Reading Time: 5 min | Jun 2023

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True Sustainability and its meaning for design and design competitions

Sustainable design is growing rapidly into a competitive advantage for brands, as more and more consumers look for "green" features of products and even services. We at iF want to do more and, for the first time ever, invited two sustainability experts to support our 2023 jury in Berlin.

iF Design Magazine: True sustainability and its meaning for design and design competitions

“Bauhaus Pioneer Wilhelm Wagenfeld even stressed in his opening letter to iF Design in 1953 that well-made products are not only more desirable, they last longer and can be recycled, repaired or reused. So, there is always a certain sense of sustainability to many quality designs”, says iF Design`s CEO Uwe Cremering.

Today, sustainability is even a competitive advantage, as more and more people prefer sustainable products and technologies. In the midst of today's World Environmental Day, we want to take a closer look and talked to our new sustainability experts - Teun van Wetten of VanBerlo and Daniela Bohlinger of BMW Group Design - about what true sustainability in design actually is - where it starts and where it limits itself? And what all that means for designers and consumers.

Daniela Bohlinger

BMW Group Design, Germany

Daniela Bohlinger was already part of the BMW i3 design team; today she is Head of Sustainability Design at the BMW Group, responsible for the sustainability strategy for BMW Group Design. Her approach: Translate the corporate goals into a design language in a feasible and measurable way. Her credo: »We need a fundamental, revolutionary change. Further development alone is no longer enough.« In addition to her professorship in Sweden, Umeå, she is on various committees for scholarships (Fulbright, German National Academic Foundation) and is asked to be an expert for jury work and lectures precisely because of her knowledge, conviction and critical questioning.

Teun van Wetten

VanBerlo, Netherlands

Teun van Wetten is the Design Director and Head of Sustainability at VanBerlo, Netherlands-based design agency that is part of Accenture. Teun is a highly experienced designer with a deep understanding of sustainability. He is passionate about promoting sustainable design practices and is committed to making a positive impact on the world. In addition to his work at VanBerlo, Teun has curated the Embassy of Sustainable Design expositions during Dutch Design Week on behalf of the Dutch Design Foundation. Teun is also a co-founder of the Circular Design Forum, a collaborative initiative that brings together experts in the field to share knowledge and ideas.

iF: How do you see the importance of sustainability in design and product development in general?

Teun: Sustainability is part of Good design. Without sustainability embedded and considered across all life stages of a product, it can never be ‘Good Design.’ It has always been important, but the effects of getting it wrong are becoming more apparent every day. The world is facing unprecedented challenges such as climate change, economic inequality, and social injustice. Plus, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, and many people are struggling to make ends meet. This is leading to social unrest and political instability, which can have profound consequences for our global community. Discrimination and inequality based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and other factors continue to persist, perpetuating a system that favors some and marginalizes others. These challenges are complex, interconnected, and urgent, and require bold and innovative solutions. Tackling complex interconnected challenges with bold and innovative solutions is what we designers are all about.

Daniela Bohlinger, BMW Group Design
"If we don't design the product with disassembly (circular design) in mind from the start, we end up specifying the wrong processes and materials."

Daniela: Sustainability principles applied in the design process are essential to ensure the future of our products and services. 80% of the impact of a product occurs in the design process. With the first line, the designer defines material, tools and functions as well as other aspects of sustainability. It is the question whether the product needs its form and function (reason for being), how it is to be used, its durability and repairability. If we don't design the product with disassembly (circular design) in mind from the start, we end up specifying the wrong processes and materials. Material driven design also changes the choice of material and its expression. We have to understand that we think and design energy efficient! In the process and in the application. We know about the shortages. Designers can think speculatively, develop and question iteratively.

BMW's Daniela Bohliger, iF CEO Uwe Cremering (middle) and Teun van Wetten of VanBerlo testing products on their sustainable features and materials at the iF DESIGN AWARD 2023 jury session in Berlin.

