Industrial designers are trained to use large industrial applications to execute their work. These processes are essential to create the millions of products we use every day, products such as chairs, lamps, fridges and mobile phones. But the techniques involved in these processes are often energy intensive and have serious environmental impacts. If this industry, which is so critical to our lives, is to mitigate against rather than contribute to environmental degradation, it needs to adapt.
This, UJ’s Department of Industrial Design argues, has to have its foundations in designers’ educations. “Industrial designers need to understand the implications of the materials they use in their products,” says Martin Bolton, a senior lecturer in the department. “In order to equip students to be more conscious about these materials and their environmental impacts, the Department of Industrial Design has incorporated experimental material development into its curriculum.”
Third-year students are tasked with developing their own material composites, which are then used to create a product. Recent products included the heating and moulding of seeds, sugar and beeswax to create a biodegradable side table, and the use of compressed coal, gelatine and woven grass to design a watch.
“By processing their own materials and creating an environmentally sustainable product, young designers become more aware of how their work interacts with the natural world,” explains Martin.