The story of one kettle. Future Lab by Ergodesign
The aim of the exhibition is to revise the popular view that plastic is 'pure evil' and to encourage a joint reflection on how to gradually include plastic in the value circle, to ensure that, at the end of the day, a proverbial 'kettle of the future' does not pose a threat to Planet Earth.
The new wave of responsible design is using its creativity to challenge the culture of 21st century materials. Changing the way objects are used aims to reduce environmental impact and is one of the main challenges for manufacturers and designers.
We also challenge the idea of plastic being pure evil. We are considering the idea of including it in the value circle, so that it poses less of a threat to Planet Earth.
The exhibition encourages reflection on the modern approach to materials on two levels: the relationship of time (today, tomorrow, future) and the relationship between nature and industry.
A pretext for these reflections is the history of a kettle. The legendary Crystal, designed by Ergodesign for the Zelmer brand in 1996, is still sold today. It is a conventional everyday product made of plastic. Although the stories of the users it has accompanied for over a decade are still alive, many of these kettles will unfortunately end up in the trash one day.
What will tomorrow be like? The next generation of Ergodesign designers have designed the kettle of tomorrow especially for this occasion. Incorporating the principles of a circular economy, Crystal will enter new cycles of use. By re-creating plastic products, Ergodesign explores the potential of a raw material: rigid plastic, already in the constant cycle of the ecosystem.
What about further future? Here, we speculate, and the result of these speculations is a kettle of the future, designed based on perspectives such as extreme environment, hydropunk, protopia and symbiocene.
The exhibition also presents the result of analysis of the nature-industry dimension. Aided by "The butterfly diagram – a visualization of circular economy" by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we see analogies in natural processes (biomimicry), which we incorporate into technological processes. Nature living in cycles is an inspiration to create a circular tomorrow and a bold future.
The exhibition offers different alternatives regarding materials and circular approaches to design. And by looking over the shoulder of its authors, one is transported into a living laboratory of innovation.
The plastic 90s in Poland. Meet the central figure of the exhibition – the Crystal kettle – and get to know it through photography, authentic user stories and Ergodesign designers. This iconic everyday use article is our pretext for reflection on carefree use of plastic.
Synthetic plastics were used as early as the beginning of the 20th century, for instance Bakelite, a material used to make telephones. In the 1950s, plastic became present in more and more areas of life. The design industry appreciated the malleable properties of plastics, because they allowed designers to play with form.
It was only in the 1990s that the plastic frenzy reached Poland. However, our headlong dive into plastics and their blessings was short-sighted and we became absolutely surrounded by that material. Plastic articles have become an inseparable part of our lives.
The thoughtless popularization of the material is making the problem of disposal of worn out plastic items worse every year. But is plastic in itself a bad material? It is not, but without smart life cycle management of plastic products the world is going to face a plastic deluge.
Kettle on a capital
The central element of this installation is the Crystal kettle. It is placed on an antique-looking column with a simplified Corinthian capital. The object is standing in a puddle of oil.
This is how the artists decided to pay tribute to the 24-year-old product while reminding the audience of the origin of the plastic it is made from. The whole piece has a symbolic dimension to it, elevating an ordinary everyday object to the rank of a monument.
Designed by Ergodesign in the 1990s, the Crystal had a place in many people’s homes, but also at the permanent design exhibition of the National Museum in Warsaw.
Back to the 90s
The Crystal is shown against the background of two installations setting the product in the context of the 1990s. The first one is a collection of authentic photographs of the model which can be found virtually everywhere: from construction sites to wedding halls.
The second one is a photo show presenting the key moments and trends of the era in which the Crystal was designed. The opening of the first McDonald's, the coloured polyester clothes, famous faces and consumer electronics. They all had an impact on the design of the time.
About the beginnings pf the kettle
The narrative is complemented by an article on the history of the Crystal kettle displayed on a computer from the period. It also mentions the makers of the kettle and reveals what the first concepts of the product looked like.
The text describes the product design process from the perspective of a design studio working for a large client – the Zelmer brand. This look back at the beginnings of the kettle’s design is also a reminiscence of the challenges faced by designers in the emerging market of design services.
Deposits of the anthropocene
We cannot recycle all the plastic waste on our planet. This installation of electronic waste shows the scale of the problem, prompting us to change the narrative. We try to see if plastic can be treated as a new resource of the earth.
We live in the age of plastic, we are surrounded by plastic products and landfills are overflowing with plastic waste. In Europe alone, 58 million tonnes of plastic are produced annually. Over 53 million tonnes of electronic waste are produced around the world.
If we do not change the way we manage plastic products, the risk to humans, terrestrial and marine animals and the environment will be growing. But moving totally away from plastics is not the only solution.
We are trying to see if it is possible to look at plastic as a new resource on earth. We want to put forward a perspective from which plastic products are not bad in themselves, as long as we can manage their life cycle. All products, including those made of plastic, can be considered from a circularity perspective.
