It’s easy for us to get distracted by the glitz and glamour of a butter-velvet chair or a gravity-defying pendant. The design world is tactile and demandingly captivating in every way. Once you’re immersed in it, you have to pull your head above water sometimes to get some non-aesthetic perspective.
Our favorite way to do this is to reconnect with people in our community who are using design to make an environmental or social impact bigger than themselves.
While we were in New York we hunted down three big projects with a message that we wanted to learn more about.
Here’s what we found
1. Field Studies at Sight Unseen
The flagship project at Sight Unseen Offsite (an exhibition that the magazine Sight Unseen puts on every year for New York Design Week) this year was called Field Studies. It challenged 13 creatives and designers to design a collaborative functional object, with all proceeds going to the charity of their choosing.
We arrived on the last day and entered into the multi-room gallery with the classic prompt of “what’s your last name” and only managed to add a dash of are-we-cool-enough-for-this hesitation.
The idea behind Field Studies was to connect creatives from all different backgrounds and have them work together to create a piece … which is a great preface for the fact that no other than Seth Rogen created a mirror for this exhibit.
The list of notables that decided to join in on the fun was plentiful as it ranged from singer Angel Olsen to actor Jason Schwartzman, even Rihanna’s stylist Mel Ottenberg took part in a collaboration.
To many, it may seem bizarre to pair designers with people from varying industries … but it’s the perfect move.
Especially when you realize the ultimate goal – this project was part of their Design for Progress initiative which is a way they’ve been rallying the design community to fundraise and protect those who are vulnerable during this tumultuous political climate.
The charities of focus were a medley of big names like Planned Parenthood, Hilarity for Charity, and Big Brothers Big Sisters NYC. They were raising funds for Puerto Rico, AIDS, youth homelessness, and so much more.
The designs were avant-garde, to say the least … but it’s only natural when two minds come together to create something otherworldly.
Sometimes it makes sense to use a little celebrity and notoriety for the greater good.
2. Glossier x Kim Markel
Kim Markel and Glossier teamed up to take the general Sight Unseen showcase with a bang – making furniture out of Glossier’s empty product jars. The chair is the consortium of beauty-junky excess: it takes more than 50 jars of priming moisturizer to make a single chair, along with a variety of other reclaimed plastics.
But keeping in-line with recycled materials doesn’t stop there, the vanity and side tables are made from spun stone dust (a byproduct of the quarrying process). Kim Markel‘s approach to design is to create unique objects by reimagining discarded materials. Everything she makes is excitingly experimental and weird in the best way.
She’s a perfect reason to leave the fad of “newness” and is clearly a conscious designer (she got her professional start in the world of public policy).
The advocate became a force of action when she dove into the furniture world as a project manager at the Polich Tallix foundry, opening her own studio in 2016.
Markel refers to her work “as an evolving conversation between ideas, technique, and materiality: an idea for an object, the development of a unique technique to make it, and then creating a material for it.”
Who knew an obsessive love for Glossier’s skincare could result in good design?
3. Zero Waste Bistro at Wanted Design
A few steps away from ICFF at the Javits Center, a group called Wanted Design hosts marquee-style design events in New York and Brooklyn, encouraging in-depth design dialogue, programming, and ingenuity.
We were wowed this year by the aesthetic risks that were taken at Wanted, but we were most moved by a special effort to reduce waste and design sustainably.
Commissioned by the Finnish Cultural Institute, the Zero Waste Bistro was a project co-curated by Finnish designers Harri Koskinen and Linda Bergroth and introduces the zero-waste food philosophy of Helsinki-based Restaurant Nolla, the first zero-waste restaurant in the Nordics.
The bistro concept as a whole was made to model a circular economy – where resources are kept and reused for as long as possible.
The table surfaces were made of Durat, a solid material which contains recycled plastic and is 100% recyclable.
More specifically, the Durat is composed of post-industrial waste from Sweden and Finland that would normally end up in wastelands.
During the time period in which the bistro was on display, it served as a functioning restaurant!
They held special brunches, lunches, and dinners for anyone lucky enough to reserve a spot.
All the food was made with zero waste in mind (by the chefs at Nolla), from local ingredients that are often ignored or discarded.
The structure and the walls were made of a material called rewall – a composite made from upcycled plastics and industrial waste.
Design that makes a difference is more important than ever, as it takes diligence from every industry and walk of life to make this world a better place. We’re committed to fighting for what’s right in any way we can and sharing the incredible work from everyone who is doing the same.