The goal of this assignment is to address radial systems. Up until this point, we concentrated on systems found within a single design project. Now we extend that level of thinking to systems found in society. How can design reach out to the community? How can education work on two levels, first by continuing to cultivate the student, and second by allowing them to design for “real life”? Second-semester juniors are ready to work on assignments that are relevant, not contrived. (Society needs their help.) They are also ready to identify and rectify their own design problems.
Before attacking the main project, our class needed to understand global recycling practices. Are there better ways to recycle? Yes. Germany’s Green Dot program was our exemplary case study. Instead of a research paper, a diagram project asked students to compare Germany’s practices with America’s in order to reveal the differences.
We researched greatly during this time. Our attitudes aligned with Michael Braungart and Bill McDonough in “Waste = Food”. Day 1: We viewed “The Story of Stuff” online ★ and started thinking in better ways. Day 2: We invited the state recycling commissioner, Kelley Dennings, to lecture our class. Day 3: We toured a “Merf” (MRF, Materials Recovery Facility). Days 3–6: We fleshed out diagrammatic language and sought to utilize root metaphors.
In America, recycling is a problem that exists on the systems level. In other countries, manufacturers are are responsible for the lifecycle of their products—but not here. Here the onus to recycle is placed on the consumer. Education about materials and the recycling of materials is often invisible or cryptic. In every state and every district, recycling practices differ. Yet the products are the same. Manufacturers make products that pollute the environment, and are allowed to do so. Citizens are not aware.
This portion of the assignment runs through 12 class periods of this 6-credit studio. Greening the Grocery Store was core to the junior studio in the spring of 2008 at the NCSU College of Design. Class meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for 3 hours. Students at the College of Design have dedicated desks with 24-hour access.
The students were asked to design for the supermarket—to educate and instigate. We focused on the grocery store because that’s where people need to go; it’s where they buy the things that will eventually find their ways into recycling systems, compost, or landfills.
The students were asked to consider these questions at all levels of planning, collaboratively or individually:
This was a self-driven project. The students were to come up with their own design briefs. The only constraint was to avoid overlap in idea or location. Nevertheless, there were shared objectives:
This group enjoyed working on environmental graphics. They liked designing in space and imagining surface possibilities—from conveyor belt graphics to automatic glass doors that are continuously in flux. We talked about how visually cluttered a supermarket is, and how to set our designs apart. We addressed marketing issues and talked lightly about tone and appropriateness for our audience. The students were worried that the supermarket would never adopt their designs—fearing that our graphics would dissuade buying. I answered that we were “future-thinkers”, and not to let current practicality squelch design progress. We were the ones to advance society.