TGR Stand at Resource 2015

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (RSA)


Sustainable design | Stand design | Social Change

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Our work with The RSA Great Recovery is on-going to communicate the project’s excellent research to government and businesses.

For the second year running Thomas.Matthews was tasked to design and build an engaging Great Recovery stand for Resource, London: the only major circular economy and resource efficiency event. The design challenge was to engage visitors further so they truly understand the complexity the project is dealing with, it’s design residency work and showcase the project’s partners.

Centre stage rolled the ‘Circular Economy Train’…nostalgic, engaging and fun; this enormous Brio set (sourced through multiple second-hand purchases) drew the crowds. The train concept was to physically illustrate the multiple options presented through a product flow diagram from choice to end of life. Sophie and the design team worked closely Useful Simple Projects colleague, Kell Jones, to interpret the flow diagram, re-create it in 3D, and chart a complex scoring algorithm to assess player’s choices.

To play the train, visitors were tasked to manufacture a household product and make ‘design junction’ decisions about material type, business model and supply chain, as their engine traversed the route. From students through to the entire sustainability team at Marks & Spencer, there was stiff competition to design the best way through the game, and prevent the engines toppling straight into landfill.

The train was simple, yet complex, and successfully communicated the wider systems connected to making a product, that are often not represented in the product’s business plan. Players can make great choices yet still be knocked out of line by external forces such as global competition for land or resources, fickle trends, costs of transportation etc. These are real challenges, faced by the new circular economy designers, and were represented by the ‘tunnel of conflict’, ‘resource randomiser’ (spin to determine fate) and ‘action cards’ (similar to Chance in Monopoly).

The genius of the game is that it enables us to show, at a glance, not only the complexity of circularity but also the deterministic nature of design in deciding the fate of products.

Alongside the train – the additional stand was zoned to take you through circular economy stages: ‘Design’, ‘Making’ and ‘Use and Waste’. In ‘Design’ we showcased work from designers already nudging us towards circular thinking: Rich Gilbert from the Agency of Design who is working with clients on products for return and circularity; and the Restart Project who, as skilled repairers, are enabling us to extend the lifetimes of our everyday electronics.

In the ‘Making’ zone we hosted a pop-up makespace with The Great Recovery’s partners Fab Lab London, complete with 3D printers and laser cutters. This area demonstrated the potential for new technologies to help innovate and prototype new design practices. The ‘Use and Waste’ phase of the economy was represented by a sitting room. Here we highlighted the potential and challenges when dealing with large household items, and furniture, at end-of-life.

Finally, the ‘Kitchen Table’ hosted pop-up workshops with the Great Recovery design residents and, as a bonus, saw serendipitous meetings between mattress entrepreneurs, behaviour change students and business leaders. Most of the 2,056 unique attendees to the Resource Event engaged with the Great Recovery stand, and left empowered with knowledge.