MA Project for Grado Labs
Design for sustainability, cyber-etnography, circular business

The ambition of sustainability within production and consumption tend to stretch beyond the physical solution. This calls for an approach that is considerate of natures limitations, the business model as well as the overall human meaning of the artefact. For my masters degree project I set out to interpret these wickedly interconnected relations while pushing to provide a feasible market-ready product.

Critical yet constructive
Radical yet incremental
Local yet global


In the transition of the design field, going from ego to eco, questions regarding finding common ground while maintaining diversity arises. In search of theoretical directions I found Stewart Walker’s article; The object of Nightingales. Within the article Walker works through a set of guidelines extracted from age-old understandings of human meaning as well as contemporary notions of sustainability. In short, he concludes a set of guidelines for ethical design decision making that follows underneath.

To be promoted:
Relative unimportance
Congruence with meaning
To be avoided:

For in depth explanation of the different concepts behind the characteristics, see original article.

Walker proposes a principle of essential importance that works as a foundation for the above mentioned guidelines. Of essential importance are the ethics of reciprocity meaning that design decisions to reduce costs are in accordance with; good working conditions, fair wages, no labour reduction due to automatization, in balance with nature and do not degrade the environmental resources. Seeing; no labour reduction due to automatization, as a specific objective for design is not possible since it is a proposal of political trait. Because of the different levels in which design typically is applied, from low-tech entrepreneurial to systematic organization dependent technology, design could instead ambitiously try to engage in partaking when automatization is evaluated/ implemented and serve for that it is equally meaningful for society and natural systems.

I arranged a workshop to test if the guidelines would have any perceivable effect on a proposed design. Two separated groups of second year bachelor students in industrial design followed a simplified version of The MDD- (Material Driven Design) method developed by Karana, Barati, Rognoli and van der Laan. The students were asked to select a material of their own interest; map the technical and experiential characteristics, encapsulating the materials unique characterization and from that basis envision different applications for the material.

It was clear to see that students working under the influence of the guidelines did face new dilemmas in the decision process. Some students were very accepting as if the guide offered support clarifying insights that was already somewhat integrated in their thinking process. Others expressed a sense of reluctance making students distanced to the task. In order to “get the job done” a couple of student engaged in a adherent behaviour acting as agents for the embodiment of the guidelines.

If you are have a deeper interest in how the workshop was conducted and the analysis of the results please send me an
email and I will return my thesis in full.

The overall impression was that the guidelines work as a good foundation for a Critical yet Constructive practice. It prompted reflection on possible consequences, resources used and the overall meaning of the object while engaging the designer in deep reflection about more complex societal issues.