This subject area aims to sensitise the students to ecological issues in general and environmentally relevant criteria for product development. The traditional role of the designer can no longer be viewed isolated from other disciplines. Today, a broader view of the inter-dependence of objects, users and disciplines is of growing importance. Holistic thinking is necessary.

This implies a paradigm shift in design education. Beyond classical product development it is necessary, today, to create holistic concepts and to think in product life cycles. A comprehensive ecological approach incorporates the active ecology of a product in addition to the passive ecology. Ecology and design do not necessarily contradict each other. Long-term thinking and planning is of paramount importance. The designer must take into account all parameters that have an ecological impact on the product, from the initial design stage over production through to the use, maintenance and environmentally-friendly disposal. Traditionally, the main task of a designer has been to create new products. But changes in the socio-economic context call for fundamentally new concepts within an extended range of responsibilities. These developments create new challenges for designers, especially in the early design and planning stage of product development, and also provide many options to determine the environmental compatibility of their design developments – a major new responsibility.

Sustainable development

This concept has led to intensive scientific and political discussions in Germany. Yet, sustainability has not quite become a generally acknowledged concern in our society. In this respect there may be progress on a conceptual level, but less so in the political-practical area. There are approaches to, and pilot schemes for, sustainable production, for sustainable mobility or for long-life consumer goods. These topics are investigated in seminars with a perspective for their impact on the design process.

Bionics

»Bionics« is a verbal amalgam combining two constituents: biology and techniques (technology). Where in nature do we find shapes and structures that are correlated and balanced in such a way that they may lead us to innovative design solutions? Here lie great opportunities for future, ecologically compatible product developments. The study of nature teaches us the constructive, evolutionary potential of the animate world. Form and function are surely the foundations of design. In order to apply this implicit knowledge, one has to investigate nature in great detail.

Smart materials

This term, often inadequately replaced by »intelligent materials«, denotes the quality of materials which can adapt to changing influences. The increasing mobility of our society pushes the process of development of new materials and their application in a variety of products, from the sock to the automobile. But there is often a lack of exchange of information between scientists and designers. It is one of the objectives of this area to learn to understand each other’s concerns and to detect mutual interests. As the range of these topics shows, the only chance for the future is a progressive attitude towards design development of environmentally responsible products within a long-term perspective…