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Sustainability Ambassador: Calder McCay

Calder McCay

I, Riley Lusher (Eco-Conscious Designer + Fiber Artist, Branding & Strategic Partnerships for OC), had the pleasure of interviewing Calder McCay, Industrial Designer, Collaborator, and OC Community Ambassador, recently for the OUR CHOICE Sustainability Ambassadors Series. We had a great conversation about the power of design, observation and action for societal change, and the importance of positive childhood influences. Check out our conversation and get inspired!

Meet Calder

Designer and artist Calder McCay has been creating since he could walk. Son of a graphic designer and industrial designer, Calder has a long family history of ancienters that worked as artists, craftsmen, and textile makers. Additionally he is named after the famous sculpture Alexander Calder, all of these elements have had a great influence on him. 

Calder is a jack of all trades and master of none and he prefers it that way. With skills in traditional art such as drawing, painting, and sculpting his interests also involve 3D printing, construction, computer aided design, model making, photography, auto mechanics, micro-mobility, renewable energy, and footwear design. 

Calder is pursuing an active role in designing more sustainable products and services for our world via personal transportation & renewable products made from natural materials. He believes that we can work in unicine with our plan and create products that benefit both the consume and nature. 

Calder McCay's Sustainability Story InterviewOURCHOICE.ECO
00:00 / 18:10

Our Conversation

Q: How did sustainability become an interest of yours, and how has this affected your work as a designer?   


A: In elementary school, science and art were my favorite subjects. Bill Nye the Science Guy was often part of our lessons in school. Bill’s show, and my teachers were regularly warning us that the way things were going regarding our climate’s development was unsustainable and needed to change. We were taught that carbon emissions and the greenhouse effect were a growing problem, and I was always frustrated that I wasn't seeing much being done about it. When I knew I wanted to become a designer, I saw it as an opportunity to create products that have little to no impact on our environment, products designed for the better of our planet & humanity. Now that I have a better understanding of the design process I see how systematic and wide-reaching the challenges are when it comes to manufacturing sustainable products and systems. I'm doing what I can at the moment to change the way we consume and produce products, by joining companies such as Our Choice and by volunteering with sustainability committees. I plan to devote my work to sustainable transportation and urban devices that make the way we live more sustainable.


Q: As your education and design journey has progressed, has your opinion of the role of a designer changed at all?


A: Traditionally speaking, an industrial designer's job is to design, prototype, and ittorate products based on a lot of constraints, such as consumer research, ease of use, form factors, design language, functionality, and most importantly manufacturability. Knowing how things are made and what materials are best for that product is a key stone to the job. In the past, designers did not think about the “end of life” phase when designing products. As I have learned more and more about the industry I feel that designers have a responsibility to keep a product's end of life phase in mind. How will this product be disposed of? Is it reusable? Do  the different parts and materials come apart for easier recycling? How can I make this product have the smallest footprint possible on our environment? 

Unfortunately this is not a common mindset of corporations that may be consulting designers to better their products. I feel that designers have a larger obligation to create products that are more suited to their end of life cycle and sustainable practices or materials that can be utilized. Unfortunately it’s mostly a recommendation they can make to corporations/manufacturers. However as the consumer mindset shifts towards conscious purchasing, people are pressuring companies to make their products more sustainable and renewable. If the market demands more sustainability within products and packaging the corporations will follow suit.  


Q: When you are about to begin a new project or work, what does your planning process look like? How do you approach creation?


A: I work on a lot of different kinds of projects, but generally I start by researching what already exists to make sure I'm not making something that’s already out there. Next I start looking for inspiration, either from the brand language of the company I'm designing for or the general mood and topic of the product/art. From there I will begin sketching and trying to push boundaries with how evolutionary  or revolutionary I want the piece to look or feel. After making a few thumbnail sketches I will start combining ideas and create higher fidelity sketches to get a more realistic idea of how this thing may look in real life. Once I have found something I like I start to think about how I will make it physically. Then get an idea of what materials I'll need, the order of operations for building it, and how long it will take. Depending on what I’m making I may use photoshop or a Computer Aided Design program to draft an idea. I then gather the materials and make sure I have a good work surface to start creating!


