Thesis of the week – Inspiration for better products

Theses, love them or hate them, they’re an inescapable fact of international MSc student life. This week’s featured thesis embraces ‘Cradle to Cradle’ thinking.

Merel Segers is an MSc student in industrial ecology & science

communication. Her thesis project helps Dutch designers better incorporate sustainability. “My thesis project is advice and research for the

Professional Association of Dutch Designers (BNO: Beroepsorganisatie Nederlandse Ontwerpers), and asks the question of how to best support Dutch designers in the field of sustainable product design. Through interviews and creative sessions with different designers, I’m examining how to best design a portal on the BNO website to support sustainable development in the Dutch design world.

“After the interviews and creative sessions, I made a prototype website incorporating the best ideas. The site gave specific examples of sustainable product designs by real designers, and showed the process of how the

designer incorporated sustainable thinking into the design. The site also lists steps that can be used to arrive at a more sustainable design, such as ‘consult with users’ or ‘incorporate cradle to cradle thinking,’ etc. I tested the site with four designers, and videotaped them using the site, so I could see how they behaved. I got feedback from them afterwards.

“It was interesting to see that the two experienced designers, with 10 to 15 years of experience, thought the site wasn’t detailed enough: they wanted the site to tell them which materials are most sustainable and who can

supply them these materials. But the less experienced designers really loved the site because it showed them that prominent designers were working to incorporate sustainability into their products, so it was inspiring and showed the process of arriving at more sustainable designs, which is very helpful for new designers.

“This means though that I must either figure out how to change the site, so it has appeals to designers with different amounts of experience, or accept that it’s a tool best used to help new designers.

“It’s really frustrating that so many nice thesis reports get written, and after so much time and effort the reports just sit in drawers collecting dust. I actually wanted to stop designing after I finished my bachelor’s degree, because I felt there wasn’t much room for sustainability in the existing design world. But designers are a very creative group of people, and everyone has products in their lives, so it’s a group that can really affect change. I’m hoping my tool will be a part of that!”

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