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DIAlogues: Mark Thomson & Anthony Lloyd

August 27, 2010

Last night, the Queensland Branch of the Design Institute of Australia (DIA) held the third DIAlogues event in the series at Corporate Culture in Fortitude Valley. As always, the format for each seminar features two key speakers within the design industry and is a great evening to make new connections and catch up with old friends.

First up was Mark Thomson with his presentation titled “Design for planetary equity – understanding the true value of design”.

As Corporate Sustainability Principal for the Australian company, the Schiavello Group, which specializes in commercial workplaces, interior construction, furniture design and manufacturing in Australia, Singapore, Tokyo and Dubai, Mark is passionate about sustainability implementation in the Design and Construction Industry and this recently led him to travel to Cuba, China, Portugal and Germany, investigating sustainability strategies to implement locally.

In 2009, Mark attended Paths Towards Sustainability, the 4th International Conference on Eco-Materials held in Cuba and it proved to be a life changing experience. Cuba has a difficult history, politically and environmentally, including suffering several extreme hurricanes over the past few years. These factors have left the people of Cuba with few resources, which has made them extremely self-sufficient and honed their improvisory skills. With little-to-no timber left on the island and no money to buy materials off-shore (never mind the embargos), they have developed their own bamboo board, a substitute for ply, along with a new concrete that incorporates locally found materials. These things alone made Mark think, “why do we complicate our lives so much when the possibility to do things simply and locally exists?”

Mark went on to talk about his work at Schiavello and the research and implementation that several others are conducting specifically in green urban environments. The benefits seem to be endless and a ‘no brainer’, which makes us ask, “why is this taking so long to implement and why is there still resistance? The Cubans have already developed urban agriculture. Why? Because they have to… Here, we are looking to implement this, but in Cuba, it is a way of life.”

Mark’s past architectural projects have won numerous awards for their sustainable design, however, he is concerned that the local design industry is missing the significance and scale of our current environmental challenges. As co-author of the book The Environmental Brief – Pathways to Green Design, he believes design and education are the solutions to improve our planet’s ecological imbalances. As a founding faculty member of the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) and current President of the Australian Green Development Forum (AGDF) he said, “with the upcoming 2012 Cities Alive Australia ConferenceGINA (Green Infrastructure Network Australia), Brisbane better get planting!”

Mark’s talk raised questions about ‘greenwashing’ and how to identify it, what the carry-over is from a mission such as the Plastiki, and how the design community can help manufacturers uphold their stewardship programs (where they reclaim and recycle products at end of life).

Anthony Lloyd was up next, with his presentation “Can you hack it? Are you a ‘design hacker’?”

Anthony is partner and Design Director of studioplus* (founded in 2001), an award-winning, multi-disciplinary practice offering interiors, product and graphics services, specializing in ‘physical branding’ for clients across commercial, retail, hospitality, multi-residential, corporate identity and website sectors. Prior to this, he worked in London on products and interiors in the UK and Europe and was a research fellow on the DesignAge project at The Royal College of Art where he curated and designed exhibitions to promote the concept of Universal Design. For the last eight years he has been involved with the 1st Year Industrial Design program at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Through a series of great images and projects that illustrate the hacking of objects and environments: Jan Vormann’s ‘urban renovation’, Dispatchwork using LEGO bricks, Tord Boontje’s Rough and Ready, rough cut timber furniture collection for DIY’ers with online-published technical drawings, and Open Source shared software, which opens up limitless outcomes and approaches through individual imagination, Anthony’s presentation highlighted the currency of our physical communication is based on improvising and sharing.

Some companies release products that are customizable to a limited extent, such as the NikeID customizable shoe, but hacking is where it really starts to get interesting. People want to do more than just changw the colour of a product, they want to stamp their individuality. “Hacking allows individuals to move beyond limitations, but in their own way”, said Anthony. Sites such as: Readymade and Instructables are now a sea of shared DIY information and experiences.

Anthony raised the point, “what if hacking is done for survival, not just for a ‘nice to have’?” He shed light on small mobile phone businesses in Asia, which are now set up to hack mobile phones… Instead of simply getting your phone repaired, it can be hacked to transform and extend its useful possibilities. I have to say, I thought this was really interesting and had no idea it was even going on… Apparently, companies like Nokia are aware of this phenomenon and send researchers to investigate what it is that consumers really want. When people hack, they’re telling you what they want and need…

Several ‘hack labs’ now exist – the current version of “Bunnings’ DIY classes, only cooler”. Ventures like NYC Resister Lab, Media Hack Lab and LOA Hacklab help us make our own personal mark on our possessions. “Designers often fail to get products ‘all the way there’ and so, hacking opens up products’ potential”. It now makes basic sense consider a product’s ‘hackability’ when designing. With this in mind, Make Magazine says, “use screws, not glues” and let people participate in the product in their own way.

With a World War II mentality of ‘make do & mend’, Droog Design developed a series of furniture and objects that had to be created by the user, including the metal cube Do Hit by designer Marijn van der Poll. And as per IKEA Hacker, the question is asked, “what if I ignore the instructions and just create?”

Hacking isn’t just about actively customizing our possessions, it’s also a very political statement. Such an obvious case in point is the now global phenomenon of Parking Day, which was spurred on by unheard requests to government for more green space in San Francisco. With the direct repercussions on the environment of manufacturing, Anthony pointed out the need for consumers to feel involved in the process of producing the objects they buy in order to help manufacturers take greater responsibility in their production – in line with a Cradle to Cradle approach.

In a fitting way, Anthony summed up with the need for us to become more resourceful with less, reinforcing Mark’s views on sustainable solutions.

Many thanks to Jonathon Grealy from Plant Up: Greenwalls & Greenroofs, who donated a bunch of lovely Hattoria Salicornioides (also known as Drunkard’s Dream) and offered us the chance to take care of our plants as a small step towards a global consciousness to care for our planet. Mine started flowering this morning!

Of course, many, many thanks to DIA, Katie O’Brien (MC extraordinaire) and the team of dedicated volunteers who bring this event together, the speakers, Corporate Culture and all the sponsors. Looking forward to the next event already… Keep your eye on the sidebar of this blog for more tasty Upcoming Events!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2010 10:48 AM

    Fabulous read. My mind’s still buzzing with the ideas 🙂 Kx

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