July 24, 2009

Chew On This (Then Recycle, Please)!

An Interview with Designer Anna Bullus

Click on any picture to enlarge it to original size
Part 1 of 2 (link to Part 2)

It would be perhaps easy to state that Anna Bullus is obsessed with pink and leave it at that. After all, she answered our enquiring questions in pink coloured font. And of course her newest project – The Gumdrop Bin – and the subsequent new web-site she has created for it,
www.gumdropbin.com – do feature a lot of pink coloured (or is it flavoured?) pictures and graphics to peruse.

However, upon further examination, you realize that her work – and of course then this specific project – go so much further. If nothing else, the sheer financial aspects of the problem she is addressing are staggering. Some facts that Anna has gathered paint then this picture very clearly:

=> On average (no, it is not clarified who did the counting or how) it seems that approximately 30,000 pieces of gum are irresponsibly and wantonly discarded everyday on Oxford Street (London) ALONE;

=> Not only that, but if everyone immediately were to STOP doing this – again on this one Street alone – it would still take over 4 months just to clean up the existing ‘gum paddies’ that exist today, noting that it seems as well that 9 out of 10 paving stones have at least one piece of gum on them;

=> PER PIECE of gum, it costs about 3 times the amount of a single piece of gum to clean it up off the street. Note clearly this does not even take into account if gum is properly disposed of and later stored in something as proper as a land-fill or garbage dump;

=> NOW GET THIS – the British Government spends about 150 million BRITISH POUND-STERLING EACH YEAR on cleaning up gum off of the streets of the United Kingdom. If that doesn’t hit close enough to home, then note that this is well over 173 million EURO, or getting closer and closer to 250 million US dollars per annum (which is very close to the amount my pension fund has lost over the last few weeks)!

With that in mind, Anna has set out for her endeavour GUMDROP a very straightforward mission statement, one that not only highlights the targets of this project but also describes very well her own passion for design:

GUMDROP is a belief in a cleaner, greener planet. GUMDROP believes that with its new breakthrough in recycling, people will be able to see an attractive alternative to their previous habits of gum disposal.

Our Mission is to educate and inspire the public to give gum a second life.

As such, we’re very pleased to welcome Anna to this interview:

Hi Anna, thanks for sharing some of your valuable time. First of all, how would you describe your obvious passion for design to someone that either doesn’t really understand the art or purpose of design? Let’s say you’re speaking to, oh I don’t know, a newly discovered tribe of indigenous people in the Amazon, a classroom of elementary students, or even an ultra-conservative Investment Banker that hasn’t started his or her prison term yet...
Well, if I was describing it to the Newly Discovered Tribe, I'd probably say it's like catching enough food in 1 hour to feed the whole tribal village for a whole week.

Describing it Elementary Kids – well, it's like going into a sweet shop and being able to have anything you wanted as long as you had a good, imaginative reason to justify each helping.

And finally, for the Conservative Investment banker – I'd say that the motivation and satisfaction you get from a great deal, I get that feeling every day from design and what I invent.

Can you share a few more details about your background? For example, I’m fascinated to learn what a degree in Three Dimensional Design offers vs. say a ‘classical’ design curriculum, if such a thing exists?
I studied Three Dimensional design at Brighton University. It was great, compared to a classical product design course. I think it was probably how it was before technology took over a lot of design (Bauhaus).

We had the opportunity to gain skills in wood, ceramics, metal and plastics. And all we would do all day - really everyday - is make things. It was very experimental and a lot of fun.

My fascination was definitely in the plastics workshop where I spent most of my time making all sorts of wired and wonderful things. It was where GUMDROP was born!

I read that you knew you wanted to be a designer at an early age owing to your love of materials. What were your biggest influences in terms of art and/or design growing up or coming up through school?
I definitely knew that I wanted to be a designer of some sort from an early age; I had such a wonderful imagination. I would always be dreaming up new products and drawing out products things that I thought were definitely needed. This could be anything from a toy to a mechanical pencil case that did all your homework for you!

Throughout my school years my favourite lessons were always Art and DT (Design Technology). Even in primary school, I would make elaborate marble ruins!

For my secondary school, I chose to go to Bedales, a school that specialises in Art, Design, Theatre, Music and Science. It was here where I was really encouraged to develop my passion for Design. In fact, this is where I made The Caterpillar.

As with anyone, it's hard to pin point what exactly influences or has influenced you throughout your development. For me, I think it was a mixture of things: my teachers, the people I used to hang out with and the environment in which I lived. But of course these influences constantly change as you change.

Looking deeper at your fascination with materials: What has been your favourite material or medium to work with so far?

What materials or skills have you NOT worked with that you’d like to try?
Wax and knit.

How would you like to continue to – in the words of the Five! promotions – challenge the viewers’ perception of everyday objects?
I would just like people to have to think about a product that they are using.

Also, what do you do to ensure that you are living up to your mantra of ‘striving every time to be more creative than the last design’?
I learn from each design I create. So I hope that having learnt from the previous design, the next one will be in some way more creative than the last.

The picture of you in the lab is actually quite convincing, though I might have proposed having some dry ice bubbling away in the background for effect. How much chemistry experience did you have before you stepped in and started mixing concoctions?
Absolutely no experience what so ever! The picture of me in the lab is completely genuine.

For me, chemistry is a mix between cooking, common sense and multiple-choice questions. And in many ways like design: if you're patient and persevere and exhaust every avenue possible to try and meet your goals, you will succeed in the end.

What did you take from that experience of ca. 4 months in the laboratory besides your technique for recycling gum?
Really a new style of working. I really found the approach to be very methodical and thorough.

I would like all my work to develop in this way as I think you get such good results.

I assume your process is very hush-hush and you won’t divulge its secrets here. But are you patenting (or have you patented) the process?
I have indeed applied for a patent.

In terms of the so-called ‘mass production’, I am working on that bit now. However, it is quite hard to put this into practice when you’re trying to hold onto the Intellectual Property at the same time.

As I do speak from (not always good) experience, I am curious how you’ve dealt not only in terms of the Gumdrop bin but even other pieces that involve human contact (e.g. ‘One Cup or Two’) and the requisite safety and health issues.

One Cup or Two was a little 1-day project that I set myself as a design target. It was huge amounts of fun, especially when I got all my friends to come round for a tea and sugar party.

I wasn’t particularly worried about health and safety as it wasn’t something I was intending to sell. However, I have had huge amounts of interest and feedback to this piece. So I am thinking of redesigning the project so that it could be produced and sold ‘safely’.

Have you run into this with the Gumdrop bin, as I suppose you’re mixing materials that have had ‘biological’ exposure (albeit sterilised) with bio-resins and perhaps even additional colorants?
Well, again, I can't divulge too many 'trade secrets' yet, but I can tell you that bio resin plays no part in the making of this new material and GUMDROP!

A last chemistry question: my children (age 5 and 9) chew gum incessantly and it drives me nuts. Can you give me any tid-bits of advice or other information that would help me get them to stop? Like is there something REALLY REALLY gross in gum I could tell them about?
No! I need them chewing as much as possible, so that I can collect their gum!! You should encourage them! Sorry!

And I can't think of anything too gross either... although synthetic gum does contain latex.

It must be quite satisfying to so much success so early in your career, including with Five!, Caterpillar, and of course Gumdrop. Can you describe that feeling you get when you begin to sense that the public is reacting positively to a piece?

It is an amazing feeling that even one person gets what I'm trying to do and likes it. It makes me just all the more motivated and focused on my next designs!

continued in Part 2

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