imm Coron vier Stühle Projekter Industrial Design

"Sustainability" at the imm cologne 2020

Where is the real “sustainable design”?

The effects of cli­ma­te chan­ge are incre­asing­ly being felt by us peo­p­le in Euro­pe. More and more peo­p­le are serious­ly try­ing to chan­ge their con­su­mer behavior.

Purcha­sing beha­vi­or in rela­ti­on to mobi­li­ty, food and housing is incre­asing­ly being eva­lua­ted from the point of view of cli­ma­te neu­tra­li­ty. The trend rever­sal towards a sus­tainable socie­ty has arri­ved at least in the minds of many people.

This means that the eco­lo­gi­cal point of view is incre­asing­ly beco­ming an eco­no­mic fac­tor for the manu­fac­tu­ring com­pa­nies.
with Sus­tainable design are very easy to lure cus­to­mers in times of drought even in Ger­ma­ny and months of forest fires in Australia.

Projekter Industrial Design imm Cologne Filz

Sustainability as an aesthetic marketing factor

Howe­ver, the major issue of sus­taina­bi­li­ty was lar­ge­ly tied to the mate­ri­al at the Inter­na­tio­nal Fur­ni­tu­re Fair 2020. Sus­taina­bi­li­ty threa­tens to dege­ne­ra­te into a purely aes­the­tic mar­ke­ting fac­tor that is only con­vey­ed through the choice of mate­ri­als and the design.

The sus­tainable atti­tu­de of con­su­mers should be visi­ble by using wood, felt and natu­ral mate­ri­als in par­ti­cu­lar. In rea­li­ty, howe­ver, the­se are often pla­s­tic lami­na­tes, wood veneers from unsus­tain­ab­ly mana­ged rain­fo­rests or poly­es­ter felt. For the lay­per­son, the­se can hard­ly be distin­gu­is­hed aes­the­ti­cal­ly from the more sus­tainable alter­na­ti­ve materials.

In any case, you can't tell by loo­king at the "sus­tainable" fur­ni­tu­re whe­ther it real­ly comes from sus­tainable pro­duc­tion, even if, for exam­p­le, solid wood and wool felt are used.

Projekter Industrial Design imm Cologne Sustainable Design

A lar­ge Euro­pean out­door fur­ni­tu­re manu­fac­tu­rer, for exam­p­le, is aggres­si­ve­ly pro­mo­ting sus­taina­bi­li­ty at the imm colo­gne 2020 and is quick­ly trans­forming its trade fair stand into a jungle-like plant oasis to make this visi­ble to everyone.

"Green stuff" as impres­si­ve pro­of of "green" action. All pro­ducts are made of pure poly­pro­py­le­ne accor­ding to the manufacturer's spe­ci­fi­ca­ti­ons. This one is actual­ly 100 % recy­clable, but the real recy­cling rate of PP was under 1% glo­bal­ly in 2017.

Projekter Industrial Design imm Cologne Materialien

A product is not yet sustainable if it is only recyclable, but only if it is actually recycled.

The respon­si­bi­li­ty for sus­tainable con­sump­ti­on does not lie sole­ly with the con­su­mer. Abo­ve all, we indus­tri­al desi­gners and manu­fac­tu­ring com­pa­nies still have a lot to do to make the pro­ducts tru­ly sus­tainable. Sus­tainable design must be imple­men­ted much more consistently.

Away from the mere painting of the ecological, towards the comprehensively sustainable development and production of products.

Projekter Industrial Design imm Cologne Smart Home

Also the big issue smart home at the imm colo­gne 2020 lea­ves us with a few ques­ti­on marks. The orga­ni­zers of the spe­cial exhi­bi­ti­on "Let's be smart - Smart Vil­la­ge" ask the fol­lo­wing ques­ti­ons on their website:

Braucht man das wirk­lich?”
“Ist es auch sicher?”
“Wer hat wirk­lich etwas davon?”

You don't seem to be real­ly sure on the offi­ci­al tour of the exhi­bi­ti­on stands.

"Everything you see here is something people need like a third shoulder."

Shouldn't "smart" also be sus­tainable? And afforda­ble for the mas­ses? Howe­ver, the auto­ma­ti­on cra­ze in the living area shown in the Smart Vil­la­ge is cle­ar­ly aimed at peo­p­le with midd­le to high incomes.

Smart Home” pro­ducts still cost a lot of money and often con­su­me a lot of ener­gy. In order to be able to react at any time, the sys­tems are per­ma­nent­ly acti­ve and online. Here lies the Share of non-renewable ener­gies in 2017 EU-wide still 82.5 %.

In addi­ti­on, smart home pro­ducts are par­ti­cu­lar­ly expo­sed to the high pres­su­re of tech­ni­cal chan­ge. Digi­tal deve­lo­p­ment is pro­gres­sing extre­me­ly quick­ly. And it con­stant­ly offers the manu­fac­tu­ring indus­try the oppor­tu­ni­ty to deve­lop new pro­ducts and have their pre­de­ces­sors dis­ap­pear from the mar­ket as soon as possible.

