A conversation with Eva Müller about design in research, about food waste and more.

Since June 2021, Eva Müller has been a research assistant at the iF Design Foundation. Eva studied industrial design in Wuppertal and Cincinnati and worked as an industrial and interface designer before completing a master’s degree in strategic design with a focus on sustainability. Now, in addition to working for the iF Design Foundation, she also works as a research assistant in the field of sustainable nutrition at the Berlin Technical University (TU Berlin).

Eva Müller
Eva Müller

Eva, in the past you worked as a freelance designer and you were also employed as an in-house designer at Vorwerk, for example. Why did you put your professional career on hold to go back to university?

I don’t see the MA course as an interruption, but rather as a switch in a new direction and as an important part of my career. During my time as an employed designer, I learned a lot about the processes in companies and I was introduced to a field of the economy for which I was well prepared through my technical studies that focused on mass production in a globalized market. However, things are changing rapidly and many aspects need to be reconsidered in order to meet the requirements for a future-proof and sustainable society – whether it’s consumer goods, globalization per se, production processes, etc. This is also because consumers’ buying behavior is changing.

The design methods and skills to actively shape this change are different to those needed for the design of products. The master’s degree at the University of Wuppertal provided a very good basis, especially through the collaboration with the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. I was lucky enough to be able to write my master’s thesis on sustainable nutrition there and to subsequently get a job within the research consortium. This allowed me to gain deep insights into sustainability research.

 

What does sustainability research mean?

The Wuppertal Institute conducts research in areas that drive sustainable transformation, for example in relation to sustainable mobility strategies or to the question as to how a circular economy can work, or precisely in the area of sustainable nutrition. The focus of my master’s thesis was the enhancement of biodiversity. To me, this is a super exciting and meaningful field and that’s why I’m happy that I can now also work as a designer in this field.

 

So, what do you do exactly?

I work as a research assistant at the TU Berlin. For example, on a research project to survey food waste in private households. By 2030, all food waste in Germany is to be reduced by 50% and we have to develop and decide upon strategies to achieve this. On the one hand, I’m involved in scientific communication, but on the other hand, my tasks also include user experience design in its purest form: we have to interest people in the project and motivate them to take part. Every time they throw away food in their free time, they have to weigh it and fill out a relatively complex questionnaire. Motivating people to do this is a challenge in itself. On the one hand, participation must be as convenient and simple as possible, and on the other hand, we need precise results for the researchers. On top of that, there is no direct benefit for the participants, except for being involved in contributing to a better future and to waste reduction – which, to be honest, is more than enough. And then there is hardly any awareness of the role of design in research. The benefits are not yet as clearly recognized as they are in the world of business. This is where I come in.

 

For the iF Design Foundation you will be working on the topic of the future of design education. How do these two aspects of your work fit together?

They fit together perfectly, as if it couldn’t be any other way! The design profession has so much more to offer than just product design and styling, which is how many people unfortunately still see it. I firmly believe that with our profession and the skills that come with it, we can play a significant part in creating a viable future, that we can become shapers of the future. This is such a huge and incredibly important task; it cannot be done by a single discipline alone. That’s why, more than ever, we need all disciplines to join forces. In my opinion, if you want to make a difference in the field of sustainability or of cultural and societal change, you can only do it hand in hand with business, politics, science, and independent disciplines such as art or philosophy.

Through my activities at the university, I am right at the intersection – on the one hand, I can support research projects practically and strategically through my work, and on the other hand, I can gain experience: what new requirements would have to be placed on design education, if design were to be given a permanent role in research and politics?