Designing Objects for Sustainability

Designing for the Future

When discussing our project on designing objects for sustainability, it was important to focus on redesigning an existing object rather than building new artifacts. What do humans of the future need? Can we look at objects that came forward to us in time and the reasoning behind them? How do we translate emotional durability through time?

Project Deliverables

A proposal that considers the use of visuals (sketches, storyboard, timeline, existing icons and languages, etc.) to reflect ideas. Considers the original product, how it may be important for the future, how it can be sustained, and the system where the object will become valued.

  • how people will use it
  • what it’s made of
  • speculate what will happen in future

Early Research

Speculative Design/Critical Design

Starting from a hypothesis, create something ironic that makes people question.

Ramia Mazé’s 3 approaches to critical design practice:
1. Reflecting and critically questioning their own design practice
2. Based on a macro-perspective, re-thinking the design discipline.
3. Design discourse directed towards broader social, political phenomena.

Speculative Design: “work that uses design (products, services, scenarios) to address challenges and opportunities of the future. We tend to look 5–10+ years forward and speculate on how things could be and what future we want or don’t want based on these scenarios.”
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

I wonder how relevant Maslow’s hierarchy would be to people of the 
future. Perhaps it would be a good basis to assume they still need their physiological needs fulfilled at the very least? Self-actualization may very much be dependent on social values of the time.

Things Humans Can’t Live Without

People’s choices make some objects last longer than others. What 
emotional attachments exist? Is the practice around it what makes it last? Some common items suggest: water, oxygen, plantation, love, food, the sun, electricity, internet, money.

What Do Museums Choose To Preserve?
Initial Ideas
What existing things transcend time? Design something that becomes a “habit”, a satisfying experience? E.g. the more you touch/use it, the better it ages? — John Chapman’s “aging cup”.

Oxygen “masks”/devices for the future — According to the Timeline of the Far Future, many of the negative environmental impacts we are creating today will still exist 10,000–100,000 years later. Using speculative design, An ironic device to achieving clean air would be through cigarettes — how the human race in 21st Century views this “killing machine” with cultural and social significance. Perhaps we can redesign the cigarette as an “air filter”/hi-tech mask for future beings.

Ideas to Consider
  • Dictionary — language, culture, style/design/taste of book forms.
  • Perceived time — how do we let people of the future “live in a moment”?
    A lot of moments make up human life, which is what gives it value.
  • A shell — natural beauty; natural elements corrode?
  • An instrument (simple/easy to use one)
  • Medicine — pill or dried, Chinese herbs? vacuum sealed in multiple layers?
  • Photo album — “best and worst” moments of humanity — 
    simple v.s. complex — e.g. moments of birth, death, man v.s. man 
    (e.g. war), man v.s. nature, etc.
  • Oldest things in the world
  • Today’s “overlooked” objects — most ordinary things
NASA’s Deep Space Communication
Medication Life Span, Ideas around Medicine
1,000 Years Later

Scoping the Object

From the list of initial ideas, I began looking deeper into instruments and one of the more primitive, intuitive forms I came across and am interested in are shakers/maracas.

Shakers (Instrument)

When discovered 100,000 years later, I imagine that the artifact would be picked up and once it is, presume the sound produced from the movement may provide the user some kind of clue, or create a “perceived moment” in time. The understanding may not be clear at the start, but the initial interaction may have given future users a bit of a clue about the past.

  • Hand grip? Do they have hands? How will they interact with it?
  • Inner-gravitational chamber? Do they have gravity?
  • Fragility
Importance of Sound, Music in the 21st Century —

Sound is not only used for communication, signaling and music, but also for finding depth/distance objects, and enhancing cell growth through sonication. (

Where music exists…

  • pleasant human gatherings e.g. weddings, ceremonies, dinner, etc.
  • communication beyond words, a translation of emotion
  • “music is the universal language of mankind”
  • a primal and fundamental aspect of human culture
  • stimulates more parts of brain than other human functions —especially important in forms of therapy, neurological deficits, memories, babies.
More on Shakers/Maracas
“Shakers are one of the most recognizable of the percussion instruments, essential to Latin and South American orchestras and bands. Solid or sealed objects that have full, distinctive sounds are classified as “idiophones.” Maracas are part of a further subgroup of instruments that are shaken rather than struck. The most universal form of construction of maracas uses dried gourds with beads, beans, or small stones inside. A handle is attached to each gourd, and the handle not only can be used for shaking but also seals in the noisemakers.”
  • Maracas are one of the earliest instruments exposed to children
  • Percussion instruments existed as long ago as the Stone Age
  • Made of three major parts — a hollow oval top, pellets and the handle
  • Design of maracas has assumed a traditional shape over time
Materials that Last Forever —
  • Highly artificial materials
  • Styrofoam — derived from fossil fuels that is made to never break down.
  • Plastics, especially bags — estimated to take as long as 1,000 years to decompose.
  • Glass — one of the longest-lasting man-made materials; molten sand. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services estimates that it takes 1 million years for a glass bottle to decompose in the environment, with conditions in a landfill even more protected.
  • Sand — unless affected by wind/water/weather conditions.
How Will It Last & Look?
  • Styrofoam casing to protect glass. Glass oval top, pellet and handle.
  • Cubic? same shape but with improved ‘usability’? hand grips? circular — one way, but also no particular way to interact with it? how can object be ‘activated’ upon touch?
  • Inclusive design — what about the deaf? tonal? — movement of pellet show ‘change’ is happening — multi-colored/color contrasted pellets
  • Designing for the senses — experience ‘change’ through sound, colors, vibrations
  • Purpose of object: show ‘change’, present a moment, a prompt
  • Instructions? manual? stop-motion flip book? plastic film type ‘paper’? — perhaps not! it is intuitive as is.
Memory of the World
A History of the World in 100 Objects
  • Don’t over think it — it is essentially a simple, intuitive and pleasant experience of human life. Similar objects have transcended time — think ancient rattles dating from 4,000 years ago.
  • Perhaps less about a design “intervention” and more about proposing this open object/platform for it to be openly interpreted by the user.

