalore, India trying to avoid the nickname “electronic graveyard”, how can we ensure that these devices are sustainable? How can we start to implement the technology of the future today?

More often than not, our personal electronics are designed for ‘planned obsolescence’, which is “when a product is deliberately designed to have a specific life span… usually a shortened life span. The product is designed to last long enough to develop a customer’s lasting need… [and to] convince the customer that the product is a quality product, even though it eventually needs replacing. In this way, when the product fails, the customer will want to buy another, up to date version”1. That is, the products that we’re buying aren’t meant to last; designers have developed products in such a way that they, well, fall apart. But not too quickly: the product has to last long enough that we’re convinced it was a good product to begin with, so that we consume more. And more. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that is largely invisible.

It’s important to note that there are different projects and people that working to interrupt the cycle that we accept as a norm (of course you need to replace your laptop every three years, or why wouldn’t you need the latest version of the iPhone?). Puzzlephone is an example of how designers are attempting to stop the cycle of planned obsolescence. Puzzlephone is “a modular Android device with three parts that can easily be customized, replaced or upgraded… if the camera or battery stops working – or if you want to switch to a different OS – you can just swap in a new part instead of buying an entirely new phone”2. This mobile device is meant to last for a minimum of ten years, which is a vast improvement over the average 18-month lifespan of a typical smartphone3. While modular product design is nothing new – think about it: you’re not buying an entirely new car when you need to replace the tires – the concept behind Puzzlephone is definitely one we all need to get on board with: it is clearly a more sustainable solution in a countless number of ways.

Beyond interventions at the designer level, you also have creative consumers that are redefining the cycle of consumption. In India, you’ve got the world of jugaad. It’s a term that comes with a host of definitions from either end of the spectrum, but as Catch so neatly defines it, it’s “the will to survive, against all odds, by any means possible”4. Jugaad is a way of responding to a variety of conditions, in a way that can be seen as innovative. For example, say you’ve got a showerhead. Instead of spraying water evenly, it’s working more like a faucet; water is flowing out as a single stream. If you’ve got the attitude of jugaad, or you use jugaad (it’s a verb. An adjective. A noun. Let’s just say it’s complicated), then you grab a plastic water bottle, quickly poke a bunch of fine holes in the bottom of the bottle, and fasten the mouth of the bottle to the shower head. And, voila. Your water is now spraying evenly. In other words, you’ve got to think on your feet. Make it happen.

It goes without saying that jugaad extends into the world of electronics. You’ve got empty Coca Cola bottles and petrol containers used as loudspeakers, old pairs of pants used as ventilating systems and makeshift vehicles from reused motors, plastic chairs and a few handy pieces of twine and metal. On a less physical level, one way of dealing with the challenge of poor public transportation in India is the classic ‘pick me up, but don’t pick up’ solution: where you call an auto-rickshaw driver that you know and quickly cancel the call before it is answered. The driver will see you number and will come to pick you up, free of the hassles of arguing with different drivers, and of course, avoiding wasting money on a call5. Here, a smartphone’s abilities have been reinterpreted to meet a consumer need. Another example of phone-related jugaad is the numerous mobile phone repair shops that dot the streets of Indian cities, where, instead of – as your phone manufacturer would recommend – tossing your mobile in favour for a new one, inventive mobile repairmen would devise a workaround to make sure that your phone keeps on trucking. For a while, anyways.

The “for a while” aspect of jugaad is crucial to take note of; the effects of jugaad – while inspiring – are spotty, temporary, and there therefore is a lack of systematic knowledge building in the practice. In order to be seen as a long-term solution for designing for the future, jugaad must be complemented with an effort that is more methodical and ultimately, shared, so that others can build upon initial knowledge-building endeavours. To put it simply, the spirit of jugaad is thumbs-up worthy. But let’s not start bowing down to the idea as a successful future-oriented practice just yet.

