1. Thoughts from the Zeitgeist

Quantity X Consumption = Massive Impact

#21 Design the Platform for The Impact Double Double

This is an ongoing series, based on conversations with Bruce Mau, to help people working in the brand-experience medium embrace and apply the 24 Design Principles. I believe that spending time with these interrelated, non-linear habits of thinking can help us realize better outcomes – at work, in our personal lives, and in the world at large.

In the previously published design principle about The Power Double Double, Bruce Mau talked about how massive change happens when improved capability coincides with increased quantity — i.e., exponential population growth. This next design principle — Design for the Impact Double Double — is its mirror. It asks us to consider the impact on our world when the outputs of individual consumption are multiplied not only by increased population, but by social advances that bring both the benefits and excesses of a modern lifestyle to a greater percentage of that population.

One look at the Great Pacific garbage patch, 80,000 metric tons of plastic floating out in the ocean, demonstrates the potential ramifications of ignoring this principle. But it also underscores the opportunity to apply design thinking in ways that create positive massive change. Big challenges equate to big opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs.  Consider what young Boylan Hatch and 12-year-old Anna Du are already doing to put this principle into action.

What does this mean for our industry? How do we find new ways to create more value with less stuff? “This is a huge opportunity for our planet, our industry and also for our business,” says Bruce. “Every time you take waste out, you capture value. You capture resources. That’s the opportunity!”

There has been a lot of progress made in the expositions industry in terms of recycling and repurposing materials used to create exhibits —but we still have much to do to eliminate the global practice of “build and burn.” One of the primary obstacles is that we are severely restricted by load-in and load-out times. Too often, there simply isn’t enough time to disassemble and repurpose everything, because the trucks are already driving up to unload for the next big show.

How do we design for this challenge of saving both time and the materials we want to recycle or reuse? Chatting with Bruce about The Double Double Impact got me thinking about Moore’s Law – and how the doubling of installed transistors on silicon chips occurs 12-18 months, while the costs are halved.  I tried to imagine this kind of efficiency in our world of brand experiences, but since our cost is largely based on labor hours, it seems impossible. One way we can begin to make a difference, however, is to design from a time standpoint. Bruce urges us to think about shifting where and how labor is used. For example, we can “spend” more of our labor before the show by designing modular exhibit pieces that can be quickly loaded and assembled on site – and more easily disassembled at the end of the show, so materials can be reused.  By preassembling some of the pieces, and making sure everything is sized for a 53-foot truck trailer, we save time and labor cost that we can invest elsewhere. As Bruce puts it, “If it is designed in a modular way to go in, you’d save time on the load-in, and you’d save material on the load-out.”

That’s the thinking behind the beautiful, highly configurable display system that we plan to market as Flex by Freeman™. Its use of modular assembly units means that it’s easier to create attractive,  beautiful exhibits that quickly go up and down. And its aluminum structure means it’s lightweight, can be repurposed indefinitely, and can be recycled much like an aluminum Coke can.

“We have a very limited time to do what we need to do,” Bruce explains. “We can use the labor savings to do more, not less. By reducing the cost in one area, it allows us to do amazing things in others…. What Flex allows us to do is spend more time on things that matter. More time on things that add value to our client. And that’s good for the business, it’s good for the industry, it’s good for our clients.”

Designing for The Impact Double Double may begin with a desire to improve sustainability. But the beauty of innovating for massive change is that the benefits are often greater than we first realize. We’re seeing it in every industry, from bottling companies to agriculture.

“So many of the things that we do now, people said for years, you can’t do it – it’s impossible,” Bruce notes. “And yet people are solving these things. We’re moving to waste-free ecology and a waste-free economy. Ultimately, that’s where we’re going to get to, if we’re going to be here. If there’s going to be 7-plus billion of us, we’re going to change the model of what we do.”

That’s The Impact Double Double. That’s the power of design thinking.