November 18, 2009

Walmart's Answer To "A Better Pizza Box"

In July I wrote about designing a better pizza box, and it seems Walmart has their answer. In a short article and video on yesterday, Walmart is "closing the loop" on their cardboard deli pizza boxes by using their old cardboard waste to create these new boxes. This solution does keep many hundreds of thousands of cardboard boxes from ending up in landfills, but could they have gone further? Perhaps they could have set up an in-store take back program and simply reused these cardboard boxes again without having to produce new boxes.

November 12, 2009

You Are Selling Services, Not Products

Interactions Magazine has a great article in which Donald Norman begins by stating, "A product is actually a service." He goes on to explain that since a service is much more than the product itself, systems thinking is needed to ensure the entire product experience is a cohesive and integrated one.

Your product team must think through and manage the whole experience a consumer will have while interacting with your product. Every member of the multidisciplinary team must push the other members to keep each message consistent and unified so the product delivers on its promise of a great experience for the user. Systems thinking is an indispensable tool every design team must use in order to create those memorable experiences consumers will keep coming back for.

October 10, 2009

Creating Top Down Support for Sustainable Design

Apple has just released its annual corporate carbon emissions for the first time, but unlike other companies who publish this data, Apple has included the amount of energy used to power their products. The company says the amount of energy used when consumers use their products accounts for 53% of the company's total 10.2 millions tons of carbon emissions annually.

Since more than half of Apple's carbon footprint is from the use phase of their products, the complete product development team (design, sourcing, merchants, marketing, etc.) has the ability to positively change the way a company reports its carbon emissions by designing less energy hungry products. This will bringing greater impact and visibility to the product development process, ultimately creating more top down pressure to design successful sustainable innovations into each new product.

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July 20, 2009

A Better Pizza Box?

Recently a reader sent me a link to the company ECO Incorporated and their Green Box concept for a new greener pizza box and asked my design opinion. The Green Box is a regular looking pizza box in which the lid breaks into four serving plates and the remaining section folds into a smaller half box for easy storage of leftover pizza in any size fridge. It was a good discussion so I decided to post our different sides here and see what additional comments you all might have.

The reader thought this was an amazingly innovative concept for two reasons: 1) easy implementation for any pizza shop because it adds no addition cost to the current box, 2) eliminates the use of "disposable" non-recyclable serving plates and storage containers for leftover pizza. These are both true, but we as designers are not going to help society by designing new products that are only a little better than the previous version. Yes, it eliminates the use of additional "disposable" products, but it is still a box that is bound for the waste stream itself.

I would go back and challenge the designers of the Green Box to look at the whole system the pizza box lives within, and to find a solution that educates the consumer, giving them solutions beyond simply using less "disposable" products. Could a pizza shop invest in reusable pizza containers that 1) promote their company, thus building brand loyalty and awareness, 2) are rented to the end users and exchanged when the pizza guy delivers a hot pizza in a clean container, creating a business model between Gillette's razor blade model and the propane tank exchange model, and 3) encourages the use of reusable containers? Designers must begin thinking about the bigger system a product lives within and less about just their product--this is where new innovative product and business models with emerge.

What are your comments? Do you have additional pizza box solutions?

June 27, 2009

LCA Software For The Concept Phase

Earlier this month I attended a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) workshop presented by the people at the website The main goal of the workshop was to familiarize the participants with their on-demand, web-based LCA software which integrates the science of Okala, an LCA methodology and educational guide, into a support software that enables product design teams to quickly create environmental life cycle assessments and rapid iteration of product concepts from the early stages in their design process.

This new LCA software will become such a powerful tool for product development teams. It will allow design teams to understand how even small design decisions can create large environmental problems in a product. The greatest innovation and benefit of this LCA software comes from when in the process it will be used. Most LCA software measures the environmental impacts of an already existing product, therefore, there is no way this product will become more sustainable. Whereas, SustainableMinds LCA software is used in the concept phase of the design process, before any final design is agreed upon or any manufacturing begins. This allows the design team time to assess their myriad of concepts to learn which aspects of the product create the most environmental problems and, with this knowledge, design true sustainable product innovation.

May 26, 2009

Changing Dependancies at Greener By Design

I attended the Greener by Design conference in San Francisco last week. The afternoon speaker from the first day, Amnon Levav from SIT International, explained the set of tools his company has developed to come up with new innovative solutions to problems called Systematic Inventive Thinking. SIT's philosphy is that inventive solutions share common patterns, and therefore, these tools help one identify the patterns they are in and other patterns to look at for solutions.