The thumbs-up aspect of jugaad can be found in other places: with massive amounts of e-waste being sent to Africa and Asia, there are workforces dedicated to refurbishing used electronic equipment and, ultimately, producing workable electronics that give users access to technologies that they would never have previously had. In Agbogboshie, a suburb of Ghana, which is fondly referred to as ‘the world’s largest e-waste dump’, projects like Qamp are “join[ing] hands to prototype tools and co-create a hybrid digital-physical platform for recycling, making, sharing and trading… mining what already works for models and methods, and deploying co-design within existing communities of makers, across class, religious and tribal strata”6. That is, this transnational makerspace platform is finding ways in which to reinvent Agbogbloshie as an action-oriented space where end-of-life products have, quite literally, gone to meet their maker; old electronics are used as inputs for new outputs. Of course, Agbogbloshie itself is not exactly the picture of a makerspace – Jakob Schiller of Wired kindly refered to the suburb as akin to an open sore – but generalizing the effects of e-waste exports as “[creating] vast, poisonous dumps… turning wetlands into slums… a now apocalyptic setting” is a dark and uninformed depiction7. It’s also important to mention that Qamp’s actions have become a documented and shared knowledge base, meaning that other e-waste riddled areas can learn to adopt similar principles. Ultimately we should learn from the attitude of Qamp: instead of burying that which no longer works as intended, we need to start reimagining new ways of use in a inventive and knowledge-building fashion.

It can feel a bit unnatural to challenge patterns of thought and familiar behaviours that seem like undisputed givens today; new versions of products are hastily put out onto shelves and celebrated on a daily basis. But if we are thinking seriously about designing for the future, we need to challenge how we orient ourselves. Through designs like Puzzlephone and with a jugaad-like spirit alongside systematic knowledge building endevaours like Qamp, we can challenge the cycle of planned obsolescence and start to design for the future. So let’s get jiggy with it. Jugaad with it. Whatever works.


 

  1. Ryan, V. What is planned obsolescence? Product Design, Technology Student. <technologystudent.com>. 2012.
  2. Peters, Adele. Ready for the iPhone 7? Get this smartphonedesigned to last a decade and forget all about it. Exist, Fast Company. <fastcoexist.com>. 5 Jan, 2015.
  3. Designing a more sustainable smartphone. Green and Sustainability, Vangel: Secure Data Destruction and Recycling. <vangelinc.com>. 2015.
  4. The Great Indian Jugaad: How to survive and succeed in India. Catch News. <catchnews.com>. 30 May 2015.
  5. Buxi, Arjun. The Art of ‘Jugaad’: Everyday Life. <learningindia.in>. 23 Feb. 2015.
  6. Project, Qamp. <qamp.net>. 2015.
  7. Schiller, Jakob. Inside the hellscape where our computers go to die. Wired <wired.com>. 23 April 2015.

 

Weekly recap: Short & sweet

Our past week was short (thanks to our holiday) but we’ve been busy talking to the other teams, setting up meetings that’ll help us with our goals for this sprint and mapping out the stakeholders involved in the e-waste cycle. We’ve also set up a Tumblr here, so you can check out what we’re up to on a day-to-day basis, from visualizing to fascinating project finds to great articles that are moving our work along at a high-speed pace.

Video chats. Good times.
Video chats. Good times.

We spent an hour with our pals in Amsterdam video chatting via Spark on Thursday. They’ve been working on collecting qualitative data in the form of love letters. Yes, love letters. That people write to their smart phones. Or break up letters, whatever expresses how you’re feeling towards your phone. They’re hoping that the letters that they receive will give them some insights into the emotional connections that people have with their cellular devices. We wrote our own, and they were fun to do. But hey, who doesn’t like to write letters?

The different types of stakeholders in the cycle of e-waste, featuring Lisanne's messy brainstorm.
The different types of stakeholders in the cycle of e-waste, featuring Lisanne’s messy brainstorm.

As for us, our sprint goals are similar to that of the Amsterdam team: to research (and to meet people; we’ve got a bunch of meetings coming up next week) and to hopefully pinpoint some problem areas that we can open up and use to focus our project. More specifically, we’re trying to map out the stakeholders involved in the post-consumption cycle of e-waste in Bangalore, and see how connections can be made in between said stakeholders. We’ll be putting on our best detective faces for our Skype with CEE (the Centre for Environmental Education) on Monday and our meeting with Saahas on Wednesday, and hopefully we’ll get an in-depth understanding of who’s who and what’s what in the city’s e-waste system. We’re also hoping to meet with Binbag, an e-waste startup in Bangalore, as well as Hasiruda. Oh, and there’s also Rashi. And the Banjarapalya Makerspace. There’s a lot of players involved. We’ve worked on creating a Google doc based on our research (this article was helpful in understanding the roles that different stakeholders have to play) so that when we do have our meetings next week, we’re got a bit of background to go on.

