Sustainable Design (U4 Topic 1)



A place to start gathering useful resources around sustainable design.

From the design minds website there is a lesson plan using maps and grids to explore city design that could easily be adapted to fit into this topic. From the resource:

A toolkit investigating urban futures through inquiry into the dynamics of cities,
especially the sustainability of their transport networks. The grid and the web
represent contrasting, sometimes opposing, planning patterns, and are a
catalyst for discussion about competing values.

This fits under the subject matter for (from the curriculum):

recognise that sustainable design is influenced by decisions at a local, national and global level and is an approach to designing that seeks to support human wellbeing indefinitely while balancing the impact of economic, social and ecological sustainability.


Some random resources for sustainable design:

  1. Some cool sustainable design projects - I really like these examples:

(e.g. a lamp that grows plants in a room with no windows, a straw that lets you drink dirty water, and a shower that “kicks you out” when you’ve used too much water)

  1. Wikipedia lists some general sustainable design principles here - I’m not sure how useful these are for teaching sustainable design though:

Each design profession has plenty of literature that is specific to it, e.g. for architecture:

Can others possibly post some sustainable principles for their discipline(s)?


We introduce sustainability to our ID students quite lightly in their first year and build on it in Second Year when they start to learn more about manufacturing and materials. (In industrial design it’s difficult to make detailed decisions about product sustainability until you know something about materials and manufacturing.)

We do this by asking students to:

  • consider the lifecycle of the product
  • choose materials based on the performance requirements of the product, including emotional factors
  • investigate broad manufacturing options for these materials (e.g. you can’t injection mould wood!)

Of these three things the first is the most important. Thinking about how long a product should last, how it is repaired, repurposed and then recycled has a big impact on the design of the product as a whole.

This leads to general approaches such as:

  • short lifecycle: maximise recycling, design for disassembly
  • longer lifecycle: maximise repairability, modularity, upgrade as well as disassembly

We don’t ask students to go into detail about these things in First Year; that comes later when they have greater technical knowledge.

I suggest that teachers might take a similar approach to sustainability discussions in the classroom, which is to say, not get too technical.

  • How long should a thing last?
  • Can it be easily maintained, repaired when it breaks or wears out?
  • Can it be upgraded or modified to new purposes?
  • What happens after it reaches its end-of-life?

Exploring novel answers to these questions can lead design in some interesting directions.


Here is an article by Eli Blevis about sustainable interaction design. It’s a foundational piece of work in sustainable design:

This includes a rubric for thinking about the effects of materials:

The items of the rubric are disposal, salvage, recycling, remanufacturing for
reuse, reuse as is, achieving longevity of use, sharing for maximal use, achieving
heirloom status, finding wholesome alternatives to use, and active repair of
misuse. The important claim is that software and hardware are presently
intimately connected to a cycle of mutual obsolescence with implications for
the environmental and sustainability effects and modes of use enumerated by
the rubric.

It then goes through and looks at the material effects of each one of these. I feel it could be a good match for this part of the curriculum.

It also notes five principles for sustainable design that are explained in more depth:

  1. Linking invention and disposal
  2. Promoting renewal and reuse
  3. Promoting quality and equality
  4. Decoupling ownership and identity
  5. Using natural models and reflection

Sustainable Design Approaches (U4 Topic 1)

Here’s an article by Andrew Basiago (a little outdated) which explains the three aspects or “pillars” of sustainability with some really practical examples and analysis of them. I found ‘table 1’ listing ‘The paradigm of sustainable development in Agenda 21’ really useful for giving students appropriate vocab to interact with the different aspects of sustainability.

Has anyone got any other resources or activities for teaching the different aspects of sustainability, especially social and economic?



I used this video for a bit of discussion stimulus recently when talking about social and economic sustainability with my Year 10 classes:

I don’t know if this addresses your question exactly, but it can be tricky to find good resources for these areas.

I hope it helps anyway…


The Circular Design Guide from IDEO is a new website promoting sustainable design thinking.

The site includes case studies (‘stories’), worksheets, and other resources suitable for running workshops or activities. These might be adaptable to use in the classroom in Unit 4.