Green Talk is a blog series featuring interviews with people working in environmental science, circular design, sustainability and green business. We tell stories of kick ass people and their passion!
Anya Muangkote is a multidisciplinary designer with a focus on designing for circular economy principles — design for biodegradability; recyclability; produce more locally and without toxicity.
MP. In your own words who are you and what you do?
Anya. I’m a multidisciplinary designer. I’m drawn to the topic of future materials and renewable energy. I strongly believe that design, technology and sustainability can be in sync if we utilise resources in a right way. My current project is looking at agar-based bioplastic material properties and how it could be applied in a real-world context.
MP. You have a varied background in the creative field. Where does your drive to create come from?
Anya. It all started from the lack of sense of belonging in the creative field. I didn’t really know my own identity, so I tried a little bit of everything with the hope that I would learn new skills and being more versatile so that I would be more adaptable and resilient. After I reached the saturation point, I then stopped everything I was doing and reflected on myself, thinking about what is meaningful and purposeful to me, as a designer and a person. Then I realized that my personal values lie in sustainability and the betterment. I believe design can be a powerful tool to create a positive impact for a society and planet. So here I am, trying to figure out how to use this tool properly and effectively.
MP. What do you think is the role of designers in creating a sustainable future?
Anya. Trying to make sustainability appealing is the first thing that we all can start with. Aiming for purposeful design, addressing real world issues. We need to rethink the way we make things. We should refrain from designing stuff that we don’t really need or using highly toxic materials and processes. We also have to shift our role a little bit here, we should look at the scale of what we’re designing, we have to design not only the products but also the system around them.
MP. Tell us about your `BioScreen ́.
Anya. BioScreen is a home product that is both good for people and planet for the future of sustainable living. The integration between lamp and partition for space dividing simultaneously transforms and illuminates the area in which it is placed. A two-ingredient bioplastic sheet made out of agar and glycerol is 100% biodegradable and edible. Agar is a substance obtained from red algae, glycerol derived from plant sources; they are locally and globally abundant and renewable. By combining natural substances like salt and activated charcoal within the bioplastic sheet, BioScreen could potentially help improve health and wellbeing of the user.
I was inspired by Materiom which is an online platform that offers recipes and instruction of how to create biomaterials by only using kitchen utensils. And I chose the Agar Agar Bioplastic recipe because it contains only 2 ingredients which are agar agar powder and glycerol (plus water). I started to experiment with the material properties by changing the ingredients ratio, and adding natural additive substances for various colour and texture effects.
BioScreen is just an example of how this material could be applied into a product. I'm currently working on pushing it into various applications through designing tools for fabrication and collaboration with students from other programmes such as textiles and fashion. I believe it is important to encourage designers to at least use this material to work with their prototypes, for a good start towards the symbiotic future.
MP. Describe your design process? Where do you get your ideas from and how do you overcome functional fixedness.
Anya. Normally, I start with a brief and objective. Then I do a research on the topic, gather information, analyse and distill them and find the intervention point. Once I get a clear picture of what I aim to design, I then develop the function and the form and then repeat. The ideas often come from the attempt of trying to connect the dots and make some sense out of the things I investigate on. In terms of overcoming functional fixedness, I guess you need to fight it with tenacity and believe that there is always something more to this (and everything).
MP. How has London impacted your work?
Anya. Being here in London, surrounded by like-minded people has brought me so much hope and energy to keep on doing what I’m trying to achieve. Aiming for a complete circularity is not an easy thing to do, in fact it is very very challenging. Without this encouraging environment, I would have lost my determination, but not entirely of course. Shout out to the brilliant tutors, visiting lecturers and peers at the RCA, amazing people from OpenCell, Materiom, Ellen MacAthur Foundation and Bioladies Network — they spread a big positive energy and inspire me to push my limits and encourage me to be more ambitious.
MP. Of all the design/architecture projects you have been involved in what was the most challenging and why?
Anya. It’s a group project called “Knowtrition” which is a four-week project where we addressed the given theme: Health and Wellbeing. identified the underlying causes of the grand challenge, determining the needs of the communities most affected and the key stakeholders that could help resolve issues. The results demonstrated how design can create an integrated solution that is as much about human behaviour and social innovation as the technological innovation.
It’s quite challenging to me personally because it was the first time I worked in a group project with people from different backgrounds like industrial design, visual communication and textiles (also for such a serious design task). And one of the challenges of the brief was that we were not so familiar with the topic of Health and Wellbeing, we've never worked in this area before so it was quite daunting at times. However, our skills complemented each other very well. Being able to learn from each other is very rewarding.
MP. Tell us about a project of yours you are particularly proud of and why?
Anya. Well, at this moment, it has to be BioScreen. It’s not perfect because I didn’t have much time to develop it but it’s one of the very first products I’ve designed with my own material. I’ve recently gotten into a material experimentation at around December last year. I’m fairly new to this material and process of making but I’m really enjoying it. I can see a very promising potential of this material and I’m eager to develop it further in the future.
MP. What does a perfect day look like to you?
Anya. A day where I can sleep for 10 hours straight, have a nice big breakfast, stroll in a park or chill out anywhere with inspiring people or friends, play tennis or go for a run, go to a concert of my favourite artist. Lots to do in one day isn’t it?
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Photo credit Anya Muangkote