Kettles with a kettle. It happened.
Kettles with a kettle. It happened.

Well, that’s all for now. Have an excellent weekend, and here’s a photo of Iain from last week that made Onkar real happy. Cheers.

Meet & Greet: Samarthanam Trust

Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled
Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled

A quick update: yesterday the Ecosense team went and visited Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled, a waste collection centre in JP Nagar Phase II.

The waste collection building at the Trust
The waste collection building at the Trust

Samarthanam Trust collects anything from old clothes to e-waste, and they receive their donations from not only people in the area, but also larger companies like Google and IBM. The waste then gets dropped off to Rashi E Waste, which deals with refurbishing and recycling solutions (and who we are hoping to meet with next week). Rashi then pays Samarthanam Trust a fee for the waste, and the money goes towards funding towards empowering the visually impaired, disabled and underprivileged at the Trust through different initiatives (educational, social, economic, cultural, technological, etc.)1. The people that we spoke to were super friendly, and we’re hoping to reach out to them again at some point.

In Loving Memory of the Macbook Charger
In Loving Memory of the Macbook Charger

Oh, and Lisanne handed in an old MacBook charger and got a receipt in return. There’s a first time for everything.


 

1. Genesis: About Us. <http://www.samarthanam.org/samarthanam-genesis>. 2015.

Form, function, why can’t we all just get along?

We’ve all heard it before: Form follows function. Or the lesser engrained: function follows form. In some utopian design world the two are BFF’s, or at least chummy workmates that go out for the occasional beer to swap stories about The Man. Here, however, there’s a constant tug-of-war: one will let the other take the front seat while they sit in the rear, silently back seat driving in the form of a seething inner monologue. Not exactly buds.

In a day and age where design has become a ubiquitous buzzword, with degrees dedicated to vague notions of thought such as “Design for Health and Innovation” or “Design for Policy Makers”, this crucial debate is more present than ever in design practice. Designers are required to do more than just produce glossy editorial layouts or gleaming 40-story buildings; design has evolved into a context-driven practice, which requires one to critically engage with the world that they live in. This goes hand-in-hand with thinking about the functionality of one’s work.

At an undergraduate level, professors tend to explain the aforementioned “form follows function” as: is your work relevant, is it understood and does it have the ability to facilitate change. That is, does your work speak to your audience? Does it motivate them? Are there measurable results from your work? To break it down: You’ve designed a poster, inviting people to a talk concerning the implications of privatization of garbage collection in Toronto (hey, maybe not for everyone). If function is first, people should notice the poster. Want to come to the event. And, the final tick on this over-simplified checklist: they want to do something about the issue. They feel moved by it.

Of course, the poster should be formally representative of the issue to inspire these actions. Form is intertwined with function, to an extent. But the problem at hand isn’t as simple as to whether both aspects are present in design; the trouble lies in which is more auspicious (which, undeniably, can be sometimes less than apparent).

The struggle between the two is blatantly illustrated in the field of social design, particularly in the realm of graphic design. The case for function follows form is supported (and heavily endorsed) by organizations such as the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD). The RGD’s annual So(cial) Good Design Awards celebrates Canadian-based graphic design work that deals with certain social issues. These awards are usually doled out based solely on their aesthetic merit and overall nod to a stylistic trend: Also Collective’s pastel-coloured risoprint concerning paediatric orthopedics? Charming. Sylvie Leveiller’s hand-lettered app for food waste awareness? Whimsical. Pivot Design Group’s poster that uses heart emojis to talk about the benefits of quitting smoking? Endearing. Champaign for everyone.

The aforementioned projects are winners of the 2014 So(cial) Good Design Awards (or So Good Awards, as the RGD has so cleverly named them). While it is undoubtedly, a, well, good thing to recognize and honour design that, in whatever way, is altruistically motivated, perhaps what is inherently wrong with the So Good Awards is that here, function follows form 90% of the time. There’s about ten percent of wiggle room where the projects do “really get you thinking”1, which is a careful, hesitant step towards “encouraging new ways of thinking” and “inspiring positive action”2, two points that the So Good Awards claims to advocate for. But are risoprints, calligraphy and emojis the best way to go about it?

