Sam O’Brien is a final year student at Billy Blue College of Design, Sydney and one of the talented designers who has brought you this quality publication. She describes herself as a ‘creative, curious communicator’.

Disruption can be used as a game changing tool that provokes new ideas that can shift the way people operate. The word can also be used habitually and without real insight by people in the creative industries to describe the latest and greatest. Could this overuse somehow permanently devalue the purpose of disruption itself? Or will the ability to disrupt through design and tech remain critical for the future of humanity? Today there seems to be an endless stream of ideas and theories about disruption, most with the intention of initiating change and challenging the status quo. In the recent documentary ‘Design Disruptors’, John Maeda, designer, and technologist, says ‘Art is about making questions, design is about making solutions’. So where do we begin and what is it that needs a solution?

I see disruptive design as a revolution driven by technology based ideas to effectively create positive change in our world. It is a powerful force that intends to ignite micro change with the intention for macro transformation. Right now is an exciting time to be in any way, shape or form connected to the design industry, because the call for disruptive innovation is singing out to us all louder than ever before.

First and foremost, there is the call from mother nature herself. We are facing a growing number of complex issues, both big and small, that have a direct impact on our world’s health. Not the least being the massive environmental catastrophe that is climate change. It seems to me that our planet’s large-scale environmental issues are relying on solutions offered by the small-scale efforts of design disruptors, efforts to change our world for the better, one rebellious idea at a time.

Leyla Acaroglu, designer and founder of The Unschool of Disruptive Design, describes disruptive design as ‘a remedy for the perpetual frustration that many of us experience, as it provides a set of mental and practical tools to help redesign the world so that it works better for all of us’. Seemingly, humankind is heading down a dark path of unjust hierarchies and unchecked consumerism, which is typically driven by the mental model that involves much taking from the environment with little regard to its capacity to give. In recent years, the repercussions of this commercialism and consumerism have seen a huge negative impact on our climate and our ecosystems; such as pollution in all its forms, loss of natural resources, and increasingly catastrophic natural disasters. It is these alarming problems surrounding the world’s environmental health that are calling disruptive designers to find transformative solutions and galvanise people power through innovative ideas and designs.

Plastic eating bacteria

According to a 2016 ABC report, a team of Japanese researchers has discovered a new species of bacteria that can gobble up plastic. The bacteria produce two enzymes which break down polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – which is commonly found in disposable water bottles – transforming the plastic into an energy source for the bacteria. At the moment, the bugs work too slowly to make a significant dent in our piles of plastic bottles, but…

Wax Worms

More recently, ABC News reported that the wax worm, a caterpillar commercially bred for fishing bait, has an extraordinary appetite for plastic shopping bags. After an accidental discovery by scientist Federica Bertocchini, it was found the worms can degrade up to 92mg of plastic in 12 hours, which is significantly faster than the bacteria. The worms actually transform the chemical make-up of polyethylene plastic. This is exciting news, as we Aussies use on average a little over 4 billion plastic bags each year, most of which end up in landfill.
Could these discoveries be mother nature’s own form of evolutionary disruption that creates a solution for our planet’s current plastic pollution overload? Scientist say at this stage, probably not. But it does open a door to the possibility of large-scale biotechnological solutions to plastic pollution in the future.

Solar powered beerPingala is a Sydney based solar power initiative where social justice and sustainability intersect. Appropriately self-dubbed the solar revolution, Pingala is a community of people who have come together with one common goal – to make energy more accessible and more affordable. These creative thinkers have designed a system that is accessible to everyone. They work with local businesses and organisations, known as ‘host sites’, installing solar farms on their roofs that are funded by investment from the surrounding community. The ‘host site’ owns the systems and pays for the use of the green energy until each of its investors have been paid off with a great return on their initial investment. It’s a win-win design solution, and what better way to disrupt an industry than to hand over the power to the people.

Reusable Revolution

The increased concern for our country’s environmental footprint has prompted a new wave of product design with a focus on solutions to sustainability. Welcome to the reuse revolution! In Australia, it was led by brother and sister duo Jamie and Abigail Forsyth who transformed the ritual of coffee-to-go with the widespread success of their design, the KeepCup. This was a small idea that began in a cafe in Melbourne in 1998 when the only alternative was the bulky and environmentally unattractive paper cup. The triumph for the Forsyth siblings was their ability to design a product with both an appealing function and aesthetic. Today the KeepCup is sold in 32 countries around the world. The proof is in the pudding, good design (whether it’s product design or any other) is always the most valued player on the market.

This is an excerpt from Ligature Journal Issue Four, Disruption by design. Grab your own copy!