Waste Age: What can design do?

Thursday 3rd Feb

Lecture notes:

We then read as a group: Waste age: What can design do? This is the catalogue for the exhibition we went to see at The Design Museum, in last October.

(below) Waste Age banner from the Design Museum shop webpage. The designer has interspersed images of plastic waste with leaves. The effect is subtle and elegant.


The copy of the catalogue, our lecturer brought to class.

Photos I took at the exhibition: (Read the original blog here.)

Posters outside the museum
(above) I was shocked and surprised to see this vintage bag in the exhibition. Printed on the bag is a list of the pro’s for using plastic carrier bags. ‘Great for school books’, ‘Ideal for beach parties and picnics.’ While these selling points might be true, I wonder if people at the time questioned the environmental impact of plastic.

There were several displays like this one at the start of the exhibition. These displays demonstrate the multiple uses of plastic in the present day. The shocking point was that I have never been aware of the amount of everyday objects we interact with that are currently made of plastic.

Paragraph #1 Covering the problem of nature vs culture

This paragraph talks about the blurred lines between nature and culture. We are introduced to the problem of waste.

Bombs in the DMZ Vietnam War https://www.divergenttravelers.com/immersion-vietnam-war/

Paragraph #2 Dominated by waste

This paragraph introduces us to the idea of our current culture of waste. The fact that waste is not just around us, but in our digestive tract as well for example. This made me think of the microplastics presented at the exhibition. The display showed the particles of car/bus tyres in our atmosphere. (‘The Tyre Collective’)

photo taken at the exhibition shows us pollution from vehicle tyres being in contact with the road surface.

#3 Illusion of dematerialisation

Here we are made aware of the sheer amount of rubbish created by humans. The 500 billion tonnes of plastic bags consumed per year and how easy it is to ignore this fact.

The image below illustrates the change in phone designs over the years. As technology looks lighter and more elegant we could be fooled into thinking that we are producing less waste than before. The opposite has been proven to be true.


#4 Anthropocene

‘Anthropocene’ refers to the new layer of earth we are contributing to as humans.


#5 From need to desire

The capitalist culture created a shift from consumers buying just what they needed, to desire objects they have no need for. This allowed companies to make big money, but has had a detrimental effect on our Earth.

(A scene from the movie ‘Shopperholic’) http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20140407001361

#6 Planned obsolescence

The role of the designer has been to make products look desirable to the consumer. The iPhone has been particularly criticised for its low repairability. Products that break earlier, mean more sales.

Three children tossing paper cups, plates, aluminum foil pans, lunch trays, straws and napkins through the air illustrating the usefulness of disposable dishes. https://thedieline.com/blog/2020/3/10/the-history-of-plastic-the-invention-of-throwaway-living?

#7 Design the possibility of repair

The designer has a role within the product cycle. They can focus on designing repairable products. (below) The iPhone 13 Pro is less repairable than its predecessors.


The article then goes on to suggest practical solutions.

  • Electronics can be designed with modular parts
  • Stop fusing plastics and metals together, this will be more can be recycled
  • adapt and re-use good buildings instead of demolishing and replacing
  • reducing carbon-heavy steel and concrete

#8 The consequences on reality

Consumers need to demand these sustainable products/ methods. The designer could blindly follow what they are told to do by their paymasters, but then nothing would change.

The metaphor of fungus is mentioned here. An organism that survives and thrives.

The article mentions Bio-design, which is a new phrase for me. We then watched a short student-made video about the possibilities of bio design in the future, including the dyeing of fabrics in a sustainable way. We have only just begun to explore the possibilities of bacteria.


Anna Tsing is mentioned within the catalogue. Her book (left) explores the story of the Matsutake mushroom. Amazon.com says about the book- ‘In all its contradictions, matsutake offers insights into areas far beyond just mushrooms and addresses a crucial question: what manages to live in the ruins we have made?’ 

Within the article, we also see mention of the famous architect, Cedric Price.


‘Price’s architectural style came from his belief that buildings should serve the needs of the people, and be radically transformed or demolished if they no longer served their purpose. A life-long socialist, Price was deeply skeptical of political institutions and their tendency to use grand, monumental buildings as a means of consolidating power. Instead, Price proposed building temporary and mutable structures which would be open and accessible to all.’

Karl Marx is also mentioned within the text.

The board from today’s lecture. We annotated the text as a group. This was particularly helpful, as it allowed us to see each other’s interpretations.

We condensed down the topics within each paragraph. It was helpful to write them as short phrases. This exercise helped me to understand what I had read, and I will be using this method when looking at articles in my future research.

Critical Thinking: Theory & Practice Part 2


In today’s lecture, we began by considering the themes for this new module.

  1. The history and theory of visual culture. How are images produced? How are images consumed? Visual artifacts: graphic design, poster, film, advertising.

2. Reflect on ethical & political implications of graphic design. What does graphic design have to say about race, gender and ecology? How does graphic design make these matters visible?

Blockbuster culture delivers mainstream ideas to the masses. This is found in the free press you find on the train. It is easily accessed everywhere. How can graphic design counter mainstream culture?

