How might we encourage zero-waste habits in times where waste is the norm?
College is a time for exploration, experimentation, and independence. It's also a time for buying cheap furniture that gets thrown to the curb when it comes time to move out of the dorms. How might we encourage students to make more sustainable decisions from the get-go to prevent "temporary" furniture from ending up in the dump? In collaboration with Karen Vellensky and Alexa Forney; Guidance from Aruliden.
Branding, Product Design | 2016, 9 weeks
Taking low-waste habits to college
Fast-fashion and the push for trendy, low quality products, has set cultural mindset toward disposability. To push back, Lowlife makes eco-conscious furniture that doubles as moving boxes for one of the most notoriously wasteful groups of all - college students on the move.
Project Roles: Research and Ideation, Art Direction, Branding, Copy
Houston isn't the only one with a problem. American's toss out 9.8 million tons of furniture a year.
Low quality, cheap furniture are the typical culprits for disposable furniture, often marketed to college-age kids who move frequently. Yet research shows, many young consumers are concerned about the environmental implications of their spending habits, but may not want to go the secondhand route.
When once-precious products are at a disposable price point, it becomes easy to think "just toss it, I can buy a new one anyway." The just-buy-a-new-one mentality has dangerous consequences for resources and the environment. The zero-waste movement is a push to only consume what is needed, from the product to the packaging.
A zero-waste brand with an edge
According to a Nielsen study on global retail analysis, 51% of millennials check labels for sustainability claims, and 66% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, we saw a white space in the market. Lowlife targets the college demographic, but provides durability and multifunctional furniture - the first product, HEX, can serve as seating, shelving, or storage, and can interlock with other HEXs for modular arrangements. HEX conveniently double as packing boxes for when it's time to move on to something bigger and better.
To appeal to our target demographic of college students, our brand language drew influences from popular culture, infusing the Japanese brand aesthetic with an American pop culture edge.
Embracing the mattress-on-the-floor lifestyle.
Inspired by the low-to-ground tatami style of Japanese living, we saw height similarities to the college student who never quite manages to buy a bedframe for their mattress. We looked further into the Japanese design aesthetic, and developed a branding color palette influenced by a traditional Japanese tie-dying method, shibori, combined with the neutrality in Japanese minimalism.
What's in a name?
Furniture that's low to the ground and designed for low environmental impact. Promoting a "low" lifestyle, the term "lowlife" is given a new meaning for low-waste habits, tastefully written in lowercase.
Infused with cheek
To solidify our brand direction, we used a brand pyramid to articulate our essence, personality, consumer benefits, and building blocks. Our brand essence is to promote living zero to low-waste. Sustainability-oriented initiatives often take a serious tone, but our brand is about relating to our audiences through casual and cheeky messaging, while maintaining the core values of responsible and sustainable product development. To ensure the product meets the needs of users and to avoid contributing to the waste stream, Lowlife has a built-in second life as both storage units and diverse use cases, ranging from seating to shelving.
Sit, store, stack, or move
With boxes that double as furniture, lowlife is designed or the people who never unpack everything before they're up and moving again. With a tessellating profile, each lowlife unit is modular and multifunctional, and each snap top features a cushioned side that can be used as floor seating or a stool.
Plastic is fantastic
Plastic may get a bad rep when it comes to sustainability, but with a consultation with Material Connexion for structural requirements and manufacturing options, plastic proved to be the most eco-conscious choice in the longterm. As part of the zero-waste movement, units are made from 100% recycled plastic in unique patterns from Smile Plastics for a lightweight and durable product. The product has minimal packaging - simply a fabric tag made from offcuts of upholstered seating material.
Product, brand, and experience
Deliverables included a fully branded product, including a pitch deck, physical model, and retail display. The retail display features hand illustrations to suggest room context, and use cases for lowlife. The product was displayed in Spring 2017 at the SVA Products of Design Gallery, where visitors could interact with the full-scale prototype.