Soil as Medium: Midterm


We had a quick midterm for Soil as Medium, for which the assignment was to make a speculative design piece dealing with some of the issues we’ve covered so far in the class. Between this class and the Fungus Among Us, I’ve been thinking about how I can acknowledge the complexities of the many interacting systems that we humans would prefer to simplify.

I am reminded of the perennial favorite SkyMall, purveyors of everything from PajamaJeans to a combo smartphone charger/UV-sanitizer. SkyMall commoditizes our dreams of the Good Life in most high-end fashion, sparing no modern problem from the simplifying power of technology. Lawncare is, of course, one of those modern problems, but one in which oversimplification of the problem has proved harmful enough to disturb a refined yet delicate system.

For my midterm assignment, I’ve redesigned four SkyMall home and garden offerings to be a little more aware of the complexities of soil science. All images can be enlarged by clicking.

Compost Tea Injector Shoes


While lawn aeration can be useful, SkyMall’s description of these aeration sandals presents them as a one-stop lawn rejuvenator (with the added claim of stopping those pesky worms!).

With these modified shoes, you’re at least adding some compost tea into the mix.

Fake Compost Pile


The Fake Compost Pile attempts to promote the idea that a good looking garden at the cost of soil health involves a trade-off. By viewing a compost pile free of its presumed smell, we can get over simple-minded complaints about the undesireableness of decomposing organic matter.

Dog Poop Promoter


Similarly, why can’t man’s best friend contribute to the decomposing organic matter party?

Nematode Pod


If your soil isn’t healthy to begin with, I presume all these nematodes would just die after injection. So then you’ve got a bad lawn *and* a bunch of dead nematodes.

In a fully-realized version of this project, you could imagine a full SkyMall catalog in which products from the personal wellness, home furnishings and other departments have been similarly modified to stress the difficulties of one-size-fits all solutions and to encourage analysis of the objects and environments we interact with daily.

I am both frustrated and inspired by the rhetoric in this country (and presumably others) that reinforces a black and white view of things. The Darwin earthworm reading, as granular a topic as earthworms in soil are, is admirable because you can easily feel the open-minded approach and acceptance of nuance that he has in his writing. But when watching the news, discussing current events or analyzing ideas, we seem all too accepting of first impressions, un-considered opinions and gut reactions.

One of design’s great abilities is to change the way we think and act without us even knowing it. Herman Miller’s Action Office is a great example of this. Offices feel like as close to a vacuum as we have, as far as environments go, and so little changes of form, arrangement and style can have profound impacts on the attitudes and productivity of workers.

And so SkyMall, which may not necessarily have been intentionally designed as a tool to promote simple-mindedness (but certainly is effective as one), is in need of a new set of objects, those whose existence brings about a new way of thinking about the complexities of our natural systems.