Waste in gabions
The central installation in this zone is composed of gabion baskets filled with plastic waste. Almost two and a half metres high, the structure shows the scale of the problem and how unwise we are about managing the life cycle of plastic products. The message is complete with charts featuring interesting facts about Anthropocene deposits.
Twice as much plastic waste is produced in the world today than two decades ago, and only 9% of it is recycled. Most is landfilled, incinerated or ends up dumped in forests or other green areas.
This part of the exhibition is about facts and figures, but the authors also point to the responsibility behind design decisions.
Matter made of atoms
Breaking down the Crystal kettle into bits and pieces. We give you an analysis of the circularity of the product using Ergodesign methodology. We take into account all parameters and details, as they play a decisive role in assessing the circular potential of the product.
Circular economy is a shift of economic paradigm from the linear take-consume-throw away approach to the circular take-consume-reuse. We believe that fact-based innovations and improvements will be the world’s next step towards circularity.
A detailed analysis of the kettle's components is necessary to come up with guidelines for circular economy design. The outcome of such a breakdown provides data about the number of components making up the kettle, materials those components are made of, how they are bonded together and how many pieces have been made. Conclusions from this section provide key tenets for designing prototypes of new versions of the kettle – the kettle of tomorrow.
A kettle in the lab
This installation evokes associations with a laboratory. A semi-transparent plastic plate becomes a medium for a Crystal kettle taken to pieces. This is an attempt to investigate how much material was released into the environment throughout the production process of this product.
Each component was assigned to a group of materials and weighed, and then the number was multiplied by the estimated two million Crystal kettles that are in operation or have already ended their useful life. Each of the parts and the overall amount is explained on a chart.
The amount of material used makes one aware of the actual footprint left in the environment by just this single everyday use product. The chart is set on rectangular pedestals filled with waste, to symbolically refer to the scale of the generated waste.
Products, their components and raw materials can circulate in a closed circuit – just like in nature. We propose 5 kettle concepts, each of which is circular in a different way. As a result, a product of the past becomes a product of tomorrow. The fundamental elements which can help close the cycle are new materials and use of services.
Introduction to circular economy
The world is entering the third decade of the 21st century. We are on the threshold of the next horizon of European Union's policy. Trends, technologies, changes, and among them there is something to stay with us for good. The circular economy, or circularity, is a new direction in the economic development of our region and the world’s most developed countries.
The first chart offers an introduction to circular economy. We explain the methods of circular design that we put into effect at Ergodesign (Circular Change by Ergodesign). We also present some physical examples of materials to illustrate their circulation across a product’s life cycle.
We also reveal the inspiration behind what we do – a methodology developed by the Ellen MacArthur Circular Economy Foundation. We explain the so-called "butterfly diagram", which illustrates the biological and technical cycles inherent in the circulation of products and materials.
Crystal Clear – towards circularity
Our first concept relies on a deconstruction of the Crystal kettle to make it more circular by redesigning its key components.
This chart shows how you can make a product circular while taking into account the questions of durability, repair and recycling. We show some physical examples of materials and product parts that are particularly challenging as the product is reprocessed in the existing infrastructure.
Here, it is important to make a distinction between durable plastics, i.e. those that require different technological and manufacturing processes from disposable plastics found in packaging and similar applications.
The Crystal Clear kettle concept shows how we can design durable products which are easier to sort and reprocess, while taking into account the existing infrastructure.
Crystal Bespoke – a product for generations
The second concept is a kettle that will last for many years, designed to build loyalty and trust in the product through its exceptional durability and use of materials that age well.
This chart discusses the issues of product obsolescence (aging) and bond building with a product. By using materials that age well you can create value that will build an emotional bond between an item and its user. The kettle concept is surrounded by physical objects representing timeless, sentimental forms.
Its wear and tear process has been designed to ensure that not only the quality of the product does not deteriorate with time, but it actually makes each piece a unique item with individual features acquired along the way. The fact that the product has been assembled manually is highlighted on the nameplate, to emphasize the work invested in its manufacture. The lifetime warranty and the service inspections offered every two years and included in the price mean that the kettle will pass from generation to generation, along with other precious family mementoes.
Crystal POP – kettle from blocks
Repairability and ease of repair are the most important factors that determine whether a product can serve its user for many years, which is why our third concept is about a repair-friendly kettle.
The next chart shows the concept of a kettle whose modular structure makes it easy to self-repair and allows the user to personalize the product during its life cycle. What you can see here is the suggested design of the kettle’s body, but also the concept of an accompanying service to make it easier for the user to replace parts by themselves. The chart is complemented with samples of reusable packaging from "RePack", designed to streamline the shipment of new parts and the return of broken or used ones.
The kettle can be disassembled without the use of any tools. The individual components can be simply unscrewed from the kettle body. Due to user safety considerations, individual components can be replaced without any interference with the electrical system.
Today, only about 3% of plastics produced worldwide are based on renewable resources. Fossil fuels continue to be a cheap resource due to the highly developed oil industry segment.