More often than not, socially motivated design projects no matter the end product – resonate more heavily with the opposite approach, wherein functionality is the centerfold crease (causing those who are visually-inclined to cringe). These projects usually employ “design thinking” from the get-go, which is defined by Tim Brown, president and CEO of IDEO as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success”3. That is, design thinking is user-focused. Technology driven. Economically measured. And above all else, functional. Sure, risoprints may come into the mix, but they’re no longer sitting shotgun. In fact, they’re probably in the very rear with the partition rolled all of the way up.

Projects coming from the School of Visual Arts’ (SVA, New York) Design for Social Innovation (DSI) MFA program epitomize form follows function. Works from graduates such as Playcraft (Gina Kim) or Wise MD (Akshata Malhotra) are highly functional with very little emphasis placed on form; they have clearly stemmed from a design thinking or user-focused approach. Playcraft is “a game-based facilitation tool to help tweens with high functioning autism (HFA) advance in social competency”4. The measurable success of Kim’s thesis is documented: Playcraft teaches tweens with HFA how to share goals amongst peers and even reduce aggression.5 From a functional standpoint, Kim’s game has inherent value. Malhotra’s thesis, Wise MD, is “a fitbit like app to help physicians with real time, automatic and physical specific data, aiming to enable cost conscious, quality care decisions”6. With Wise MD Malhotra – through an admirably rigorous process – was able to reduce the costs of tests per patient, the number of tests per patient and increase the overall number of patients seen by a doctor at a Family Health Center in New Jersey.7 Like Kim, Malhotra has designed an innovative social tool with measurable results. And, like Kim’s work, Malhotra’s project lacks any formal finesse: Playcrafts’ painful attempt at playful typography and Wise MD’s bland stock iconography are a far cry from the pastel hues and calligraphic swashes from the So Good Awards. Here, form is so far out of the picture that it is desperately tailgating function, or at least, trying to. You get the picture.

With an increasing number of aesthetically driven projects that are endorsed by organizations like the RGD, it’s easy to get caught up in the formally qualities of works that are supposedly socially charged. However, celebrated pieces of graphic design do not typically provoke change in and amongst themselves; graphic designers should be working together with innovative product and user-oriented designers in order to present work that is not only meticulously crafted, but also undeniably relevant. Projects from designers like Gina Kim and Akshata Malhotra are crucial to social design, and graphic designers like those from Also Collective can help bring their ideas into the forefront our visually driven landscape. So, let’s ditch the driving metaphor and start getting chummy: form, function, why can’t we all just get along?


 

  1. Aaron Draplin, Founder of Draplin Design Co., Portland, on “Meat of the Matter”, A Designer Driven So(cial) Good Design Award winner and judge’s pick. 2014.
  2. So(cial) Good Design Awards 2014, The Association of Registered Graphic Designers.
  3. About IDEO. IDEO. <www.ideo.com/about.> 2015.
  4. Projects: Playcraft. <dsi.sva.edu/project/playcraft.> 2015.
  5. Kim, Gina. “Playcraft: Advancing socialization for tweens with high functioning Autism”. MFA Design for Social Innovation Thesis. SVA, 2014.
  6. Projects: Wise MD. <dsi.sva.edu/project/wisemd.> 2015.
  7. Malhotra, Akshata. “Wise MD: A feedback tool for doctors to enable cost-conscious, quality care decisions”. MFA Design for Social Innovation Thesis. SVA, 2014.

Weekly recap: Post-holiday promises

We’re back!

Kerala views. Just can't be beat. #Nofilter and everything.
                     Kerala views. Just can’t be beat. 

Apologies for the temporary hiatus, but we’ve been living in up in the sun in Kerala for the past week or so. After a super break filled with beaches and backwaters, we’re fully recharged and ready to get back to work (more or less). The highlights from last week (pre-holiday) include: a meeting with Elcita, some great research finds, our Cisco meeting and a potential collaborator for the project. Oh, and a bout of food poisoning that Iain was busy with for a few days. But that’s not really a highlight.

Elcita, image via Elcita.
           Super cool Elcita logo, image via, yes, Elcita.

