“We are constantly producing loads of sh*t,” remarks visionary engineer Arthur Huang. “I hate that people are still talking about the circular economy and not doing anything.” Arthur’s sentiment is echoed by three other leading creatives who are speaking out about the responsibility of design, in a new video series presented by the Make it Circular Challenge.
For two more weeks, this global design competition is on the lookout for circular projects and start-ups to invest in. This campaign kicks things into a higher gear by sharing the stories of four renowned designers: Arthur Huang (MINIWIZ), Bas van Abel (Fairphone), Carla Fernandez (Carla Fernandez fashion house), and Poonam Bir Kasturi (Daily Dump) — and how they’re driving change in their respective industries. Each video hones in on a different design dilemma and its potential solution, revealing how some of the world’s most exciting (and necessary) innovations were born out of frustration with the way things work — or don’t.
Speaking about the conception of Fairphone — the world’s first ethical and modular smartphone — founder Bas van Abel remembers: “One day my son came to me with a broken Nintendo.” In his efforts to diagnose the problem, he found that the device was fitted with special screws that made it more difficult to open. “That made me really pissed: to throw away something I knew I could still fix.” Not long after, Bas founded Fairphone as an answer to the exceedingly short life-spans of most modern electronics. By encouraging consumers to take apart, repair and care for their Fairphones, he aims to give them “true ownership” over their products.
Lightning-quick turnarounds and huge amounts of waste were also what prompted fashion designer Carla Fernandez to question how things were done in her industry. “When I started making fashion, I didn’t have any other choice than to do it the right way. It shouldn’t be an option to make it fast. It shouldn’t be an option to be designed to be thrown away. It shouldn’t be an option to be designed to be disposable,” she says. Today, Carla is known for her avant-garde designs and for working closely with Indigenous Mexican artisans to cultivate a slower and “less ephemeral” mode of production.
Besides making better, more long-lasting products, circular design is also about learning to live within our planetary boundaries. This means finding ways to create new value out of old things — and to dream up second lives for existing materials and resources. This is the idea behind MINIWIZ, a Taiwanese architectural and engineering firm dedicated to unlocking the upcycling potential of waste. As co-founder Arthur Huang puts it: “We see trash as a possibility. It isn’t trash, it’s just misplaced resources. We find it very exciting to turn [trash] into something unimaginable.”
In the fourth and final video, Daily Dump creator Poonam Bir Kasturi doubles down on the need to rethink what we consider as worthless or superfluous. Drawing on her training as an industrial designer, Poonam developed a terracotta composter which enables households across India to process their organic waste with ease. Through campaigns and educational programmes, the project is also helping to change negative perceptions about waste in the country. “As our cities get denser, it’s important to figure out how to manage food waste… It does not need to be thrown out.”
TURNING OUTRAGE INTO ACTION
Most of the problems described in the series are rooted in design’s relationship with the throwaway culture that permeates the world we live in. Our toaster breaks? We get a new one. When things go out of fashion? We hit the high street. When we buy food at the supermarket? It’s covered in plastic packaging. You get the gist. It’s no wonder that 45% of all global emissions today come from the production of everyday goods and services. Changing this — and building a circular society that restores resources rather than depletes them — is one of the greatest tasks of our generation.
“Making the shift is not going to be easy. But this campaign reminds us that it’s possible to turn our outrage into action,” says WDCD’s co-founder and creative director Richard van der Laken. “We want designers to think about what frustrates them and encourage them to redesign a fairer, more sustainable world that works for people and planet. Hate something? Then change it; and whatever you do, Make it Circular.”
From now until 31 January 2023, creatives are invited to take part in the Make it Circular Challenge by submitting imaginative ideas to radically rethink our way of life: from what we eat and wear, to why we buy and how we build. Check the Challenge website and follow WDCD on social media for future updates about events in the open call, such as workshops, webinars and tutorials with tips on applying.
All four videos in the Make it Circular campaign are now available to watch here.