Lying in the backyard, reading a book and relaxing in the sun one day, I was suddenly struck by how practically every product within eyesight was designed to outlast me.
Green plastic deck chairs, rippled to simulate wood grain. A plastic bird feeder—a popular speakeasy for the starlings and robins. In the garden, a pair of purple Crocs shoes were lurking near the tomato plants, whose vines wound happily around black plastic stakes. Even the snakelike garden hose tucked between the bushes has been explicitly designed to resist the elements, no matter the long-term environmental cost.
For this challenge, rethink the logic that governs how we produce products for outside our home.
Pick an item that you’d generally find in your backyard—such as one of the items in the above list—and redesign it so that it could gracefully biodegrade. As an example, consider the bird feeder. Could you make such a thing that also wouldn’t be torn asunder by hungry birds over a single season, or ravaged by the elements? Or is that part of the conceit, that you want the feeder to eventually be eaten? Try to get to a final solution in less than two hours.
Shown above is designer Brian LaRossa's idea, BirdBloom. It's a birdhouse that is water-resistant on the outside, but when inverted and left out in the garden, naturally biodegrades and returns to the earth. The bright colors would be sure to attract our fine feathered friends.
One of the inspirations for this challenge was “Bird Seeder” by industrial designer Jan Habraken. He says his birdhouse, which is made entirely of bird seed, is an example of “super functionality.” In his design, he “strip[s] away everything unnecessary to function—and leaves something lyrical. Function becomes foundation becomes façade.”
Every week, I’ll be sharing with the design community a creative challenge, alongside sample solutions from working designers and students. The above challenge is from my forthcoming book for HOW Design Press, Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills.