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Creative lead Kenny Wong on how an uncompromising commitment to sustainable design must be rooted in the hearts of the designers themselves.
Companies around the world are hard-pressed to change their entire way of making things. So are you right?
That’s obviously true. But honestly, the commitment we made is coming from ourselves and it’s coming from a design point of view. Actual sustainability is obviously a huge creative restriction. But creativity needs restrictions, and we’ve set these restrictions ourselves. So the pressure is self-imposed. Because we’re all human beings who genuinely worry about our planet, but also because this is when product design gets truly interesting.
What makes it so interesting?
When product design becomes important, it automatically becomes a lot more interesting. We’re now far beyond only thinking of the look and feel of things. This new era is asking a lot more from us as designers, but as I said, for the most part we’re challenging ourselves.
It’s a pretty ambitious pledge, what’s been your biggest worry?
That the transformation would cost too much money basically. And that we would scare off consumers in the process. But the more energy and time we’ve put into finding new sustainable solutions, it really doesn’t look all that expensive. There seems to always be a way, economically too. I think we’ll end up saving money by being more sustainable in the long run.
But there will always be a guy in a suit in every important meeting who you’ll have to fight on this?
This is where I’m super confident. Everyone at the company seems invested and all-in on our sustainability mission. It rather unites us. Sometimes you hear companies talking about balancing sustainability against other business goals… We’re not looking to make any compromises. So hopefully I don’t need to fight anyone.
So when can we expect to see a 100% circular product?
I’d say the product we’re working on right now represents a huge leap forward design-wise. We’re using more recycled plastics and we’ve put a lot of effort into longevity and repairability. With that being said, we’re only getting started and there are so many other aspects of sustainability that don't concern product design. I hate to admit it, but this thing is bigger than me.
Well, we’ve tried our best to predict the road ahead while being super ambitious. But as you know, tech development is hard to predict. I’m an optimist and obviously a believer in good design and my experience is that new, sometimes unforeseen innovations, can speed up things quite a lot.
Sustainable design seems great, but I think many of us would need a tangible example of what it is exactly.
Ok, so most of our design breakthroughs might seem small from the outside, but then again the products are themselves very small. For our upcoming in-ear product, we recently managed to get rid of a button made from silicone — not a sustainable material at the moment — by integrating the button into the case instead, a case made from recycled plastic. Looking at the entire production flow, removing that tiny button means we don’t need to produce the tools to make it and we save energy by not having the button-making machines running. What I’m saying is that a series of small breakthroughs like that will add up.
WE ARE AT
Breakthroughs are great, but tell me about failure.
If you don’t fail sometimes, then you haven’t aimed high enough. There are a few things left for us to design away in the future, that we didn’t get to this time.
How are your next headphones holding up against the competition, sustainability-wise?
I believe we’re at the very forefront. To us, sustainable design isn’t about adding wood details to your product to express a sustainable feeling of some sort. We don’t want to add anything at all, our approach is rather about removing, which I believe is the pragmatic and more substantial way to go. Our next in-ear product is a manifestation of that.
Tell me something about your latest design that I will never notice using the product.
One thing most people take for granted is how the buds fit into their case. But a lot of work goes into making sure that the user will be able to remove the buds with one hand, while bicycling for instance. We don’t design the case to perfectly fit the buds themselves, but rather the way the buds move in and out of the case.
What’s a sustainable song that you’ll still listen to in 2030?
Maybe Triangle Walks by Fever Ray? Speaking of not compromising things, The Dreijers are amazingly bad at compromising their creativity.