Exhibition in collaboration with
Design Museum London
Waste Age:
What can design do?

The creative team from Design Centre Europe discuss their collaboration
with the Design Museum in London, UK for the recent 'Waste Age' exhibition.

(L to R) Design Center Europe (Sony Europe):
Reiko Mitsugi Design Producer, Hirotaka Tako Creative Director, Phillip Rose Senior Producer

The exhibition 'Waste Age: What can design do?' was held at the Design Museum from October 2021, to February 2022. Timed to coincide with the UN's ’COP26’ conference, the exhibition sought to establish waste as a key focus point for designers in the fight against climate change. It captured the devastating impact of waste, but also featured solutions where waste is viewed as a precious resource including examples from Sony.

Designing for the Future

PhillipThere are three exhibits from Sony featuring in the exhibition in this section entitled ‘Post Waste’. Within this theme is located specially selected visionary designs that are shaping a future where resources are managed for the long term. Illustrating the path to a lighter and cleaner environment where materials and products are grown rather than extracted.

Rice is one of the most widely consumed staple foods, but the discarded husk is a problem for farmers. Sony have developed a new porous carbon material, called Triporous which is the focus of our first exhibit. Triporous is a sustainable material made from rice husks with unique functionality. It can adsorb microscopic pollutants and thus improve the safety and quality of water and air. Its wide applications include apparel and toiletries making use of its highly adsorbent and deodorizing properties.

ReikoWe tried to show the process of how we developed the Triporous material right from the waste rice husks to the fabric. As a key element of this display, we decided to make a large rice husk mountain, showing each stage of the process: raw material, processed carbon pellet, yarn, and application.

PhillipThe second exhibit from Sony is our Original Blended Material. As part of eliminating plastic from packaging, Sony has developed a sustainable paper material. This material is made from bamboo and sugar cane fiber, both fast-growing and sustainable crops, and combined with post-consumer recycled paper. It has been used for the packaging for Sony's WF-1000XM4 Truly Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones, allowing the packaging to be easily recycled without sorting.

HirotakaThis display explains the process of how the material was developed by Sony’s Design team, highlighting our process by deconstructing every aspect of the material study. We wanted to showcase the detailed design process, from embossed text samples that show how the varied embossing depths and text sizes influence readability, to material composition from different sustainable sources and the tactile nature of the paper that can change depending on production variation.

PhillipThe final packaging is extremely compact, lightweight with very simple construction. This makes it very efficient for transportation and uses considerably less material than previous solutions. It is a single substance that doesn't require sorting. Additionally, it is also very tactile and beautiful like a pebble in the hand.

'Life in Light' Installation:

Justin McGuirk is the Chief Curator of the Design Museum, London. He commissioned Sony's design team to create a fitting and inspiring final installation for the Waste Age Exhibition. We have the opportunity to interview him for his thoughts on our third exhibit 'Life in Light'.

Justin McGuirk Chief Curator, Design Museum, London UK & Hirotaka Tako.

HirotakaThank you Justin for inviting us to collaborate for this interactive installation. I really want to ask you about your thoughts and ideas for conceiving this kind of closing experience to the Waste Age exhibition.

JustinYes, we wanted to do two things with this. One was to end the exhibition on a very positive, optimistic, interactive, contemplative moment that takes people back into nature. But we also wanted to tell, a particular message about end life of all things. We thought about the forest floor because it's a place where things die, and they rot and then they feed other things.

HirotakaYes. The mycelium.

JustinExactly. Mushrooms. So, we thought it would be a good metaphor for the circle of life. And in a way, this whole exhibition is about the circle of life. And so, we just said to you, forest floor and you came up with this.

HirotakaYour Initial brief was a big challenge for us, because we originally discussed about the installation for the entrance instead of the finale. When you gave us our first task, it was to convey the big environmental crisis. Attempting to express the vast quantities of waste through digital contents. Then upon further discussion we switched focus, deciding to create a more positive message that closes the exhibition. We came up with the idea of a dark forest scene, inhabited with interactive content such as fungi, meta-mycelium or meta-botanic, as a representation of new life. Further Ideas came as we kept talking during the detail process. How the audience learns and engages with the content can only be evaluated by observing daily interactions in the space. So I would like to know, has it been working well?

JustinI think so, it's a very meditative piece and I think people need to discover it a bit. You find people hovering and wandering and then gradually they figure it out. Sometimes the people who work in the gallery help them understand what's happening. What's interesting is, in our discussions, we were thinking originally, that we should zoom in, and go kind of micro into something that you can't quite tell what it is -but you can see that there's rotting. You were quite keen to zoom out and make sure that people have that sense of a landscape.

HirotakaYes, enjoy it as a shared experience with the friends and families they were visiting with.

JustinI think that was an interesting choice. And it does kind of put you back in nature instead of a zoomed-in abstract moment. Then we had lots of conversations about light, about when things are growing and blooming, how they create life as a metaphor.

HirotakaWe originally thought that light creates life in the first place. So then lights might be a very good metaphor for the rebirth of life from the very dark forest floor. You gave us a hint to use fungi or mushroom as another metaphor for the foundation of new life and then we made unique, real-time growing elements appear in a way you never see happening in the same way twice. The forest reacts differently to people’s movements.

So I think we achieved a really nice experience and hope that everybody can enjoy it as a fitting closing moment for the Waste Age exhibition. Thank you for a really interesting brief for us, enabling us to come together with technology and design to highlight an important sustainability message.

JustinAbsolutely. I think what's happening here is interesting, because the fact that there's two of us, makes the interaction stronger. When people are kind of standing together in front of this thing, they make more life, more light. I think that's also a kind of sub-message, a kind of subplot of this piece, so I think there's a lot going on here. Probably more than people realise actually.

HirotakaYes, actually, we've made a 360-degree entire dark forest world -sometimes you can find boars and deer. That was at your request, I remember.

JustinYes, yes. I remember. I have seen people spend a lot of time here and they're really trying to understand what's going on. They’re playing with it, they’re moving. That's what we wanted.

HirotakaThank you. We are really honoured to work with you Justin.

JustinGreat pleasure.