Posted on Tuesday, October 19, 2010 by Samantha Braman
Ryan Duke (Industrial Design 2008), an independent Oakland-based industrial designer and CCA alum, won the 2010 Oakland Indie Award in the "Greenie" category this past May. The awards (a program of the OneCalifornia Foundation in partnership with the East Bay Express) honor businesses and artists who are especially socially and environmentally engaged; the Greenie category singles out a particularly great "environmental hero" who might be creating new products from used materials, using energy-efficient appliances, composting, or devising previously unknown ways to reduce waste.
Easily meeting all these criteria and more, Duke is definitely a local environmental hero. Among the many organizations he works with are the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul of Alameda County, the Oakland / San Francisco division of the International Rescue Committee, and the San Francisco chapter of Project H Design. But his worldview is hardly just local. For his CCA senior thesis, supported by a CCA Center Student Grant, he traveled to Pratania, Brazil, where he engaged in a collaborative project with economically underserved artisan groups, working with them to apply their native craft of leatherworking to new products in order to engage new markets and create sustainable income streams.
Here he talks about the project in Brazil, his thinking on sustainable design, and a very intriguing new retail concept to be unveiled early next year in Alameda:
Community-service-oriented projects . . .
I have made it a point to act in ways that intentionally engage and support positive goals in the social and environmental contexts in which we operate. As designers, as citizens, and as humans, we have a mandate to act toward the realization of positive goals. Each of us contributes to this collective movement in different manners. I've set a goal to seek out and identify meaningful opportunities to apply mindful, considered design.
Encouraging and fostering sustainability in art and in communities . . .
I was honored (and surprised!) to receive the Oakland Indie Award. It is commendable, and highly appreciated, that the OneCalifornia Foundation is recognizing environmental, social, and economic efforts that foster sustainability, as it is imperative to the future success and stability of community and humanity. This kind of recognition is often most needed when movements and groups are growing and developing, and OneCalifornia has chosen to jump in early to show its support.
Working in Brazil . . .
The rural town of Pratania, Brazil, has an 80-year-long tradition of leathercraft, but global competition has closed down all but two local shops. I was able to spend about two months on site, working and engaging in a knowledge exchange with an amazing group of artisans. They taught me the skills, techniques, and processes they had honed over decades, and in exchange I shared with them some processes of contemporary design. I got connected to this group via StraaT, which operates like an NGO, making connections among artisans, designers, and markets.
We developed a new line of products that combine traditional hand craft techniques with contemporary design. New distribution avenues and retail relationships began opening up for the artisans. Retailers that previously wouldn't carry their products are now inviting them to showcase at their stores. And additional products are continuing to be developed.
In retrospect: I benefited by acquiring a new body of knowledge with respect to materials and processes that I've been able to apply to other projects. Other designers are now making connections with the Pratania artisans. And the town's public education system has implemented new English-language classes at all grade levels to further facilitate new opportunities. All of this, in addition to the new connections, friends, and cross-cultural experiences that were created, made it a fantastic experience.
Working with Project H Design in San Francisco . . .
Project H Design works on a variety of humanitarian and socially oriented projects. Through the San Francisco chapter, I've led a group of all-volunteer designers (specializing in industrial design, graphic design, strategy, engineering, and so on) on projects that have impact both locally and internationally. We operate as a sort of nonprofit design firm, offering pro bono services to those with limited access to creative capital such as other nonprofits, NGOs, social entrepreneurs, et cetera.
Our projects have ranged from water transportation devices for rural South Africa (with the Hippo Water Roller Project) to wheelchairs for use in developing areas (with the San Francisco–based Whirlwind Wheelchair International), composting bins and wayfinding signage for the local urban farm Alemany Farm, dining tables for refugees being placed in the Bay Area by the International Rescue Committee (along with the Academy of Art University), and communications materials for Wild4life, an amazing local nonprofit that is fighting the HIV epidemic in rural sub-Saharan Africa.
While at CCA . . .
My CCA senior project in Brazil prepared me to jump right into work, with knowledge and confidence, immediately after graduation. That CCA would encourage a student to leave for two months during the semester to work on a project overseas, independently, shows a great amount of trust—both in the student and in the education it is providing.
The quality of the faculty, and their diverse backgrounds and expertise, were essential in helping me formulate my own understanding of the design process. They empower students to take on all challenges. This, combined with invaluable in-class experiences (everything from designing new luxury technology products in a Gucci-sponsored studio to collaborations with students in the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business), made CCA instrumental to my personal and professional development.
Looking ahead . . .
Recently I had an artist-in-residence opportunity at Saint Vincent de Paul. It's a nonprofit that provides a range of social services in the Bay Area. One aspect of their operations is a donation and thrift-store system that takes in large quantities of donated consumer products and makes them available to those in need. One issue they've identified is that a significant portion of the materials donated by individuals and businesses are unsuitable to distribute or sell, and they are dedicated to identifying ways to recycle those materials and minimize what ends up as landfill.
My role was to develop strategies for creative reuse—specifically to craft new objects that could be replicated and sold through retail outlets. I built a range of furniture pieces, tabletop items, and pet products, along with assembly/manufacturing instructions, with the intent to plug into a corresponding program that employs people who have barriers to employment (such as language, past incarcerations, et cetera) to actually build the products.
Saint Vincent de Paul is planning to open a new retail location in early 2011 that will feature these products, and others like them. It will be an art and design boutique with a social and environmental focus, as well as a hub for artists and designers to interact and engage with interested members of the public through workshops, classes, and events.
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