The meeting with Elcita – Electronic City Industrial Township Authority – was very informative. Currently, Elcita has been working on a solid waste management program at IIIT-B that works to improve waste segregation on campus. They’ve also been busy trying to get a handle on the flow of e-waste in Electronic City. For the past few months, they’ve conducted company surveys to understand e-waste in Electronic City, and for now, they are taking over the collection in the area. They’re mainly focused on helping out small and medium companies (as larger companies typically deal with their own e-waste) in terms of general awareness about the issue and collection responsibility with added incentives. Low-value electronic waste such as tube lighting is a key problem here: as there is a cost to dispose tube lighting, many households or companies just aren’t, well, motivated to deal with them properly. Sigh.

Tinkering, image via Quamp.
                       Tinkering, image via Quamp.

During our desk research we came across a suburb in Ghana called Agbogbloshie, which is described as “the world’s largest e-waste dump”. After further investigation into Agbogbloshie, we discovered Qamp: it’s a youth-driven project that focuses on promoting maker ecosystems in Africa (starting in Agbogbloshie). Their goal is to “join hands to prototype tools and co-create a hybrid digital-physical platform for recycling, making, sharing and trading”1. Through providing equipment and information to the local people to aid in the safe disposal and dismantling of e-waste, Qamp has made a significant impact towards improving the conditions of and education surrounding the issue. Additionally, Qamp has developed an innovative maker-culture, which has opened up new culture-creating opportunities. By attempting to transform Agbogbloshie from a scrapyard into an action-oriented environment, Qamp’s work has been some of the first of it’s kind that we’ve come across during our research. And here’s the even more exciting part (drumroll, please): a few days later, we heard about a makerspace on the outskirts of Bangalore who, like Qamp, is focused on working with waste. And we’ll be going to meet with them over the next few weeks to find out more. So fingers and toes crossed, we’ll be as epic as Qamp soon…

The biggest smiles. Amazing.
                    The biggest smiles. Amazing.

Our Cisco meeting was one week ago today. It was great not only to see all of the smiling, familiar faces (the Barcelona team assembled a few days following the meeting), but to also see what the Amsterdam team has been working on: a game which works as a research tool for some of issues they’ve been delving into during this sprint. Yeah, we were impressed too. The game is based off of the question and answer game ‘Pim Pam Pet’, which the team has tweaked in order to uncover behaviour and provide awareness about problems surrounding e-waste. They briefly demoed the game and, surprise surprise, we definitely need to brush up on some of our facts about e-waste. They also gave us some really helpful feedback, one of which was: How are you going to create something with quantifiable results? A tricky question but definitely one that needs to be constantly at the back of our heads for the next five months.

Rubbish! in action, image view Fields of View
         Rubbish! in action, image view Fields of View

Oh and one more thing: the potential collaborator. Fields of View has previously worked with Hasirudala (which literally means ‘Green Force’. Such a cool name) on Rubbish!, another Design Across Cultures project with MediaLABAmsterdam. Hasirudala is “a member-based organization of waste pickers seeking to improve our conditions of work and ensuring our continued access to recyclables in the city of Bangalore”2. They manage a significant amount of Bangalore’s waste, and are currently looking to expand into e-waste. So we’ll keep you posted on that front as well. Moving on forward, we’ve got some sprint planning to tackle and some challenging questions to face. But never fear: despite our peeling sunburns from last week, our heads are in the game and not at all still on the beach. Promise.

Weekly recap: Mazes and Magai Paan

It’s been a busy past two weeks: we’ve started and named our project, met loads of interesting people, took an epic city tour, had a panoramic Skype session at Cisco, and have narrowed down the scope of and started our research for the project.

Meet (from left to right) Iain with the GoPro, Tarun and Ankita. You’ll see Sruthi and Lisanne around.
Meet (from left to right) Iain with the GoPro, Tarun and Ankita. You’ll see Sruthi and Lisanne around.

So, we’re Ecosense. Whether temporarily or for the long haul, we’ve christened our project. Seriously, it took a lot longer than you would think to come up with this name. It tries to capture what our project is about: citizen empowerment, smart citizens and ecological sustainability (particularly in relation to consumption). Oh, and our Bangalore-based team working at Fields of View consists of: Sruthi Krishnan, Indian writer and journalist (and acting mentor for the project), Iain Kettles, UK Developer, Lisanne Binhammer, Canadian Graphic Designer and Ankita Victor and Tarun Dutt, Indian IIIT-B students. Basically, we’re an international and interdisciplinary force to be reckoned with.

