Design competitions can be strange things, heavy on presentation and ultra-light on functionality. But at their best, they can become spaces where new concepts get tested out, with designers and students forced to consider elements that they wouldn't normally address in their work. Recently, there's been a noticeable shift towards ecodesign in higher-profile competitions, including Metropolis' Next Generation Prize and the Coram Sustainable Design Award.
Even the Industrial Designers Society of America's IDEA awards (which, rather than issuing a particular challenge, review new designs already on the market), are making an effort to emphasize a commitment to ecodesign. They've ostensibly always had some ecological requirements, but this has never been evident from the winners. It's not due to any bias - it's just that really great sustainable products have been rare, especially in North America. The IDSA has recently done a lot to change this, educating entrants and adding a new ecodesign category for the 2006 awards.
The Japan Design Foundation's new competition, ENERGY: Sustainable and Enjoyable Life is another of the latest indications that the international design community is paying real attention to product sustainability. For years, the pioneering Design Resource Awards have owned this kind of competition. Their challenge was simple: what fabulous things can you make with green materials or repurposed objects? They would mail you a box full of samples, mostly culled from the green building industry: mine included several kinds of reclaimed-lumber and bamboo flooring, as well as some fascinating soy plastic that was swiftly eaten by a hyper-focused cadre of Texan sugar ants (not necessarily a bad thing).
The competition results were a pretty good illustration of the very central problem of classic green design: as an independent designer, if you can't be sure of what ingredients you're working with, you have a tough time calling something sustainable. In other words, unless you have the power to re-engineer the materials and systems, you work with the elements that you have. The result is often partly mired in hand-craftiness and doesn't provide a compelling alternative to most of the stuff that surrounds us. This has been the legacy of ecodesign, and is partly the reason that - depending on who you ask - "ecodesign" has characterized a weaker form of sustainable product design.
Well, anyway, it's all about the criteria. JDF have reversed the challenge, seeking more comprehensive sustainable solutions in products, environments, and community systems:
Sub-theme 1: Livingware
Using new technologies and employing new light, heat and power sources to livingware, such as lighting equipment, heaters and home appliances, we can enrich our daily lives, while at the same time reducing environmental impact. JDF expects to receive many innovative ideas that will make daily life more sustainable and enjoyable.
Sub-theme 2: Living Atmosphere
Currently, various types of energy sources are used to maintain a comfortable environment in our living and working spaces. On the other hand, excessive energy use causes various challenges. To create and sustain comfortable living space, we need innovative ideas and designs featuring solar power technologies, renewable resources and eco-friendly materials.
Sub-theme 3: Living Environment
At public spaces where people get together, there are many energy-related challenges. The energy issue is deeply related to deforestation, air pollution and other environmental problems; safety and maintenance of social systems and disaster prevention. To resolve various energy-related problems, community-based collective approaches should be taken. In this regard, the organizer expects to receive proposals for new business models of community-based energy circulation, which will address energy problems and ultimately lead to a new community business.
You've got just over a month to come up with something fantastic: JDF's accepting entries between the 1st and 31st of October.