The next chart is an introduction to bioplastics. It accompanies the concept of a kettle based on renewable raw materials. Here, we show what natural raw materials are used to produce bio-plastics, what their potential for environmental protection is and what dangers one should be aware of.
Crystal Renewable – a return to nature
The fourth kettle is a product that relies on natural materials and biodegradable elements. It is a kettle concept in which some of the components have been replaced with bioplastics and natural materials to reduce the extraction of fossil resources, or to allow partial biodegradability of the material.
Notions such as bioplastics, biodegradability and compostability are being used more and more often. In the context of sustainable development and environment, these names are often overused. We explain what they are about using the example of the presented concept.
Crystal X – non-kettle
There is no kettle on the last chart. Instead, you can see the outcome of Ergodesign team’s brainstorming session held to come up with alternative ways of heating water. Correct identification of the actual design need or challenge is often much more important than product design itself, as it can take many different forms (and it does not actually have to exist as an object, by the way).
All the concepts on this chart are abstract, but each of them can be a pretext to try and develop such an idea into a product responding to present and future water management or energy shortage challenges.
Layers of futures
Curiosity of what the future may bring is inherent in our human nature. What we know today is never permanent. The essence of work on designing the future is to expand notions and awareness through art, fantasy and science. They are evidence of new discoveries and a foretaste of what we are about to experience soon.
Every thought process, including a design process, begins with understanding the context of the future change. The installation presents various perspectives on changing the function of water, heating, cooking and the device – the kettle of the future – itself. It focuses on three versions of likely scenarios: extreme weather conditions, hydropunk – conflicts over water resources, and Symbiocene – a renewed human-nature relationship.
Layers of Future(s) predict what conditions will prevail on Earth based on scientific knowledge and trends in various fields: geopolitics, engineering, anthropology, art, literature and the various natural sciences. By visualizing the consequences of industry and human activities, as well as their ramifications for nature, we can clearly see in what circumstances we may find ourselves living in some time. The Layers also illustrate how the products and services of the future should work, depending on which scenario we decide is most likely to come true.
Scenario 1 – extreme weather conditions
By going through a three-tier installation, which is over two and a half metres high, we discover three would-be futures, exploring each of the three scenarios. Translucent layers of facts, photos and specific ideas overlap to give a notion of what life might look like in a given future.
Each vertical line of the installation shows a different scenario. The first one is a scenario with new environmental conditions that we are already experiencing, and their scale keeps growing.
Fires, cyclones, floods and droughts – these natural phenomena are occurring in many places and are aggravated by greenhouse gas emissions. The resulting disproportions in water possession by different parts of the globe force us to look for alternative solutions.
The exhibition shows statistical data, photos and concepts of tackling this scenario, which include a simulation of taking a shower using light, noise and smoke, solar lenses to heat water in domestic kitchens, construction of floating buildings in flooded areas and water sourced from asteroids.
Scenario 2 – hydropunk
The second vertical line in the installation is a water shortage scenario. As water is becoming less and less available, we need to save it and use it more efficiently. Treat it as our most valuable resource.
This section also presents the scale of conflicts over water. In various parts of the world fighting for water is becoming more and more widespread. There were 127 such conflicts in 2021, up from only 22 in 2000.
Water shortage and the related conflicts push us towards solutions that can potentially become our reality, such as tablets with oxygen and hydrogen concentrate to make your own water, commercial drinking water obtained from urine, water available in a subscription model only or erasing the memories of water from human memory.
Scenario 3 – symbiocene
The next vertical section of the installation presents the third scenario – the Symbiocene. The image of this future is based on the symbiotic interaction of humans with other creatures, where humans care for nature as much as nature cares for humans.
This coexistence between people and the environment can be an experiment of coexistence in the spirit of microbiology and technology.
More facts and solution concepts are presented here, e.g. a bioplastic from algae, a closed community water circuit, Dew Catchers – urban water condensation farms and the wrapping of maple trees to collect water from the bark.
You are the key element of any system: today, tomorrow and in the future. Your every decision, even the smallest one, has consequences for the planet. What kind of consumers are we? Take a circularity survey to find out.
Ergodesign’s project team have been implementing the principles of circular economy in the organization for several years now. With every new project, they consider the future social and environmental impact of the solutions they create. They ask themselves: what materials will the product be made of? How will it be used and who will be its user? What will happen to the product after it has been used up by its first user?
This zone is your opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at circular designing. As you explore Ergodesign’s approach, dare to reflect on your own consumption habits or your design approach. Help create a more sustainable future – let's pause, reflect and discuss.
Immersed in inspiration
A set of modular steps for visitors is the central point of the installation, allowing people to relax and gather their own reflections after learning about all the facts and solutions shown in the different zones of the exhibition.
This is also where users take part in studies exploring people’s approach to circularity. While sitting on the steps, you can also watch videos about how circularity is implemented by businesses.
The zone is complete with a making-of chart showing how the Ergodesign team worked on the exhibition. There is a team of designers behind each element of the installation, and this is where you can meet them.