oliverdamian: anti-fragile design

Beach Eco-comber

Design Thinking in IPD | Spring Semester 2015 | UTS

The brief was to comb through the beaches and waterways of Sydney to find non-biogradable rubbish—with the intent of informing my future product design practice to be more sustainable and to have a positive social impact. As noted earlier by today's guest lecturer— Andrew Simpson— nothing can be more sobering than for a product designer to see something she designed wash up on the beach as a pollutant that endangers marine life and the ecosystem.


beach at low tide with a few people walking
Figure 1: Manly Beach, NSW Australia |

So last Sunday afternoon I went to Manly. As you can see Australian beaches are comparatively cleaner than most other beaches in the world. More so when it hasn't rained in the past week or so. Apparently, more rubbish wash up on the shores after rains.

Still I was able to find a few artifacts after walking a few yards. There was piece of synthetic rubber mat that looked like it used to be a lining for brake pedal or other vehicular foot control. The artifact looked like it has been in the ocean for a fair bit. It was starting to be warped in various directions. Despite this, I could still sniff the petroleumy smell—betraying its hydrocarbon origins.

section of beach with rubbish item
Figure 2: Piece of synthetic rubber mat lining as found on the beach

This made me think. Could this product be made using more sustainable products? My initial thought was: this product was meant to wear out. That is the more you step on the lining the more it wears out. If that is the case, instead of going against the grain and making these linings from materials that can't be broken down, why not make them biodegradable and wear-out-able. For example, by using recycled cardboard or cord or bamboo. Instead of gluing the synthetic rubber lining, the wear-out-able lining could be stuck in using metal fasteners, which are re-meltable/recyclable. When the current lining has been worn out, a new biodegradable replacement could be re-fastened.

Next was a piece of synthetic silver skinning of some sort. Behind the shiny silver outside were synthetic threads running horizontally and vertically purporting to act as frame for the synthetic skin. The artifact appeared to me to have been in the ocean for quite a while because I could very easily tear it. Being shiny, I thought this artifact could attract predator fish who could mistake it for prey—and be suffocated in the process.

section of beach with rubbish item
Figure 2: Piece of synthetic silver skin as found on the beach

It seemed to me this artifact was sort of starting to degrade. Could the solution simply be accelerating this degration process and make it more complete? We all have heard of planned obsolescence. If manufacturers really want this for profit, and consumers are OK with it, what could be a better planned obsolescence than to design the product to totally bio-degrade after a planned period of time?

section of beach with rubbish item
Figure 3: Piece of glass as found on the beach

Whilst the next artifact looks like a specimen of marine life, it actually is a piece of glass that has been so long in the ocean that it has started to have barnacles grow around it. This made me think. Could glass be used to create frames that could act as footholds for coral growth? This could pay back our karma of taking coral in the sea to make coral bottles. Now we could take glass bottles into the ocean to make corals.