Hello, my name is Vanda Kovacs. In this blog I will keep track of my design process and show you the results of designing a backpack so it will fit in a circular economy.


For any questions, comments, notes, or helpful information please do not hesitate to leave a comment at the bottom of this page (first click on the individual post or page to add your comment)!

This is blog is part of the Circular Design Challenge – creating the future of circular products for a circular economy.

Food for thoughts

As I’ve started reading about the concept of circular design, it was inevitable for me to read about the history of sustainable design and the earlier ‘attempts’ to formulate a complex design strategy in order to change current design practices.

Here, I would like to share with you some very interesting, and for me mind-opening, thoughts which probably also make you think.

First of all, let me tell you about the tenet of Victor Papanek (1923-1998) who was one of the first advocats of socially and ecologically responsible design. In his book, Design for the real world (1971), he calls designers as gatekeepers who hold ethical responsibility for our environment.

‘There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them […] Today, industrial design has put murder on a mass-production basis. By designing criminally unsafe automobiles that kill or maim nearly one million people around the world each year, by creating whole new species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breathe, designers have become a dangerous breed. And the skills needed in these activities are taught carefully to young people. In an age of mass production when everything must be planned and designed, design has become the most powerful tool with which manshapes his tools and environments ’

design for real world

design for real world_2

The cover of ‘Design for the real world’ by Victor Papanek and his flow-chart illustration

The most important message is basically one word: RESPONSIBILITY. Taking responsibility as a designer for what we put into the world and being responsible for the effect of that. And this is exactly what Mike Monteiro, the design director and owner of Mule Design Studio says 45 years later [1]. It is still an issue and thanks to global warming and other damages we cause in nature this question is more valid than ever before. Monteiro points out that designers should be more scared of their works’ consequences than they love the smartness of their idea. Why is that so rare? According to him, because designers have to destroy their ego!

He also declares that designers give up their ethics unfortunately too easily because taking responsibility is not a nice to have design skill nowadays. Potential and wealthy clients can simply overwrite the taste, belief and attitude of designers towards their own job which ends with self-disgust and carelessness. In order to prevent this we have to keep in mind Monteiro’s ‘4 fundamental responsibilities as a designer’:

1  Responsibility to the world!

2  Responsibility to the craft!

3  Responsibility to clients!

4  Responsibility to self!


[1] ’How Designers Destroyed the World’ by Mike Monteiro at USI 

First Impressions

In my first post I am going to report on the kick-off event. But before I begin with that, let me tell you about the awesome place the event took place at.

Fabcity is a temporary and freely accessible living research village at the head of Amsterdam’s Java Island, in the context of EU2016 Netherlands presidency of the European Union. The presented projects are all about designing a self-sufficient, sustainable city and providing solutions to global problems such as waste, water shortage, energy and food supply, transportation, etc. “Up and Until 26 June, almost fifty pavilions, installations and prototypes are buzzing with research, experiments, workshops, exhibitions, exchange of knowledge, creativity and fun, showcasing and designing the future of everyday living.”

As I arrived a bit earlier to the meeting, I had time to go for a quick round in the campus and e.g. try a delicious humus sandwich which produced locally and organically.


IMG_20160610_134959702  IMG_20160613_134152


Back to the kick-off event.

The first lecture ‘Lessons learned Circular Design Cases’ by Pieter van Os concluded the most important and for us, new participants, the most interesting details from last year’s design challenge.  He presented several concepts with mind-opening questions the former participants faced such as

Should I intervene in a product or a system level?

Should I design for present or design for faraway future?

Should my design be modular, changeable and adaptable?

What’s the danger of being too familiar with a product?


Besides those questions, he talked about the value in a product. The difference between economic and material value was explained through clear examples. He also mentioned the possible reasons of a product stopped being used. Or why a product end up being waste. He pointed out the importance and necessity of defining clearly a design goal and keeping reflecting to it in all design phases.


Ruud Balkenende gave the second lecture about ’Closing the loop’ or if I would call it introduction to recycling. He showed on a concrete example the effect of constructional design decisions in recycling. He emphasized that beyond being aware of recycling we should know the process of it and design for it. I noted valuable quotes like:

‘Think about re-connecting not just connecting elements!’

‘Collaboration is essential with suppliers and users’

‘We can recycle elements, not materials’


The tear down session was basically an autopsy of a product. Bas Flipsen from ifixit led us directly to the practical side of re-assembling products. The motto of ifixit is ‘Repair is better than recycling’. A huge amount of money, energy and other resources can be saved if we design for disassembly and for repair.

So during the miniworkshop Conrado, Pieter and I disassembled a haircutter. Something similar to this:


It turned out, that our product was more interesting in the inside as it seemed from the outside. Under the cheap injection molded surface it had no PCB, no ‘smart’ elements, just a clipping motor. We were almost touched by this beauty of simplicity. In our pitch we highlighted this beauty by detailing the ease of disassembly:

clipper shaver

  • type of activity : we used only one screwdriver to loosen all the bondings; besides that we had a few snap fit and that’s it
  • accessibility: the product had unmistakable usecues regarding the assembly, so we knew exactly how and where to reach with our tools
  • forces & movements: manual disassembly was easy and effortless
  • activity time: for someone with routine could have been done in a minute

This product was a great example of design for reparation, because it allowed disassembling without damage to a certain level, but the potentially damageable and therefore changeable parts were rigid and almost impossible to take apart.


My final conclusion of the day was, that circular economy is about thinking in system and being able to step back and contemplate the big picture while never forgetting about the ‘final state’ and the reversal of the elements of the products.

At the end of the event we received a copy of the ‘Products that last’. My plan for the next couple of days is to read the book and make a schedule for the upcoming 4 months.

Kick-off event Friday June 10

Circular-Design-Challenge-kick-off-event-picture The start of the Circular Design Challenge and inspiration about designing for a circular economy. The event is also open for non-participating students and registration for the kick-off event is open through Facebook.

Reard more…