Wicked problems are complex societal problems that are ill-defined, have many different stakeholders with opposing views and are symptoms of ‘higher level’ problems – Rittel & Webber

Waste, (such as food, electronics, furniture and packaging) is one such wicked problem: Australia generated 12.4 million tonnes of waste in 2010 according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Waste cost councils’ money to dispose of, and damages the land that it is dumped on.

As what is wasted is typically replaced with something new, research indicates waste contributes to the use of natural resources for energy and materials which in turn has negative environmental consequences: deforestation, pollution and mining, are all examples.

Waste was chosen as the wicked problem of focus for the first year students taking Design in an Interdisciplinary Studio Context as part of their Bachelor of Design, Queensland College of Art, Griffith University last semester.

The aim was twofold: to give the students an understanding of the role designers play in creating waste and equally what they might do to change this; and to allow students to spend time in the university’s workshops engaging with objects and how they are assembled, a variety of materials and the available tools.

Throughout the course students worked to understand the presence of waste in the world broadly and its effects on the environment as well as the role that design plays in the creation of waste. During their first assignment students spent time observing their own waste practices as well as public waste practices (such as littering), this was to give them a broader understanding of their own role in producing waste with the idea that by observing patterns of behaviour we might begin to challenge our own; we might start to see how certain inventions and conventions have become universalised.

Through their second assignment students were given the opportunity to repair or repurpose an object sourced from a tip-shop, op-shop or their own homes that was considered waste in its current form and give it a new life. They drew on design skills such as observation, research into a target audience or space, ideation and iteration as well as the tools available in the workshop to repair or repurpose their object.

Overall the course was a great success, student feedback highlighted they enjoyed the opportunity to work as part of a team and use the workshop space with many students having previously had very limited access to workshops. The repurposed and repaired objects produced were a testament to the hard work of the students and the teaching staff involved in the course. As always when a course is run for the first time there were a few teething problems identified by staff and students that need to be ironed out ready for the next time the course runs.

The next steps are to think beyond the role design might play in objects already deemed as waste and instead prevent them from becoming waste!

Bec Barnett


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