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what is the brand language of zero waste furniture?


Duration: 15 weeks

Contributors: Karen Vellensky, Andrea Cameron

Brief: Build a product-based brand around a subculture that hasn't mainstreamed yet.

Outcome: A line of modular zero-waste furniture designed to transition from college to middle age.


Every year, Americans throw away millions of pounds of furniture - but only 0.1% of it gets recycled. My team identified a market of new consumers - those coming into college in the next several years - that wants to behave sustainably, but is easily swayed into buying disposable IKEA furniture for their first apartments.


There are many challenges inherent to attempting to make a zero-waste product; our team didn't just have to tackle material and engineering issues with our designs (which included unironic artisanal basketweaving and steamed felt modules embedded with magnets).

We ultimately compensated for the waste inherent to manufacturing by dramatically extending the lifetime of the product. Lowlife comes as a set of interlocking furniture modules, which turn into boxes when it's time to pack up and move to apartment number 2, 3, and beyond. Each is roto-molded from recycled plastic composites, and the structural ribbing doubles as the interlocking mechanism, removing the need for fasteners or spare parts.


Our branding and product name was inspired by our user group's tendency to sleep on a futon on the floor during their early years as apartment dwellers. Everything, from logo to graphics, is "below the fold" - even the title on the "i" - and we channeled the spirit of our users with cheeky, hand-drawn illustrations to accompany our bold type treatment.


This project was displayed in Spring 2017 at SVA's Products of Design gallery, where visitors could read our brand book and interact with a full-scale prototype.