Mimicking Iceland to Design Better Renewable Energy Infrastructure

icelandIceland may be tiny, but what it lacks in land mass, it makes up for, in a gigantic way, when it comes to the field of renewable energy. This is might seem a little different from what I normally write about but stick with me. I think that a redesign of our energy grid using Iceland as a roadmap could be just what the country and the world needs.

Thanks to forward thinking, individuals and abundant access to raw materials, the country of Iceland has managed to generate all of its electricity from renewable resources; mostly hydroelectric and some geothermal. Equally remarkable is the fact that Iceland uses geothermal energy to provide almost 90% of its heating needs as a country. They are able to do this because they have remarkably high annual amounts of precipitation, which plainly means: there’s lots of water around to use for hydroelectric power. Iceland also sits upon a plethora of volcanic activity. The underground and underwater volcanic activity is used to generate geothermal power, which in turn is used to for some electricity needs and the majority of the country’s heating needs. Imagine next time reaching for your thermostat to crank it up a bit, knowing that a volcano is allowing you to do so!

Since they use geothermal energy to heat their homes and hydroelectric power for all there other electricity needs, pretty much the only thing they need oil for is transportation quite an advantage in today’s world. Icelanders are now turning this abundance of natural resources into an economy booster by proposing the largest underwater pipeline in the world, which would allow Iceland to sell some of its spare hydroelectric power to its neighbors such as the UK. Power that is cheap also attracts manufacturers interested in using that cheap power for production of their goods. That is why Iceland is the leader in aluminum smelting, simply because aluminum smelting industries realize that it is so much cheaper to do business in Iceland.

Certainly other countries can take a page from Iceland’s book when it comes to energy production. It’s clean, relatively easy to produce, and leads to potential self-reliance: Imagine the benefits for the people of the world if we could eliminate this fossil fuel conundrum. Not to mention the boosts to the respective economies by creating a market where the best producers of this new energy are rewarded by being able to export their power on the open market, just like is done with oil, only this resource is cleaner, cheaper and more plentiful. Imagine the job creation for countries everywhere in the form of increased manufactures attracted by low cost power!

This energy, it’s not perfect: It can be costly to produce until the R&D catches up, it can be bad for the environment by destroying natural habitats. One can make the argument that increased manufacturing can lead to more co2 emissions. There are pretty good answers for most of the aforementioned drawbacks: Storing the co2 waste is quicker than normal co2 waste disposal methods, with virtually no chance for leakage, through the use of natural basalt based storage.

The costs can be justified because it provides cheap power for consumer which is stable, not dependent on fossil fuel fluctuation, and clean. In fact it could be used to create a whole new green consumer goods industry! Even the power plants are apparently very aesthetically pleasing too. Iceland is definitely ahead of the game when it comes to forward thinking, renewable energy opportunities.

Ethical Graphic Design Issues

ethicsNot many people realize that our industry is dealing with a number of ethical issues that will surely shape it’s future over the next decade. As designers, we do a lot more than take a client’s idea and turn it into a visual aid. We’re partly responsible for the message the client is trying to get out there and it’s time we start embracing that responsibility. Here are some major issues our industry is currently dealing with:

  • Sexism. If you’ve ever worked on an advertising campaign then you’ve no doubt felt slightly uncomfortable at times. I know I certainly have. As everyone knows, sex sells, and a lot of advertisers use that mantra even in situations where it seems inappropriate. And this idea affects disproportionately affects women. I remember one campaign I worked on that was for an afterschool program for kids. The ad depicted a mom dropping her kids off at the camp and the client asked me to, as he put it “doll her up a little bit”. Essentially what he wanted was shinier skin, pouty lips, and an enhanced bosom. I told him that seemed ridiculous given the purpose of the ad but he said by making her more attractive the ad would have wider appeal and get more kids into camp, which in the end was a good thing. I was very new to the profession and reluctantly agreed but I’ve always wondered if I did the right thing. Our industry needs to think long and hard about how complicit we want to be when it comes to selling sex.
  • Copyright infringement. With the internet making it so easy these days to get access to just about every image or design ever created copyright infringement is becoming more and more of an issue. While it’s easier than ever to copy someone’s work or use it in your own design it isn’t always easier to find blatant copying or stealing. We need to figure out how we’re going to protect our work and if we really need to. If my work is on the internet should it be available for everyone to see, use, and enjoy. Part of me thinks so but part of me looks at my meager paycheck each month and thinks it would be nice to get some royalties.
  • Understanding how other cultures will relate to our work. The internet has made it very easy for images and campaigns to viewed from every location on earth. While that’s mostly great it has made our jobs a little more difficult in that we need to think about how our design will affect someone living in a part of the world we’ve probably never been to. A good example is all the issues Denmark has been having with the Muslim community around ads and cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. While they may have been totally acceptable in Denmark they created outrage in many parts of the world. As Marshall McCluhan predicted, the world is getting smaller and we need to be cognizant of other cultures.


