Noted science writer Janine Benyus, who coined the term “biomimicry” in 1997, has provided convincing evidence that there is a lot that designers can learn from nature. Often times designers aren’t so much innovating new forms and technological concepts as they are shamelessly stealing what the animal and plant kingdoms have worked out over the span of millions of years.Through biomimetics, designers are adapting nature’s best practices into products, systems and processes that are revolutionizing our lives. This video, co-produced by Vox Media (Christophe Haubershin) and 99% Invisible (Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt), explains how biomimicry underlies discovery of exciting new ideas. A highly recommended must-read is Janine Benyus’s book ”Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.”
Six internationally recognized artists contributed original works for this year’s NatureBridge gala fund-raising auction in San Francisco. A nonprofit educational organization, NatureBridge provides hands-on environmental science experiences to some 30,000 students and teachers annually. Their “classrooms” are six of the most magnificent national parks on earth.
By the time that you look at this photograph of a paper bridge, you won’t be able to see it in real life anymore. As is often the case with environmental art, the paper bridge that spanned a mountain stream in the UK’s rural Lake District was meant to be a temporary installation. A sharp contrast to the natural landscape, the poppy red paper bridge was so startling and surreal to see that people found themselves looking anew at their surroundings and consciously thinking about the wondrous view.
Conceived by British environmental artist Steve Messam, the paper bridge is a remarkable feat of art and engineering, made without glue, nails, screws, or structural support out of 22,000 sheets of red paper, provided by one of the UK’s oldest paper manufacturers, James Cropper. The structure itself was designed by Peter Foskett who combined the laws of gravity and the pressure between the sheets of paper to build a form strong enough to bear the weight of human and four-legged hikers. Commissioned by the UK’s Lakes Culture for its Lakes Ignite project, the bridge is one of a series of temporary installations to appear in the Lake District National Park through 2015. The paper bridge remained in place for ten days in May, and was then dismantled to be recycled back into paper.
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The beauty of this appeal by Oro Verde Rainforest Foundation is its humble low-tech innocence. It doesn’t smack of big budget glitz, high-tech digital manipulations, and pre-launch market testing. The idea is everything. Its charm is in its simple, direct, homemade look. A high school student could have produced it… but didn’t.
Actually, the campaign was created by ad giant, Ogilvy & Mather, in Frankfurt, Germany. Hand-written placards were posted on more than 600 trees in Germany and helped OroVerde raise cash donations by more than 27 percent.
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Those of us who are concerned about climate change finally have a slogan and graphic identity to rally around, thanks to design legend Milton Glaser.
The campaign’s slogan — “It’s Not Warming, It’s Dying” — doesn’t mince words about what’s ultimately at stake for the earth if we don’t get a grip on global warming. Done in conjunction with New York’s School of Visual Arts (SVA), where Glaser is acting chairman and a faculty member, the campaign aims to spark action on climate change through the distribution of lapel buttons featuring a graphic symbol, designed by Glaser. The logo represents the earth as seen from outer space, with the lush green disappearing into an ominous black. To reinforce the sense of a dying planet, the green swath is printed in ghostly glow-in-the-dark ink. Like his iconic “I (heart) NY” image, Glaser’s climate change logo is powerful in its directness and simplicity.
SVA is spearheading this social awareness campaign by offering Glaser’s dying planet logo as a lapel button ($5 for 5 buttons) so wearers can visibly express their concern for the planet. Up until now, the global warming deniers have been the most vocal in expressing their views, while those who believe that the climate is changing have mostly relied on scientific papers, panels of experts citing data, and Power Point-laden documentaries (a la Al Gore) to present their reasoned arguments. It’s time to be seen. If enough people around the world are seen wearing Glaser’s button, politicians and policymakers cannot easily dismiss these constituents as a minority of alarmists.
Take my word for it, my farming credentials are impeccable. I’ve grown up around commercial fruit and vegetable farmers my entire life, and I know that the tasty, tree/vine-ripened, organically safe stuff rarely make it onto the supermarket shelf because retailers want their produce uniform in size, unblemished and picked firm and barely ripe so they won’t spoil before sold. As a result, mega-tons of fruits and vegetables are rejected for purely cosmetic reasons. Millions of people are suffering from malnutrition and billions of dollars of food are tossed out because they don’t rise to the aesthetic standards of clueless urbanites who believe that beauty trumps taste. What’s equally sad is that many city-dwellers don’t know how a real tree-ripened apricot, peach or cherry should taste. Shame!
