Friday, April 30, 2010

intellectual property

Searching for new materials is a mission. It seems like industry is waiting for new materials to eventually become available and up until that point they can't do a lot because the material they are after is only produced in one off blocks the size of a piece of gum. And even if they could produce lots of these pieces of gum, it seems they wont because of supposed IP issues, whatever "IP issues" are they sure do bring development to a grinding halt. It would be great to put some of these new materials experiments into products to see if they can perform, but it seems that the step between scientific research and design is a long road of issues.
For example, if biodegradable plastic made from corn starch (PLA) is such a revolutionary product then why isn't it readily available in varying sheet sizes and thicknesses. Look at acrylic which comes in so many different forms which I can buy from a myriad of places around Auckland city. Apparently bio-plastics account for less than 1 percent of the 181 million metric tonnes of synthetic plastic the world produces every year... yeh a very small portion. However, it is growing 20-30 percent a year, and is expected to drop in price as petroleum based plastics continue to fluctuate due to unstable production regions and dwindling resources. So are companies willing to pay the extra money for a biodegradable plastic?? Well it doesn't seem like they're all rushing out to get it in stock, so although we talk about the worlds tragic environmental state is it fair to say alot of people aren't willing to pay the price for a possible solution.

sources: CIA World Factbook, Jewell, Lamb

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Why do we care? In a society that seems pretty self-centered why is it that some of us care more than others about the environment? Is it only the people who have recreational pursuits in the environment who care because they don't want to give up their lifestyle, or farmers who depend on the local environment to produce an income, or hippies, religious people or concerned parents? Whatever it might be there has been some sort of education along the way that's told us that the way we are living is unsustainable and we need to change our behavior.
So does it all come down to education? Aside from most city and suburb dwellers being disconnected from the natural environment by comfortable lives sheltered from all natural forces. Is it that some people just don't care?
I look at smoking and the tobacco industry, and how that has changed dramatically, where big business ruled peoples health through clever marketing, yet through education this is changing... finally where it would now seem totally disrespectful to light up inside a building. Yet some people still smoke.

So people need to vote with their money by buying products that are supposedly sustainable or organic. How can we get to a place where the majority of people are concerned about what is in their food or how their clothes or products are made? Education would seem a good idea, but also wouldn't it be easier if the producers of the food/products did the hard yards with sustainability and sold better products to the mindless consumers? But again awareness is helpful, knowledge is helpful. It still seems strange that educated corporates can overlook their own values to keep producing rubbish to make money.
OMG I think I'm turning into an activist or something. I don't think I'll stop eating meat, maybe just start shopping better.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

3 times a day

I've heard the word 'multi-nationals' thrown around a lot and usually in quite a negative light toward 'those big multi-nationals'. And after watching Food Inc I find myself again seeing the brief case carrying multi-national business suits as some kind of Smith without morals or regard for the plebeians.
So in Food Inc, there's the farmer versus corporation, and as usual the large corporation refuses to comment. Having been raised to believe that there is always two sides to a story, I wish they would just comment for once and join the debate, as I'm sure there are a few more considerations that may not have been portrayed in the film. However, there is a segment that showed the growth of a particular organic trade show which was about 20% a year and as they walked around the displays quite a few of them were of organic brands that had been bought out by none other than... large multi-nationals. Obviously words like organic/sustainable/eco-friendly/green-alternatives are all the rage, so these large organisations are quick to jump on the band-wagon, so surely they have a conscience too or as usual they are beginning to see dollar signs in these products, because at the end of the day we are the ones driving the band-wagon. So even depending on what we eat, we have the chance to vote how these large companies will act, 3 times a day.
Do we buy local? Do we buy organic? Do we buy free range?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

what is shaping

With the increase of digital technologies such as CNC cutting in the realm of surfboard shaping or any other hand craft for that matter certainly raises the question of what it means to be a 'shaper' or a 'craftsman'.
I recently 'shaped' a few surfboards on my CNC router at work, having never hand planed foam myself I was able to produce a board with incredible accuracy, incredibly quickly, with very limited practical skill needed in the production process. So to be a shaper or craftsman, does this only relate to the physical communication of the imagined concept in our head and the hand driven tools we have honed a particular skill with. The ability to communicate 3 dimensional ideas using our hands. Hand - Eye co-ordination.
After having a brief conversation with a shaper who believes that for someone to be a good shaper they need to have 'mowed foam' for a number of years and have experimented with different shapes and surfed these to eventually master the material. So in what I am hearing, maybe the art of being a good shaper is not solely reliant on having good hand-eye co-ordination but is in the greater understanding of how the small changes made to the width, height, tail, rails, rocker etc will change the performance of the board.
This would be particularly true seeing as anyone like myself can learn to create a CAD model of a surfboard and then produce it, though it may be shaped perfectly, is it a good shape?
But if I continued to shape boards and experiment with them myself then surely I would learn about the certain nuances involved in the creation of a great board. This brings us back to the need for investing years into the skill of mowing foam, does this part of the process add to the overall picture or has it just been a necessary part of the process for so many years that we aren't willing to let it die by the wayside of digital technology... so what is it's importance?
Considering the material itself is petrochemical based and hardly very good for human contact let alone the environment, why are shapers reluctant to say the electric planer is redundant? Is there some mystical connection formed between shaper and craft through the shaping process, and if so, is it important for every surfer to feel this connection? So rather than just handing over hard earned cash to buy their next board should surfers begin hand shaping their next craft themselves, would this add to the experience or deplete their health?
These questions are still debated between other subjects like digital photography vs analog and will constantly evolve as technology progesses, and this is a good thing as we shouldn't drop past technologies straight away to jump on board with every fleeting trend that may not stand the test of time. There needs to be informed discussion and debate to iron out the bumps around these technologies so that we are heading in a sustainable direction.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