If I Could Design My Dream House

dream houseI’m not rich and it doesn’t look like I will be anytime soon so the chances are pretty good I’ll be living in the same flat for the foreseeable future. That hasn’t stopped me from daydreaming about my perfect house though. It would be amazing to have an unlimited budget to be able to design everything exactly the way you’d like it to be. Unlike most people, I wouldn’t go for a huge mansion. I’d keep it simple and classic using only as much space as I’d actually need.

Here are some features that would definitely be included in my dream house:

  • The entryway, or “mud room” would be the first thing people would see when they stepped inside my house. Laid out for everyone would be a very comfortable pair of house shoes that they could wear after taking their outside shoes off. I’m a bit of clean freak, and nothing bothers me more than when people come in with dirty or wet shoes and just stomp all over the place making a huge mess. I want a room that will protect the rest of the house for mud and water while making it easy for people to trade their shoes for slippers.
  • I love to cook but one of the most frustrating aspects of trying to make anything in my current spot is a lack of counter space. To fix that I would ensure the kitchen has a separate island that would be dedicated solely to food preparation. No one would be allowed to stack snacks or bottles there, only food that is waiting to be cooked. I would also ensure there’s plenty of room for pots and pans so nothing has to be hung from a rack from the ceiling. I’m bumped my head on those enough time to know that’s a bad idea.
  • I would have two full bathrooms with toilet and shower and then a separate room with just a toilet close to the living room. I don’t really like people using my shower bathroom so keeping those separate would be great. Also, that would mean during a party or large get-together there would always be plenty of facility space to accommodate everyone.
  • I would absolutely have a fireplace in the living room. Nothing smells better than a real fire and I actually love chopping wood. I envision myself chopping wood once a week as a way to exercise and burn off some steam.
  • I don’t have much experience gardening but I would like small area where I could have some raised platforms to grow vegetables. I would love some nice fresh tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, and other hearty vegetables that I could cook with in the kitchen.
  • The bedroom would be fairly simple with nice oak wood floors partially covered by some thick rugs. There would just the bed and two nightstands connected to the master bath and a walk-in closet. I’d like to keep that space as simple as possible and there definitely wouldn’t be a tv.

Well that’s what my perfect house would include. I’d love to hear about your dream house in the comments!

Designing a Better Electric Car

electric carElectric cars, commonly referred to as EVs, have been gaining in popularity over the past few years but still have some work to do before they’re considered a mainstream option. There are a few good reasons for this including limited range, complicated chargers, cost, and maintenance. Let’s look at these obstacles and see what car manufacturers, the government, and the public can do to make EVs a good option for all drivers.

Here are my ideas for designing an electric car that will meet the needs of today’s drivers and the drivers of the future.

  • Range: EV range varies widely from approximately 75 miles per charge for the 2014 Ford Focus Electric to 300 miles for the 2014 Tesla Model S. Given that most people who drive to and from work travel less than 40 miles a day an electric car can prove a suitable option and are frequently marketed to consumers at “daily drivers”.

For example, in comparing the 2014 Ford Focus electric to Nascar Cars, the Director of Ford Racing Jaimie Allison stated “And just like in racing, they expect both fuel economy and performance from their daily drivers, and that’s what Ford is delivering.” And Tesla, probably the most famous electric car maker refers to electric vehicles as daily drivers in their marketing material which can be found here.

If EVs are going to really go mainstream they’re going to have to shoot for the stars and go beyond the “daily driver” market. They need to develop a battery that will offer the kind of range that will suite 90% of drivers. That means a battery that can legitimately travel 450+ miles per charge. Until then, manufacturers will be stuck competing over the small daily driver market.

 While we still have a long way to go before EVs are a viable option for everyone we’re on the right path. It’s not unreasonable to think that in 10 years or so EVs will seem as normal as hybrids.

It's a Designer's Life