For Marcelo Silva Oliveira, coordinator of the design course at Mackenzie Presbyterian University, sustainable design begins with conceiving a new product, and is present throughout the life of the product until its disposal

The diversity of themes which Professor Marcelo Silva Oliveira, 49, has worked so far is impressive. He graduated in Industrial Design (1990), holds a Master’s in Advanced Composites (1998) and a Ph.D. (2010) in Architecture and Urbanism. Today, he is a professor in the Department of Architecture and Urbanism School of the University of São Paulo (FAU-USP) and coordinator of the Design course at the Architecture and Urbanism School of Mackenzie Presbyterian University, in São Paulo.

In the late 1980s, he developed military products such as war tanks, jeeps and armored vehicles. Later, he became involved with vehicle designs, materials engineering, fabric store designs, and graduated as an airplane pilot.

In 2006, he partnered with his spouse to found Flytex, a Brazilian company of special uniforms. They developed the royal blue model for the Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes, as per the Brazilian Space Agency request. The fabric used does not show wear friction, does not melt, does not release smoke and protects against ultraviolet rays.

Today, Marcelo focuses on the academic activities of student prominence and is engaged to turn design into an academic discipline, strategy and work. “The future of design is to help other professions solve open and complex problems. We lose the initial identity of those who make products, visual programming, internet, souvenirs or packaging. We are developing strategies.”

Read the interview below.

bluevision – What is design?

Marcelo Silva Oliveira – When the man chipped the first stone and put a handle to use this stone as a tool, design was born. Design is not a drawing.  “Design” comes from the words “designate”, “design”, which means designing forms, function, and use.

When did design become a specific discipline?

Design was understood as a subject after the Industrial Revolution, with the arts and crafts movement in England. At that moment, the idea of reproduction gained importance – focusing on artistic reproduction. Today, design and production are more concentrated on personal objects, with special attention to cell phones and electronics.

Does design have artistic features?

It does, but it loses much of that feature in modernism. It had a pictorial or plastic function, but surpassed by others, such as functionality, use and ergonomics. The work of art does not solve these questions. It can even upset people; it has a purpose for expression. Design is also expression, but expression with clear objectives. It has to be comfortable, easy to use, anatomical, cheap, viable etc.

Today, what do you identify as a trend in the study of design?

With new computing tools and new means of rapid prototyping [like 3D printing], production is getting faster and faster, and design is not like it used to be. Now, one of the main elements of design is the strategic part, which is essential to face what we call wicked problems, or problems that had no solution yet.

What is a wicked problem in design?

The direct and indirect consequences of population growth, for example, but in the perspective of a specific problem. Something like: “How will I guarantee life quality for teacher Suzana in a restaurant?” A designer can conduct an ethnographic survey that points out different aspects of the problem; or a designer can draw a population analysis; use techniques to identify client and user pains, what is being tried but is not working, the reasons why, etc. From this survey, the designer can propose solutions in services and products. The designer can improve the UX, or user experience, for example.

When did you start thinking about design for sustainability?

In the 1990s, with Ezio Manzini [industrial design professor at the Polytechnic School of Milan, a world reference in the subject] and other Italian scholars. These people started using the term, but sustainability is a way of thinking about design before production.


We think a lot about sustainability in design through recycling, for example. That is, after production, we do something. But, right now, recycling and sustainability need to be understood. Sometimes it’s more expensive, it spends more energy, it pollutes more, and it generates more wear and tear than another solution.

When? Can you give an example?

When choosing regular or recycled paper, it’s much better to buy regular paper. Recycled paper has environmental costs that we do not see. For example, it needs to be transported – from where it was used to the recycler; from the recycler to the store; and from the store to the customer’s home. Almost all the way is made by truck, which pollutes. This paper also needs to be painted. In the end, it pollutes more and becomes 20% more expensive.

And what can we do to avoid that, regarding design?

In the US, in the 1960s and 1970s, the DFD concept emerged, which stands for design for disassembly. In other words, you start thinking about the product and its disposal in mind – you design it to enable easy disassembly aimed at reusing and recycling it. When you think about the product and its disposal, this is design.

Which market industries make design while being concerned about the disposal?

In general, electronic companies have design routines concerned about their product disposal. We go to stores, we meet specific places for cell phone and battery disposal. Whirlpool, the group of Brastemp and Consul, is also an example. They use a type of glue that disintegrates as easily as possible. Fiat Automotive has a closed recycling chain in which the plastic used in a vehicle, or a part of the engine, is reused and turned into a bumper, for example, or a tail light, and it is recycled until the end of the chain, when it becomes a carpet.

Is there a regulation that requires this kind of design?

There is no specific law that ensures design to be this way. It is an internal requirement of each company and project. We have waste management laws, but nothing specific about the product design.

What can we expect for the future of design?

The future of design is to help solving the wicked problems. Hence, design should lose its unique identity of being a discipline of someone who creates a new product, creates a visual programming, develops for the internet, draws up a souvenir or a new packaging. The new design identity develops new strategies for the solution of these complex problems. The design, and its work method, becomes a reference for other knowledge areas.

Is there any unexpected area where design can work in the future?

Yes, in genetics. Soon we will be able to recreate organs. Probably, within 20 or 30 years we will have in vitro organ transplants. It’s a new phase that we’re going to try and suddenly, with the information, designers might take part in it. I think biomimicry is really amazing, as we can observe nature and bring product innovations. However, we won’t be able to innovate in nature. We never will, I guess.

And what is the profile of this new designer?

The design course brings up a critical, ethical, responsible, updated professional who will address the environmental and social issues of today’s world with a holistic view.

Content published in November 13, 2018

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