The project presented here highlights discourses about tertiary design education for sustainable development. It argues for meaningful projects with an experiential approach and a purposeful element of intuitive experimentation. We are all aware of the growing problem of plastic waste and the importance of addressing it. This project offers students the opportunity to learn about design and sustainability and to investigate the plastic waste problem in a hands-on, positive, and empowering manner. In this real-world project, industrial design students design desirable, feasible and viable products made from plastic waste, creating a circular economy at their university. They use the design process, design and sustainability tools and gain knowledge through their creative practice. Open-ended extensive material experimentation by students is encouraged to design innovative products, taking advantage of the discovered material properties and qualities. Students also consider user needs, cost, and viable manufacturing methods. This project-based enquiry uses blended learning, where theoretical principles are learnt through an experiential approach with an added focus on intuitive physical experimentation and making. Evocative elements are purposefully included within effective problem-based learning to increase the vital component of intuition to, in turn, promote innovation. The sustainability theme motivates students in their pursuit of a concerning and significant issue, and they feel empowered by the tangible positive impact they can have on the plastic waste problem. This fills them with confidence that what they do is meaningful and that they can make a difference, now and in the future.
Anke Nienhuis is a lecturer and researcher in the Industrial Design department of the School of Art & Design at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. She works in the field of industrial design, with a specific focus on sustainable product design and the reuse of waste materials. Before her academic career, Anke gathered extensive professional experience as a product designer, working for numerous companies and in various countries. Anke values and teaches design innovation with a central focus on people and the planet.