Posts tagged “plastic”

What Shoes Say

While doing a very straightforward image search for “shoes” the other day, I was presented with these two, side by side. They represent extreme cultural points: one of ultra-consumption (high fashion on the red-carpet), one of unconsumption based in necessity (re-purposed PET bottles). Both pair are ergonomically undesirable, one intentionally. The materials are strikingly similar, the gestures expressed by the feet as different as the footwear design is visually.

I wonder what this juxtaposition brings to mind for others?

Old Navy customers are glamour-seeking automatons?

Old Navy is using “modelquins” (?) in their advertising, including a circular evoking US Weekly, called ON Weekly.

These little people are kinda creepy. Old Navy has put out a body of ironic advertising poking at glamor and celebrity culture, and here you’ve got these representative ordinary customers who are on the red carpet and subject to gossipy rumors, so at one level the message may be that Old Navy offers a step into the silly trashy world that we enjoy consuming and perhaps aspiring too. You too can be a celeb, but not a high-maintenance one. At the same time, in order to be that celebrity and be press-worthy, you’re going to have to give up your individuality and human character and become, well, plastic.

The campaign features people of all ages, but somehow the emphasis on tweens and teens in the ON Weekly seems just a bit inappropriate.

Compare and contrast (Paris and London, September 07)

Trash receptacles such as this are very common in Paris. The words on the bag translate as Vigilance and Cleanliness. The bag is transparent so anything discarded is still visible. London, presumably because they have more recently experienced terrorist bombings, has no (or almost no) rubbish containers.

Paris uses painted metal barricades…

…while London uses these open-structured plastic segments to block off areas for construction. Other than path dependence (that’s just how they’ve always done it), why?

Green? Ennh, problem solved. Almost? Um, not quite.


is the unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government or even a non-government organisation to sell a product, a policy or to try and rehabilitate their standing with the public and decision makers after being embroiled in controversy.

Frankly, after some talks (more of the same stuff we’ve been hearing for a while) at the recent IDSA Shift conference I feel like designers and other eco-do-gooders are as guilty of greenwashing as the supposed evil corporate fat cats. We face a barrage of examples that are dramatically missing the real details. If you want to make the case that we need to solve the world’s problems, that’s one thing. If you want to make the case that design and designers are solving these problems, that’s another.

The barriers to innovation and change are political, financial, cultural, not a lack of smarts, gumption, or whizbang know-how.

Lifestraw should be familiar to many.
But as our friend Dina Mehta pointed out in a conversation last year in Bombay, the real problem is how to get people in rural areas to understand that water contains invisible poisons that they must avoid. Based on her work with and awareness of India’s rural population, she saw this as the bigger challenge.

But Lifestraw (and others like it) are presented as a fait accompli.

How many times have you seen some innovative design for a homeless shelter? Low ecological footprint, low cost, easy put up and take down, etc. Wonderful. Well, why do we still have homeless folks sleeping on the street? Oh, because what municipality is going to allow a built encampment? Let alone spend money and give land away for homeless people to live in. That’s a huge political challenge. I’m not suggesting the real problem is homelessness, but the real problem is how to get your solution adopted. But no one wants to talk about that.

Similarly, designers create something but emphasize that it’s biodegradable, as if that solves everything. But it doesn’t. Things that degrade leave material behind. If plastic bags biodegrade, you[‘ll have something left behind. We like our pretty graphics with ugly stinky machinery turning into happy flowers in gentle meadows, but that’s not really what happens. Biodegrade is an oversimplification that ignores some real consequences. The problem isn’t solved and presenting a solution implying that it is solved is the form of greenwashing that I’m getting fed up with.

You could make a similar point with claims (like those made by presenters at RISD) that “corn is renewable.” Ask Michael Pollan about the problems with corn.

The fact is that there’s a moral, ethical, technical, environmental, and social calculus beyond our ability to manage. How does one decide where to look at a problem and a potential solution. We can’t agree on paper vs. plastic or to-go cup vs. ceramic. This is Tenner-level complexity.

Eco-eager designers do their efforts a disservice but oversimplifying or denying this complexity. By misleading through omission, they echo the institutions they claim to be fighting against.

Missing yellow beacon

From the Chron letters section:
Missing yellow beacon
Editor — A few weeks ago, I went to my driveway and couldn’t find my Chronicle. There was an extra ‘throwaway’ paper that I recycled, then left for work depressed. This went on for a few days and my dark mood deepened. On the fourth day, I inspected this new junk paper and was shocked to see my beloved Chronicle wrapped in a clear plastic bag. My yellow beacon was gone! I was shocked and dismayed.
On Tuesday it turned to disgust. My supply of yellow bags, recycled to dog doodoo duty, expired. While walking my dog, Godiva, I had to use the new clear bag and the result was shocking. I felt dirty carrying her droppings as they stared back at me through the bag. Please tell me our morning sunshine will be returning soon!
San Bruno


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