Post-meeting with ESG brainstorm.
Post-meeting with ESG brainstorm.

Last week (and the week prior) we ran around town on many, many meetings: the Environmental Support Group (ESG), WorkBench Projects and Hita Unnikrishnan and Seema Mundoli. They were all fascinating, invigorating and delicious (we ended up going out for lunch either during or after each meeting. #Winning). For our meeting with the ESG, we with met with Professor Abhayraj Naik of Azim Premji University to talk about the general scope of our project. He provided invaluable insights as to the key environmental issues that are currently circulating in Bangalore (from the loss of tree coverage with the newly built Metro to the privatization of parks). It was a dizzying start to the project (the vast amount of problems in the city is staggering), but it did help us to get an, albeit, shaky foothold into what Bangalore citizens are dealing with on a daily basis.

Tools at WorkBench projects.
Tools at WorkBench projects.

A few days later, we met up with Pavan Kumar from WorkBench Projects, which is a makerspace in Bangalore (conveniently located right underneath the Halasuru Metro station). Sruthi and Harsha (a fellow Fields of View-er) were interviewing Pavan for a new podcast series that the studio is doing. We got to learn about the maker culture here, and how WorkBench is trying to cultivate and add to this culture. Finally, we met with Hita Unnikrishnan and Seema Mundoli last Tuesday. Hita is a Ph.D student at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, and Seema is associated with Azim Premji University. This particular meeting was a bit less broad: we talked lakes for about an hour. We learned about dealing with the intricacies of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewer Board (or the BWSSB, because that name is a mouthful), the complexity of Bangalore’s lake network (as everything is connected, problems just pass from one body of water to another) and the problems surrounding the privatization of lakes (and what this loss means for a community). After the meeting, it was starting to become clear that even picking a topic like lakes is still heaps to unpack within the five-month project duration (as, you know, there are sub-topics and sub-sub topics and whatnot). Whew.

Our new friend that we made on the tour. Also featured in the video.
Our new friend that we made on the tour. Also featured in the video.

On Wednesday of last week we were taken on a tour all over Bangalore. It was, well, hard to describe, so we’ve got a video that’ll much more aptly show you what it was like. It’ll be up next week, promise.

Skyping at Cisco: The real deal.
Skyping at Cisco: The real deal.

Our first ever Cisco meeting was on Friday. Joining the conversation was: Jan and Peter from Cisco, Gijs, Marco, Willem, Joan and Thiago from MediaLAB Amsterdam and Jorge from ELISAVA (the rest of the Barcelona team is still being sorted out in Spain). Tucked away somewhere in the enormous Cisco complex, we Skyped from a room with screens big enough to make our Dutch comrades look like they were sitting around the table with us. Beyond the super nifty audio-visual experience, we discussed crucial themes such as: How technology can encourage citizens to become smart (or active) in a smart city? How are resources used at different levels in a city (from individual use to household or housing complex usage)? And how can people “step” into sustainability at these different levels? All labyrinth-like issues, especially when you remember that we’re dealing with three gapingly different cultural contexts. Yeah, that’s right. Not only are the problems that we’re facing crammed with complicated paths and hidden doorways, we’ve got to take into account that Holland and Spain are thrown into the maze. Game face on.

Mapping out e-waste and (look , very, very closely) sad discarded Macs.
Mapping out e-waste and (look , very, very closely) sad discarded Macs.

Post-meeting we were able to narrow our focus to e-waste or personal electronics (including post-consumption flows). It’s an exciting and highly relevant problem (as you can tell from the video) that we’re keen to unravel. We’ve done some desk research and mapped out a general flow of the waste within the Bangalore context, and are trying to schedule some meetings with some key players next week. So stay tuned.

Magai Paan: You’ve been warned.
Magai Paan: You’ve been warned.

Oh, and one more thing. Magai paan, pictured above: Maybe don’t stick the whole thing in your mouth if you’ve never tried this typical Indian post-meal cleanser. Iain’s face just about split in two with, um, slight distaste. Or something.