When starting out on this design project, I've found it really takes a while to build a picture of where a project is heading. Initially the idea itself seems pretty straight forward and simple enough but when trying to position it by asking questions of where exactly it is heading and what it's going to look like almost seemingly become a little more clouded the further I research.
The first ideas of what a project is going to look like will undoubtably change, and I think this clouded image of an outcome is what attracts me to keep researching to find a clearer outcome.
Mapping out my research in a visual form is really starting to help as there is just too much info surrounding what has already been done before. Part of the fun is choosing an appropriate way to document this collection of information and then diplay it in a cohesive manner in which I can see the grouping of info and ask what is missing or where I head to next.
All this is starting to demistify the cloud.

Monday, April 12, 2010

intentional living

In many ways it seems that the overall western system we live in isn't helping me become more sustainable.

I'm conveniently sitting up late right now writing this blog on my power hungry computer with my helpful artificial light source which is powered by the wires connected to it, and activated when I flick the switch. Should this power not work, all I usually do it wander round to the fuse box on the other side of our flat and reset the fuse, no more thought given to it really. Now this power may have some connection to the coal burning power plant about an hour away, but it's not the coal burning monstrosity of a power plant that's the scary part, the scary part is that I never think about where it comes from. I don't need to, it's always there. Anyway, the sun has gone and I've got a blog to write, power switch = on.

In my quest to try and live a more sustainable existence, I am careful not to become a crusader for sustainability because we all know how the crusades went down. If I was really serious wouldn't it be easier to move to some far north isolated town (near a surf beach) where I don't have to drive anywhere, I grow my own veges, teach at the local school, have limited power from my solar panels, hunt and fish and possibly plant a few trees to offset the carbon from my fiber rich diet. So if I vote with my feet, I could potentially reduce my footprint to nil, or even negative. I'm not sure this would help the current situation tho. As I see it, I'm a product designer who now lives in a society where consumerism is the norm and doesn't seem to be slowing down even with a recession, so I can either observe the obvious problem and leave or stick around and try to re-think how i can live sustainably amongst this system. I know which seems easier.

So instead of cycling, I'll drive to work tomorrow and switch on the 100 or so florescent tubes which light up my workshop and breath the artificial air which circulates so generously, then try and consider ideas of biomimicry which might help inform the way I design things... even tho I feel like I'm about as far removed from nature as a stuffed animal would feel like in a museum.

Because this feeling of disconnection is more evident today as the sustainability debate intensifies, I think my design process is more about how I can bring better connection with the world around us and how it functions through the products we use everyday. Instead of building more barriers of perceived comfort between myself and the world I live in.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

malthusian conundrum

New Zealand Herald 07-April-2010 P.B2 (Photo / AP)

Population growth vs agricultural production. This is something that seems so complex yet so central in the search for sustainability. Here we are trying to reduce greenhouse gases and at the same time meet the worlds ever growing need for food, feed, fibre and biofuels. Getting the balance right between these different agricultural products would seem hard enough without trying to reduce or offset the carbon produced from them.
In todays New Zealand Herald Fran O'Sullivan explains that 14-15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture, yet in New Zealand our agriculture makes up 45 per cent of our emissions profile. This could be partly due to the fact that 80 percent of agricultural emissions are from live stock production. I'm no vegetarian but this may provide some extra drive for the crusading leaf eaters amoung us.
Without painting too gloomier picture of this tangled web of emissions trading and global food provision, apparently arable soils have the potential to sequester an estimated 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year! Yet O'Sullivan is quick to point out that "as with biofuels - people will be severely impacted if too much is used for carbon trading instead of feeding people." Just one example she mentions from The International Food Policy Research Institute, is that rice and wheat yields in developing nations could each decrease as much as "19 and 34 per cent respectively", because of climate change. This may also lead to starvation in some countries as global population is expected to increase to 9 Billion by 2050.
This whole debate and the outcomes from this weeks first full meeting of a global alliance in Te Papa, Wellington, are trying to find a solution to this complex problem. What a job!
Depending on which course of action they take, will surely affect me as a 'product designer', especially as I begin a search for organic materials to use in the production of products which if you look at it in this light is using food for fun/liesure activities. But I guess the positive of using organic instead of synthetic materials is that the product will always remain in the food circle, when it breaks and is of no use it will return to the evironment where something (micro-organisms, insects) will eat it, live in it, and continue the food circle. So the question is how long should that food be taken out or paused from the food circle? I'm not sure we could ever measure this, but if there isn't enough food around, should we be making products from it at all?

Monday, April 5, 2010


I've been thinking alot about how to capture the essence of surfing and what that imagery would look like. The connection with nature and more importantly trying to convey a physical feeling, we've all heard the saying, "only a surfer knows the feeling" but surely there is a way to convey these feelings through another medium. Surf magazines and videos are packed with great shots but are so heavy with branding and marketing, I find tiny logos on boards still imprinted into my brain long after watching.
I found this video which pretty much nails it.