Wine packaging is steeped in tradition and sometimes unfounded biases, and connoisseurs are quick to form opinions about the quality of wine inside by the bottle’s shape, color and design. The cork versus screw cap debate, for instance, has been going on for well over a decade. So, it will be interesting to note the wine-drinking market’s response to Paperboy, packaged in a bottle made entirely from compressed recycled paper. UK packaging producer GreenBottle teamed with California wine producer Truett-Hurst to unveil the world’s first paper wine bottle. It is being sold in Safeway supermarkets on the West Coast now, with plans to offer it across the U.S. soon. London/NY-based agency Stranger & Stranger designed the Paperboy label graphics, which were printed with natural inks.
GreenBottle reports that the paper bottle, with a liquid-tight insulated plastic bladder inside, has a carbon footprint that is one third of an equivalent glass bottle. The bottle is feather-light, weighing about an ounce when empty, thus reducing shipping, handling and energy consumption costs. Despite its lightweight, Paperboy bottles are said to be rigid and strong, and ice bucket safe for three hours. Sounds good. Now let’s see if wine snobs can get past the fact that they’re drinking a brand sold in a paper bottle.
Anthimos Xenos in Athens, Greece, produced this animated introduction for the Greek environmental television network, EcoNews. For the 30-second video, Xenos served as art and creative director, motion designer and 3-D animator, and completed the project from start to finish in one month. Music and sound compositing was by Xenakis Lefteris and additional direction by Nikos Tsimouris. In February 2013, Xenos founded his own firm, Darling Creative Motion, in Athens, to focus on TV branding and advertising.
Designers are not just ordinary consumers in the battle against suffocating the planet with litter. They are the best prevention and the last defense. Aesthetic sensitivity, retail presence, brand positioning, ease-of-use, safety, etc. are critical considerations when designing, and much more fun than thinking about the packing materials used. As important as it is to recycle and minimize waste that goes to landfill, more pressing is what gets blown away as litter. Fast-food takeout boxes probably kill more creatures than the high-fat junk food they hold. Bad typography may be annoying to read, but you never hear about seagulls strangling on overextended serifs, nor about coral reefs stomped to death by insensitive use of graphic standards. There should be life after design. Design for the afterlife. Happy Earth Month.
The village of Catuera in Paraguay is literally built on a garbage dump that grows by more than 1,500 tons of solid waste each day. The people, including children, who live around this trash heap survive by sorting and recycling the garbage.
Several years ago, Favio Chavez, an ecological technician who worked at the landfill, befriended the poor scavenger families and became acutely aware that the children who worked on the trash pile yearned for something uplifting in their lives. He decided to share his love of playing music by teaching the children to play instruments. At first, Chavez used his own musical instruments to teach them, but so many children wanted to learn that he tried cobbling violins and cellos out of oil cans, jars, scrap wood, forks and other junk to give them something to play, After about four years of experimenting, Chavez and his team began discovering which materials created the best sound. The result is a youth orchestra, now 30 members strong, that produces the sweetest sounds from their recycled instruments. Recently their story has been turned into a documentary, directed by Graham Townsley. It’s an inspiration on many levels.
Rob Forbes, founder of Design Within Reach, has founded another company – Public Bikes. To introduce consumers to his new venture, Forbes recruited 27 world-renowned designers and illustrators to create art posters around the concept of “public.” All of these posters are being gathered into a book called “Public Works,” sold as individual posters, and shown in exhibitions slated for San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City.
Forbes, an avid biker, urban dweller and environmentalist, explains the impetus for his Public Works project was to bring greater attention to the critical issues of public space, access and livability of cities. “In recent decades, our cities have been evolving from manufacturing and industrial centers into cultural hubs,” Forbes says. “The 20th century movement that encouraged people to leave cities for the suburbs has now been reversed. For the first time in our history the majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and this trend appears irreversible….People choose cities for what they offer: connections with people, ideas, stimulation, opportunity, creativity, and diversity. Our public spaces should facilitate these connections, not stifle them.… We believe that more of our urban streets and sidewalks should be reclaimed for walking and bicycling, and that our public spaces should be developed for better human interaction and conversation.”