For this reason, the renow­ned manu­fac­tu­rer of wire­less loud­spea­k­ers SONOS drew a huge shit­s­torm in Janu­ary 2020 when it announ­ced that it would no lon­ger pro­vi­de older pro­ducts with updates and would the­r­e­fo­re make them incom­pa­ti­ble with its newer loudspeakers.

Intelligence with an expiration date consumes excessive resources.

The more digi­tal a pro­duct, the more its future secu­ri­ty is end­an­ge­red by the dis­con­ti­nua­tion of updates and future incom­pa­ti­bi­li­ty with new soft­ware stan­dards. Unfort­u­na­te­ly, in prac­ti­ce, "smart" pro­ducts usual­ly do not impress with their lon­ge­vi­ty and reliability.

Not every digi­tal­ly enhan­ced pro­duct is also smart. In any case, a pro­duct is only real­ly intel­li­gent if it ful­fills a real pur­po­se at all. And this for as long as pos­si­ble, relia­bly and in such a way that the rege­ne­ra­ti­ve capa­ci­ty of the resour­ces used is guaranteed.

Really smart products are grandchildren's products.

We should urgen­tly think about how to make our pro­ducts intel­li­gent in the long term. We should again crea­te pro­ducts that will still work in 5, 10 and 15 years.

One con­tri­bu­ti­on to a solu­ti­on is the much broa­der enforce­ment of stan­dards. Ins­tead, pro­prie­ta­ry, manufacturer-specific solu­ti­ons are con­stant­ly being used, which are main­ly desi­gned to secu­re the company's sales in the long term.

Projekter Industrial Design imm Cologne Smart Home Roboter
Projekter Industrial Design imm Cologne Kitchen

Arti­fi­ci­al intel­li­gence (AI) can offer real added value in the area of senior-friendly living.

Smart” is usability by older people.

Tech­ni­cal devices can increase secu­ri­ty and con­tri­bu­te to main­tai­ning auto­no­my. Fall detec­tors instal­led in the bath­room, for exam­p­le, can cont­act the emer­gen­cy call cen­ter in the event of an accident.

In the Smart Vil­la­ge, a robot was intro­du­ced that would hang on its owner's heels to be the­re at all times and pro­vi­de assis­tance. Howe­ver, we had the impres­si­on that the elec­tro­nic assistant with AI lacked a sen­se of distance and in prac­ti­ce it often got in the way. Ins­tead of hel­ping, the device can beco­me a dan­ge­rous trip­ping hazard, espe­ci­al­ly for older people.

Every smart home user is pro­ba­b­ly fami­li­ar with the "pre­ven­ti­on manage­ment" requi­red of them to pre­vent the sup­po­sedly intel­li­gent tech­no­lo­gy from doing what doesn't suit them at all. Some­ti­mes we ask ourselves:

Is that real help or just employment?

Do I need the I-Pad instal­led in the front door with a power sup­p­ly and a came­ra direct­ly behind it? Or is a con­ven­tio­nal door view­er not enough?

What are the long-term con­se­quen­ces of not having to shop at all becau­se the fri­dge does it for me? If I no lon­ger have to get up becau­se half the house­hold responds to voice commands?

Will we even­tual­ly deve­lop into peo­p­le like tho­se from the ani­ma­ted film “WALL E”, who, after cen­tu­ries of auto­ma­ti­on and con­stant media expo­sure, have dege­ne­ra­ted into obe­se, sha­pe­l­ess beings?

The latest smart home inter­faces with invi­si­ble con­trols, touch-sensitive sur­faces, touch­screens and voice con­trol are hard­ly sui­ta­ble for hel­ping inex­pe­ri­en­ced users to find their way around.

The design of products should tell us what they are for and how to use them.

What I don't see, or at least don't reco­gni­ze, I can't use intui­tively either.

From our per­so­nal expe­ri­ence, 80- or 90-year-olds hard­ly or not at all get along with modern user inter­faces and voice con­trol. So tho­se who need it most are the ones least able to bene­fit from it.

The actual­ly enorm­ous wealth of expe­ri­ence of older peo­p­le is often no lon­ger suf­fi­ci­ent to find their way around in the modern smart home.


We should move away from blind rage towards auto­ma­ti­on and digi­tiza­ti­on towards an envi­ron­ment that tells us how we can ori­en­ta­te our­sel­ves in it.

We need more pro­ducts that don't lea­ve us hel­p­less in the event of an inter­net fail­ure or an update. Pro­ducts that are more dura­ble again and that com­mu­ni­ca­te intel­li­gent­ly with us through their design. They tell us how they work and sup­port us in ever­y­day life. Pro­ducts that are easy to use, and not just for the tech-savvy digi­tal elite.

An exciting field for us product developers and product designers (and vice versa).

We will shortly shed further light on the topic in the form of an expert talk.

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