Project Proposal

Rattle, Shaker or Maraca?
Rattle Definition:
(verb) “
make or cause to make a rapid succession of short, sharp knocking sounds, typically as a result of shaking and striking repeatedly against a hard surface or object.”
Shaker Definition: 
(noun) “a large number of percussive musical instruments used for creating rhythm in music. They are called shaker because the method of creating the sound involves shaking them — moving them back and forth rather than striking them.”
Maraca Definition:
are rattles which appear in many genres of Caribbean and Latin music.”

Although there are many similarities in the descriptions of rattle, shaker and maraca, I thought it would be most appropriate to begin scoping the project around the concept of “to rattle”. As the essence of the sound-making experience is most crucial to the message I intend to convey through this preservation.

Rattle Timeline
  1. Ancient Egypt: The “original product” dated back to Ancient Egypt, where rattles (sistrum) were more ovular and made of pottery.
  2. c. 3300 B.C. (~4,000 years ago): Image of found rattle in center.

3. Predynastic and Old Kingdom periods: rattles gained handles and different shapes and were made out of different materials such as basket, wood, and stone

4. Native Americans saw rattles as a symbol of independence, commonly used in many tribal dances and ceremonies. By this time, they were made in any material (from wood, shells to rock).

“The rhythm the rattle helps keep during the dance is unforgettable — something that resonates to the very soul, helping make the ceremony a spiritual experience.”
“The Native Americans realize that spiritual energy can be derived from the trance like state that can be induced by music. The rattle causes our bodies and minds both to respond to it. Some cultures believe that music can unblock energy within our bodies and thus heal us of ailments. The beating of the rattle helps break up stagnant energy that is blocking the natural flow within your body. It can also help us focus on our souls, our cores.”

5. Uses of Rattles Today — 
Resonated with all ages, culture, ethnic groups and generations through the connections and connotations made from music, dance, religion, practices, and simply infant amusement.

Baby Rattle: “a rattle produced specifically for the amusement of an infant. Rattles have been used for this purpose since antiquity, and are claimed to 
help the child improve hand eye coordination by stimulating their senses.”

Shakers: Percussion instrument used in many musical settings.

Maracas: Instrument used in genres of Caribbean and Latin music, often within a dance in “healing” rituals.

Why are some old objects valuable?

“Valuable” is often interpreted as something that has high monetary value, seeks for more than average care in preservation, and used when regarding an artifact from the past. Some reasons for their value suggest objects that age well, like the ageing cup example we looked at. Others are rare, either in original production or in the few that remain today and are difficult to reproduce today. Aesthetic value, whether personal or universal. Desirability based on current trends, as well as authenticity which ties back to rarity, where a duplicate of some ancient artifact may be seen with less value.

Why is a rattle important for the future? Why is it worth preserving?

“A rattle” refers to the experience of hearing a sound produced by shaking of an object. I think this experience is important for the future because…

  • it stimulates the senses — visual, auditory, tangibility (vibrations)
  • a moment of bliss, a positive experience
  • resonates across age — infants, children, adults, elderly
  • resonates across cultures and time — symbolism and implications of rattle remain positive and useful
  • resonates both scientifically (psychological effects) and religiously (healing effects)
  • highly relatable, seemingly simple experience, straight forward, user-friendly design, positive outcomes

I also feel that these are experiences we don’t necessarily think enough about in our daily lives. What are the little things that make or break our day? How do our emotions or actions change when provided a particular sensory stimuli?

How can it be sustained? How people will use it? What is it made of?

I believe it can be sustained if a rattle can be experienced. The positive outcomes led by their interaction in conjunction with the observations of others sharing and resonating the experience is a sufficient reason for humans to desire keeping such an artifact — the act of keeping good memories, positive moments of mankind. People will use it in positive environments, I can see the act of rattling to still be relevant through the same activities from the past — music, arts/dance, fun/focus tool for infants, etc. It will likely be made completely out of glass, with a styrofoam casing for protection — both materials will be able to sustain 1,000 years.

Where will it be valued?

It will be valued in places that see merit in music — whether as a sleep inducer, performance tool, spiritual experience, etc. The bigger picture that the rattle experience addresses is how this one positive interaction is relatable across age, culture, religion and time. I see value in the experience from different levels — an ‘universal’ experience, experience for the average individual, experience for people not like us. I want to explore and consider how this experience can consider the two extremities of design — design for everyone v.s. design for anyone (through speculative design of people in the future).

Sketches & Iterations

Exploring hand grips

Exploring form and function

Universal v.s. Implicit/Speculative Design (Customization in Future)

  • pros and cons
  • similarities and differences

work that uses design (products, services, scenarios) to address challenges and opportunities of the future. We tend to look 5–10+ years forward and speculate on how things could be and what future we want or don’t want based on these scenarios

Initial form and layout sketches

Text and graphic iterations

Rattle redesign and brainstorm on demographics

Poster Content

  1. Title
  2. Introduction
    - Description of what is being preserved
    - Value of preservation
  3. Proposal
    - Timeline of rattle — past, present, future uses
    - What? Sketches/graphics of how it may look
    - Where it will be kept
    - How
    it will be sustained
    - Who is it for?
  4. What the future may look like?
    - Challenges and opportunities — what people look like?
  5. Who — 
    - Universal and speculative designs
    - Scenario sketches — stills of different people using it (Nicholas Nova example)

Final Iteration