Creating better products at London Design Festival

Melanie Kramers

30 September 2013

Sampling caterpillar canapés last week was a first for me. I wasn’t on a Bushtucker trial, but at London Design Festival exploring how we could live differently to reduce the stresses on our world. Could insect protein be the sustainable diet of the future? There were all sorts of ideas up for awards.

Friends of the Earth took part this year to talk to designers and inventors from around the world about our Make It Better campaign for products that don’t cost the Earth.

We wanted to know: how can design and production be improved to reduce the impact of our stuff on the world?

We got the public involved too: at talks, through posters in London underground stations, on social media and via watercoolers-with-a-difference in key festival venues.

The range of opinions and ideas was inspiring.

During a tense debate at a conference of international brands, designer Daisy Ginsberg argued that designers’ role is to alter our future by questioning what they are making and why, not keep creating products whose production is putting dangerous strain on our world.

“Do we even need more phones?” she challenged HTC’s head of design. “It’s a worthy question,” he admitted. 

Our friends at Fairphone wowed the Dragon’s Den style judges with the first fairly designed and produced smartphone. They loved the easy-to-repair modular design and sleek dual SIM build.

The big-picture concept is impressive: a movement towards honest and fairer production that gives customers confidence about how their phone is made.

The following day we packed out the V&A auditorium for our Make It Better debate. Designers need industry support to create products that protect the environment, said Sophie from the Great Recovery. “'It wasn't in the brief' shouldn’t be an excuse.”

Ugo from Restart Project joked about Apple staff dismissing his 3-year-old broken iMac as ‘vintage’– but convinced us of the need to make gadgets last longer through repair.

People wondered if it was unrealistic to ask individuals to drive improvements in product design. Our campaigner Julian agreed: governments should take the lead by setting standards for measuring the impact of production.

The audience was so fired up we ran over time and were escorted from the closing museum through a gallery of marble statues.

Throughout the festival, designers of everything from kettles to furniture and clothes told us that a key challenge is mainstreaming the principle of environmentally-friendly design.

That’s where the Make It Better law we’re campaigning for would help. It would oblige manufacturers to measure their impact on people and planet, and provide the knowledge and incentive to reduce this.

For me, good design needs to work for people in three ways; aesthetically, emotionally and by protecting our shared environment.

And I can recommend the caterpillars.

Melanie Kramers, Communications and Media Team

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