BMW's Daniela Bohlinger, iF Design's CEO Uwe Cremering and Teun van Wetten of VanBerlo examining products on their sustainable features at the iF DESIGN AWARD 2023 jury session in Berlin.

iF: Do you see sustainability taking on a greater role in the evaluation of end customers and consumers?

Teun: More and more we see that consumers are aware that their choices matter.  However we can’t only rely on consumers and policymakers to make sustainable choices. We designers need to focus on where we can make the biggest contribution to a positive impact through our designs.

Daniela: In the future, the end consumer will be equipped with more knowledge about the products. It's not just about perception and its effect on the outside. Customers will have to deal more with the end-of-life scenario. Where does my product come from? Who made it where? Where is the product going? More labels and product passports (e.g. textiles, food, white goods) will be introduced. Here the consumer will be clearly introduced.

iF: Should there even be some “standards” in design? How could that be possible?

Teun: Standards set by policymakers are vital to accelerate the transition towards a circular economy. These standards need te be informed and backed up by science. A good example is the United Nations (UN) and The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). All designers will be faced with more and more-strict regulations. I feel it is our role as designers to use our creativity to deliver on the new standards whilst ensuring the best possible experience for the users of our products. We all need to find a way to live with less. Design should make less not feel like less, but feel like more.

Daniela: Definitely yes! It needs more guidance in design! The do's and don'ts of design under a responsible worldview! The university and training centers are challenged here. The knowledge can be imparted here. What good design is is judged in the awards today. This is where I see the proof of content taking place. Can you do "good design" without the ESG standards? I do not think so.

Teun van Wetten, VanBerlo Netherlands
"All designers will be faced with more and more strict regulations. I feel it is our role as designers to use our creativity to deliver on the new standards whilst ensuring the best possible experience for the users of our products."

iF: Why do you think does a Design Award profit from sustainability experts?

Teun: In my opinion, sustainability is part of Good design. Without sustainability embedded and considered across all life stages of a product, it can never be considered to be ‘Good Design.’ Sustainability is a big term and no one can know everything. Although the jurors are experts in their respective fields and most will work with sustainability on a daily basis, it doesn’t hurt to have a true experts at hand. The sustainability experts can support the jurors to reach a more complete understanding of the product(s) they are judging. Additionally the sustainability experts can support the iF organization to provide more guidance on what is meant with impact/sustainability in the application process. And through that provide more clarity to applications on what is expected in terms of ‘sustainable design’.

Daniela: We just cannot expect today that everyone has in-depth knowledge of the subject, which is already complex in itself. Experts in this field, with the design background, are very valuable here. I give hints and point out new perspectives. How do you rate a product, in which “Hirachy” do you rate. Is dismantling more important than sustainable materials? Experts provide the answers.

iF: In the future, iF Design will request more detailed information about impact/sustainability from the participants of the iF DESIGN AWARD and give it to the jurors to evaluate the products.  Do you think this is the right way to go?

Teun: Sustainability is a term which has become too big and therefore has lost clarity. Also, where the impact lies can differ greatly across the varies categories within the iF awards. I believe it to be the responsibility of iF to provide guidance to participants and jurors. Beyond that, I believe iF can be a catalyst to increase the positive impact of the entire ‘Design Industry’. When iF provides clear standards and support designers on how to achieve and prove higher levels of sustainability in their application, designers who want to win an iF DESIGN AWARD will be empowered to make better choices in their process which results in better sustainable designs.

Daniela: If the jury asks about sustainability as criteria, the manufacturers and their designers are motivated to present it. We are sharpening the criteria, so to speak, and helping to develop better, more sustainable and more responsible products and services. I think, iF Design has one of the greatest reaches here.

Luxembourg's Vice Prime Minister on Sustainability

During the iF DESIGN AWARD Night 2023 in Berlin, we catched up with Luxembourg's Vice Prime Minister Francois Bausch - who was there to support iF DESIGN AWARD winners Sensity sàrl from Luxembourg - on the topic of sustainability. See what he had to say in the short video statement.

iF DESIGN AWARD 2023: Examples of winning (sustainble) Designs

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