I can best explain how one of SIT's tools, Attribute Dependancy, works by using an example from Tom Szaky of TerraCycle, another presenters at the conference. TerraCycle was created by looking at waste differently. Instead of waste being something you pay someone to take "away", TerraCycle's business plan is to take waste, process it, and turn it into a useful product. TerraCycle changed the dependancy from waste being the end of a process to waste being the beginning of a new process. It changed the way a company relates to waste. Attribute Dependancy is about creating dependance on something that wasn't there before. It is a great tool to get new ideas flowing in your ideation sessions.

May 1, 2009

Collaboration Saves Time and Money

I came across a great article called “Tips for Improving Product Development” in which the author, quoting from a recent report by the Aberdeen Group, explains the top three actions a company can take to better manage the product development process. The three actions are: standardize the process for approving and releasing product designs to manufacturing, centralize access to product design data, and engage all project stakeholders in the change approval process.

I want to focus on the last two actions which, I believe, emerge from organizations that reward collaboration across the product development process. If there is collaboration within an organization, than there
would need to be centralized access to product design data for all teams to access. A true collaborative organization creates multifunctional teams in which at least one member from each product development group would have to be part of the change approval process. By embracing collaboration between all groups in product development an organization will accelerate the product development process, saving precious time and money.

April 28, 2009

CAD Programs Going Green

SolidWorks recently announced that its upcoming SolidWorks 2010 will include a new software package which can measure a product's carbon footprint. Rick Chin, SolidWork's director of product and marketing innovation, said, "we're providing designers and engineers with valuable information for making good decisions that significantly reduce the environmental impact of the products they create." SolidWorks is hoping this new software package will cut down on the amount of raw materials used, create less remnants, and maximize manufacturing runs.

SolidWorks is not the first CAD company to promote sustainable design. Autodesk has been promoting sustainable design for many years, but instead of adding to their already successful product design program Inventor, they have decided to educate product development teams on how to incorporate sustainable design principles into their designs.

These two CAD companies are taking very different approaches on how to help product development teams design more environmentally sustainable products. On the one hand, SolidWorks, who caters more to the mechanical engineering side of the product development process, will be teaching engineers and designers the environmental impacts of their already conceived designs through trial and error, whereas, Autodesk, who seems to be catering more to the conceptual designers in the product development process, wants designers to understand the basic principles of sustainable design so they will be able to conceive of a more eco-friendly design in the beginning of the process.

March 27, 2009

Quantifying Design

In Adam Silver's article "Calculated Design" featured in Design Mind Magazine, he argues for the use of quantitative research methods as another tool in a designer's arsenal. There is value to be added from dissecting research data into useful, relevant chunks a design team can either use to discover new avenues for brainstorming, or to justify their designs with.

Quantitative research is only as good as is interpretation, and it takes a strategic designer to connect the dots in innovative ways that center around the consumer, to create new breakthrough business opportunities. Within a design team it is vital to have a strategic thinker to synthesis the quantitative data gathered through research, and turn it into the usable pieces that can validate a team's intuitive design work. By quantifying design, designers can begin using the same language as none design savvy business people, thus translating the hard-to-understand, intuitive process of design into a language everyone in an organization can understand.

March 12, 2009

Printable Plastic Solar Cells

While designing electronic products, I often think, "how can I design this product to use power differently?" Well, Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) has initiated printing trials for the production of organic solar cells, which if successful, will give designers the capability to clad their electronic products in a shrink wrapped solar skin. This new technology has the ability to change the way buildings, products, and humans use energy.

March 11, 2009

A Better Toothpaste Tube?

Designers around the world pride themselves on finding needs and solving problems, but designers are not the only ones who can perform these tasks. Susan Bell, a nurse in the U.K., recognized a need when she saw patients struggling to get the last bit of cream out of expensive medications, and decided to build a better tube. She started the company Butterfly Technology and has produced working prototypes of a tube that easily dispenses all the product inside of it.

This new innovative tube technology can boost the Triple Bottom Line for any manufacturer who incorporates it into their products. This new technology will help people by making sure no product inside the tube goes to waste, for every little bit counts. Since all the product inside the tube is used--the tube itself is easier to recycle, which helps the environment. It is a cost effective technology that will not add much to the first cost of the product being produced, keeping healthy margins for the manufacturer. This is the type of new technology that design teams around the world should be seeking and incorporating into their manufacturing process creating better products for people, the planet and profit.

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