Waste Not Want Not
“It’s fantastic for us as an organisation to be shaken up and presented with fresh ways of thinking about these complex issues.” Dr Shane Colgan, Resource Efficiency Unit, EPA
Aptly named Waste Not Want Not, this five-week research project was conducted in 2018 by MA Interaction Design (IxD) students at NCAD in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to explore the challenges and opportunities posed by food waste in Ireland - an issue the EPA have grappled with since 2009.
The project commenced with a briefing session by the EPA during which relevant statistics and an overview of the key issues being faced were presented to the students. Guided by MA Interaction Design coordinators, Dr Marcus Hanratty and Emma Creighton, the fourteen IxD students undertook their initial research as a full studio. As proponents of user-centred design, their research took the form of a deeply human-centred enquiry, involving a series of interviews, co-creation sessions and the use of cultural probes. When combined with design thinking, this approach reveals the behaviours and habits of real people, allowing the complexity of human nature to emerge and enabling the students to decipher the human story behind food waste. IxD students Ronan Healy and Conor Bergin acted as project managers during the research phase of the project which, as stated by Healy, enabled them to “practise leadership skills and direct the class to create a comprehensive body of knowledge about the habits and motivations surrounding food waste.”
The student’s findings were used to create a series of workable personas which would serve to focus and inform the subsequent concepts and ensure that design decisions were relevant and constructive. The method of using personas was new to the EPA team and, impressed by its efficacy, they have now adopted its use for a range of EPA in-house projects demonstrating how alliances such as these provide learning opportunities for all parties involved.
Breaking into smaller teams of three or four for the project’s final phase, the students began to generate concepts from their research - a series of prototypes, tests and iterations. Using the personas as guides, their final concepts aimed to target the various phenomena and human behaviours that the research had unearthed and identified. These ranged from the immediately implementable such as Food Store, a community-based food sharing network to other, more future-facing examples like Sesame, a conceptual design that uses pressure sensors and light to alert householders to their waste production in realtime. In reference to the final outcomes, Healy reflected that “the quality and diversity proved the importance of using design thinking to engage with complex and difficult problems in our lives".
Eight members from the EPA served as a panel for the final presentations which included working prototypes and a promotional video. Reflecting on the process, Dr Shane Colgan from the EPA Resource Efficiency Unit professed to being “blown away” by the range and depth of research undertaken by the students and the manner in which they had clearly and decisively linked their innovative concepts back to the research, deeming the overall process as “highly professional and convincing”. Plans are currently underway to exhibit the student’s final concepts in the EPA headquarters.