Novara Media are an organisation who challenge the mainstream media.

Ash Sarkar uses humour as a way of presenting the topic. She delivers the message with energy and the fast pace keeps the audience engaged. I like the way she uses rhetorical questions to include the audience and place them in a hypothetical experience.

‘The Most Popular Map Of The World Is Highly Misleading’

The Mercator Projection, created by Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569, shows the northern hemisphere enlarged in size with North America and Europe larger than South America and Africa.


Maps were designed from the point of view of the coloniser, according to their own parameters. They placed themselves at the centre of the world according to how they saw themselves (powerful). The global south became independent of the colonies.

Gall Peters projection, 1970 (How the world really is)

Are maps really objective?

They can be designed to deliberately mislead us. We need to look with a critical eye: Who made it? Why? What does it actually tell us?

Design & Politics

Propaganda such as this poster was produced during the 20th century. It was often used to recruit people in the army using bold and forceful language and imagery.

(image from:


Politics in design can be subtle, not just propaganda. And persuasion can be sinister, even if it’s subtle. For example, surveillance advertising and micro targeting occur today. Companies collect data on us without our knowledge. By collecting this knowledge, they are able to profile and target ads to certain audiences. This can be subliminal and sent through social media.

my lecture notes.

Caps Lock – Ruben Pater

The cover of this book is contemporary, by the images are historical. They are from several decades but no image newer than 5 years.

On skimming through the pages, the pull out quotations stand out to me. They do not look too different to the rest of the text, but are in a serif typeface and slightly larger. From reading them, I am given the basic theme of the book. There is a negative view of materialistic culture and the images support this view:


Not all graphic designers are against advertising.

Banana Republic‘ from Caps Lock

Chiquita Banana The Original Commercial

The example of United Fruit illustrates that cheap products cannot be produced ethically under capitalism, but require aggressive advertising, political meddling, dispossession of common lands, exploitation and violence.

Ruben Pater

This chapter of Caps Lock, explains how advertising can be used to ‘hide violence and exploitation in pursuit of profit.’ The Chiquita Banana advert was made to educate and persuade people to start buying bananas from the United Fruits company. At the time, in the 1940’s, bananas were a fruit growing in New Guinea and Malaysia and no one had heard of them. The company therefore needed to convince people to make bananas a new part of their diet.

They did this by using the symbol Chiquita Banana, a sexualised cartoon banana based on the Latino actress Carmen Miranda.

Land was stolen from indigenous people to grow bananas in Honduras, South America. The workers were exploited, paid in vouchers instead of money and killed when they demanded fair pay and working hours. (Which is the short version of events).

“If advertising would be banned from public space everywhere, it would certainly be a blow to a system of consumption that relies on constant seduction.”

“In a timespan of two centuries, society has been commodified bit by bit through enclosure of free and public spaces.”

Century of the Self

The words of Paul Mazur, a leading Wall Street banker working for Lehman Brothers in 1927, are cited: “We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

The film starts with a black and white image of Sigmund Freud. We hear playful and nostalgic music from a past era as the narrator talks about Freud’s theory of ‘primitive forces’ within humans. There is a sudden change to the red image of a woman screaming. The words ‘chaos and destruction’. There is horror-film organ music, all feels frantic. Then suddenly the footage returns to black and white with nostalgic old-fashioned singing, while we see footage of a man on a staircase, perhaps Freud’s nephew ‘Edward Bernays’ who we are introduced to.

The organ music again strikes us as the titles appear.

Images of advertisements appear dreamlike, between black and white images from real scenes of crowds, possibly from news footage- a harsh reality. Crowd footage appears throughout the film, possibly to signify the masses who were the focus of the advertising campaigns.

This introduction sets us up, much like a warning as to what is to come later. We may not know who Freud or Bernays is, but we have no doubt there is something sinister about to be revealed.

The pace and unexpected change in tone, keeps us on our toes. The theatrical pairing of images and music contribute to an atmosphere of dread.  Moments of quiet suspense are sandwiched between images of chaos. This expresses the emergence of Bernays and his work in mass manipulation. The change from buying to meet our needs and buying to fulfil endless desires.

Classical music is playing as we are shown footage of higher-class events. This sets up the world Bernays was a part of. Music plays with our emotions throughout the film, giving us an idea of how it is to be easily manipulated.

We are shown images of chandeliers whilst hearing about the necessity of civilisation and inevitability of dissatisfaction. This creates a contrast and makes us questions the worth of the finer things.

“Bernays was the first person to take Freud’s ideas about human beings and use them to manipulate the masses.”

Century of the Self

Today’s lecture introduced me to the sinister truth hidden beneath the shiny surface of everything we know.

Century of the self discussed the shift from smoking being unfashionable for women, to the way women were persuaded to smoke. This was a carefully calculated shift. Actresses were hired to pose with cigarettes. The companies knew they could double their customers by setting up this marketing strategy. That is something I had never considered before.

In the Banana Republic article, the way people have been treated to allow companies to increased profits, is shocking and appalling. The only thing worse is the way it has been covered up for decades.

This discussion has lead me to wonder, what else will I be discovering next?