Sustainability: It’s Complicated

Sustainability. It’s a loaded term, one that you’ve probably seen visualized as a leafy green logo on a roll of toilet paper or as a sticker thrown hastily on a bag of coffee beans. Or as political jargon: let’s go green. Clean living. Reduce, reuse and recycle. At it’s best it’s reduced to a vague positive, something that’s made to make you feel eco-conscious or, in other words, better about your lifestyle.

But what does sustainability really mean?

In 1987, the Brutland Commision of the United Nations stated “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”1. This definition perhaps gives as much insight into sustainability as the aforementioned logos and stickers do; the intricacies of sustainability are lost in this neatly packaged definition. Sure, sustainability does revolve around concepts such as needs, or behaviours, that can be maintained indefinitely. The crucial – and somewhat messy – aspect of sustainability that is missing in this definition is how it is quantified: with a systematic set of evaluation tools. Additionally, there are three types of sustainability: sustainability as it pertains to economy, society and the environment2. It should be noted that these aren’t mutually exclusive categories; they intertwine, affect each other, and are nuanced in different ways depending on their particular context.

Starting to see why sustainability needs a bit of unpacking?

As Carmela Cucuzzella states “[t]here are many conventions, standards, norms or systems available at the international or national levels to assist in the evaluation… of [sustainable] projects, products, buildings or artefacts.3” You’ve got the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the Canada Green Building Council, the Life Cycle Initiative (LCI) of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP); the list goes on and on. But one of the major problems with these evaluative processes is that they cannot be fully comprehensive: the quantitative methods used to evaluate one system or project is not necessarily adaptable to another. That is, these methods often rely on technological innovation to measure the sustainability of an idea or behaviour. But let’s face it: the current technology solutions are not applicable to most of the world.

Certain sustainable solutions and ways of measuring said solutions for San Francisco or Amsterdam are not necessarily going to have the same effects in, say, Bangalore. The newly built Metro in this Indian IT haven is one example of how a transportation system that is understood to be a sustainable norm in many cities can actually have a fairly devastating impact in another. The amount of tree loss (not to mention the numerous destroyed homes and businesses) caused by the building of the Metro has only added to 66% of the total green loss in this once aptly-named Garden city in the past 40 years4. Urban vegetation is a key contributor of environmental sustainability: trees conserve rainwater, give shelter to different walks of life, absorb noise and produce that good old oxygen that we need to, well, breathe.

Of course, sustainability often is a tug-of-war: metros decrease traffic congestion thereby reducing air and noise pollution, making it a more viable solution to be used over a longer period of time (although still, perhaps not indefinitely). It should be noted that the reach of Bangalore’s current Metro is not nearly wide enough to be usable for most of it’s citizens, so the economic viability of the Metro itself is nil: it’s capacity utilization in the morning is only at 40%5. Moreover, the value of commercial property around Metro has increased in between 30 to 50% and many spaces have been vacated as a result6. Here, the economic alongside the environmental dimensions add to the complexity of evaluating this particular project.

Only time will tell if potential environmental benefits of Bangalore’s Metro will outweigh the current, economic issues or the glaring costs of the loss of vegetation. But it’s clear: we need different quantitative and qualitative measures for sustainability dependent on its context. If we want our behaviours to have the ability to endure, than there are more than just a checklist of factors that we need to consider, and more than three defined categories we need to look at. To put it simply, let’s ditch the good feelings we get from shrubbery on our packaging and realize that sustainability: it’s complicated.


 

  1. “Sustainable Development: Background”. General Assembly of the United Nations, 2015. Un.org.
  2. “Sustainable Development: Background”. General Assembly of the United Nations, 2015. Un.org.
  3. Cucuzzella, Carmela. “Design Thinking and the Precautionary Principle: Development of a Theoretical Model Complementing Preventive Judgment for Design for Sustainability enriched through a Study of Architectural Competitions adopting LEED”. University of Montreal, 2011.
  4. “66 Percent Green Loss Cover in 40 Years: Study.” The New Indian Express, 9 May, 2014. Newindianexpress.org.
  5. Dasarathi, GV. “Bangalore: Metro is not the solution”. LinkedIn, 1 Apr, 2009. Linkedin.com.
  6. “Commercial spaces vacated at Namma Metro stations”. Bangalore Metro, 16 Apr, 2015. Railnews.co.