PPE Design Challenge highlights benefits of design in research

SmARTmask face mask concept with Indigenous artwork design
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks have become an essential part of our lives. Although PPE may be vital for our health and safety, what is PPE waste doing to our environment? And how does PPE design impact their sustainability as they become a necessarily safety accessory?

The enormous increase in medical waste from single use PPE – in particular, face masks – has hit our environment hard. If we don’t deal with it now, it could spell disaster of another kind in the years to come.

But what if PPE design could be optimised to not only protect us but also have a positive impact on our planet? As part of Geelong Design Week Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials, hosted a major online event: “A Circular Approach to a Pandemic – Designing Out PPE Waste”.

Designing for a circular economy

This challenge brought together multi-disciplinary teams of researchers who spent months ideating and designing new, sustainable face masks. Each mask concept was developed using design and systems thinking and underpinned by circular economy principles. In other words, every component of the team’s mask design needed to be recycled, reused or somehow repurposed.

In some ways, this presented the greatest challenge, as teams not only had to create a waste-free mask but also develop manufacturing processes, supply chains and consider customer behaviours to ensure their designs would be used and disposed of correctly.

Event banner advertising Deakin University's design challenge: "Designing Out PPE Waste"
Design for ideation and communication

We were delighted to jump in and help the teams, now branded Smi)esay, Spinnaker and SmARTmask respectively. We provided support to each group; running several workshops to produce concept sketches, renderings, expand their brands and develop their pitch.

The future of design science

All teams did an incredible job ideating, developing and pitching their ideas, but more than that, this event has been an excellent example of how design thinking and systems thinking can work within the academic sector. The number of people involved, providing different perspectives and helping the teams transform their ideas into designs that could be picked up and commercialised into new, sustainable alternatives to current PPE designs.

Congratulations to all of the teams and to SmARTmask for taking out the People’s Choice vote. We had a blast working on this with Deakin University and everyone involved and look forward to the next opportunity to work on new initiatives that foster better integration of design in research and the translation of new ideas into viable real-world solutions.

To watch the playback of the event, get the highlights of the panel discussion, or learn more about circular economy principles, check out the links and resources below.

Curious to know more about us?

Learn more about what it’s like to work with us in our previous post: What’s it like to work with a designer? And, if you’re interested in us becoming your forever creative collaborator, feel free to book a free 30 minute consult with our head creative to help you get the ball rolling on your next project – we can’t wait to work with you!


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