It’s tempting to turn this story into a string of crappy jokes, but the subject is no laughing matter. In Seattle this week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation hosted a two-day “Reinvent the Toilet” fair, attended by scientists and entrepreneurs eager to demonstrate their wares. To put these inventions to a credible test, the Foundation placed an order for about 50 gallons of fake poop. The Gates also offered over $3 million research grants, which were part of a $370 million grant initiative to improve the world’s water, sanitation and hygiene.
According to the Foundation, four out of every ten people around the world have no place “to go.” That adds up to 2.6 billion people without access to a toilet. Poor sanitation results in half the world’s hospitalizations. It is the cause of 2.5 million cases of diarrhea in children under five and 1.5 million child deaths a year, according to a United Nations report. Even in industrialized nations, the amount of water consumed each flush puts pressure on the environment.
In sponsoring this cash competition to come up with a toilet of the future, the Gates Foundation set several requirements. The toilet must operate without running water, electricity or a septic system. It must not discharge pollutants, preferably capture energy or other resources, and operate at a cost of 5 cents a day.
This week’s toilet fair resulted in some very promising solutions, including using soldier fly larvae to process human waste to produce animal feed. Other approaches turn human waste into charcoal and fuel. In announcing the cash prizes for the best designs, Bill Gates said, “If we apply creative thinking to everyday challenges, such as dealing with human waste, we can fix some of the world’s toughest challenges.”
Although coming up with the next toilet isn’t as glamorous as, say, creating the next Eames chair, it shows that design runs deeper than cosmetic solutions.
This video was produced by Loaded Pictures, with illustrations by Jay Bryant.
You read about VW’s transparent factory (below); now take a look at Mercedes’s invisible car. Mercedes-Benz’s new zero-emission F-Cell car is being marketed as a vehicle that is virtually invisible to the environment. The reason is because it runs on hydrogen fuel cells that convert compressed hydrogen into electricity to power the motor. The only emission is water vapor. To promote this fact in a memorable way, Mercedes blanketed one side of the car with LEDs and mounted a Canon 5D Mark II camera on the other side. The LEDs displayed whatever the camera filmed, causing passersby to stop and gawk at the “invisible” car.
No, this isn’t an annual report for a spy company. German design group, Serviceplan, came up with a memorable way to help its client, Austria Solar, demonstrate the power of its business by printing its annual report with a special ink that is invisible until exposed to sunlight. Shipped in a lightproof foil wrapper, the perfect-bound document looks completely blank, except for the blind-embossed title on the cover. Viewed under ultraviolet light, however, the words and images magically appear. It’s a neat idea, but it must drive printers nuts to press check.
In a town renowned for its spectacular architecture, the new Aqua Tower has become the latest attraction in Chicago’s skyline. Designed by Jeanne Gang, principal of Studio Gang Architects, the 82-story mixed-use building is much more than the standard straight rectangular glass tower. The contoured façade appears to undulate, rippling between waves of concrete balcony overhangs and organically shaped areas of glass that mirror back the sky.
Although this undulation seems random as if formed by nature, it was designed to serve an environmental purpose. The balcony overhangs shade the interior from the scorching summer sun keeping interior temperatures fairly even, and they protect the building from Chicago’s heavy winds — so much so that the building doesn’t require a tuned mass damper to stabilize it against wind vibrations and sway. Built to LEED certification, Aqua Tower incorporated many other green and energy-efficient features, including an 80,000 square foot rooftop garden and six different types of window glazing to cut solar load on the exposed glass.
Consider this: Consumers in China went through 57 billion pairs of disposable wooden chopsticks in 2009 alone, which equates to more than 3.8 million trees. For a nation that ranks 139th worldwide in forest land per capita, that means that China’s forests may be wiped out in 20 years if consumption continues at that rate.
Last winter Greenpeace East Asia and Ogilvy Beijing teamed with artist Yinhai Xu and students from 20 Chinese universities to stage a public awareness campaign. Together, they gathered some 80,000 pairs of used chopsticks from Beijing restaurants to assemble a “Disposable Forest” in a popular Beijing shopping center. The display urged people to carry around their own pair of chopsticks when eating out and asked them to sign a pledge to stop using disposable chopsticks. The 80,000 pairs of chopsticks that were transformed into four full-sized trees are a mere sliver of how many disposable chopsticks are used worldwide. Even though wood is a renewable resource is it really worth it to cut down a tree to make an eating utensil that is used once and thrown away?