Q: You’ve mentioned your interest and work in micro-mobility. Would you break down that term for us and provide some insight as to how this could manifest, in products or systems?


A: Horace Dediu who coined the term “micromobility” defined it as a range of small, lightweight vehicles operating at speeds typically below 20mph and driven by users personally (unlike rickshaws). Micro-mobility devices include bicycles, e-bikes, electric scooters, electric skateboards, shared bicycles, and electric pedal assisted bicycles. Enitial definitions excluded vehicles weighing more than 500 kilograms (1,100 lb). However, the definition has evolved to exclude devices with internal combustion engines and those with top speeds above 30 mph.-micro-mobility wiki

I have been researching this topic for a few years now and I have been using micro-mobility vehicles since I was little. It is the most efficient way to travel in my opinion. 80% of an automobile's life is spent off and parked. 50% of trips a car takes are under 3 miles and 80% are under 10 - USDT. With this in mind micro-mobility is an incredibly efficient way to travel in these manners. More people are moving to cities where everything you need is ideally no more than 15 minutes away. Using micro-mobility vehicles is a safer way to travel for operators and pedestrians, it reduces carbon emission, congestion on roadways, and has been seen as generally a more enjoyable  way to travel. The scale of the vehicles also makes storage more obtainable. Alot of cities and automobile makers see ride sharing AV’S as the solution to traffic congestion, parking space, and pedestrian accidents, however I think the implementation of autonomous vehicles will take too long and require notable change in legislation and infrastructure. Our cities and towns have been built around automobiles, it can be hard to imagine what they may look like if roads didn’t dictate the layout and integration of our homes, offices, sidewalks and parks. I imagine cities with more green space, less concrete, open air offices, gyms, and restaurants. I can imagine highways for micro-mobility vehicles and renewable energy production in the middle of our urban space. 


Q: Out of your work to date, do you have a favorite process or piece? Would you share why this is your favorite?


A: This is a difficult question to answer for me, most of my projects have been designing concepts that will not be applied to anything. For me my favorite part of the process or development of a concept is understanding that everything can change. Our world is in the midst of a paradigm shift at the moment and it is the most exciting thing for me. Being able to openly imagine how our cities and towns will function and look in the next 50 years gets me so excited. I want to see our society reach a point of harmony with nature, where people are aware of the impact they make and consciously choose to do what’s best for the world and ultimately themselves and their community. There is nothing more energizing than imagining a world of equality, efficiency, and renewability. 


Q: Is there any particular message you would like to share with the global design community or even other design students, just beginning their careers?


A: I ask this question to my guests on my podcast every episode and it's the hardest question for everyone, everyone feels that their advice sounds cliche. My advice to a young student would be to pursue whatever you feel an energy from, if thinking about what you can change or create in the long run brings you excitement and spark to your mind that is what you should follow. If creating something by hand gives you that spark and feeling of satisfaction more instantaneously then pursue that! With that in mind, don’t forget to broaden your horizons, step out of your comfort zone, and challenge yourself daily, If you can. When an opportunity is floating past your eyes, follow it. I have experienced so many new things and challenges that have made me a better designer just by chasing an opportunity that popped up in an email or something a professor mentioned briefly. 

To the design community; I think it is time we use the power of pen and paper to create some real change within manufacturing and consumer habits. We need to change the way we look at products and the system we have built around it. Over consumption has become our culture, when it should be a culture of appreciation for quality, sustainability, and renewability. We can save this planet, it will take a lot of work but we will save it. Alot needs to change systematically, but with enough people having a similar goal we can make the changes we so desperately need. 


Q: So, what lies on the horizon for you, where do you see yourself in the world of sustainability in design? And how can we keep up with you and your exciting ventures?


A: I hope to be a beneficial part of the much needed change we need to make in the way we travel and consume goods. I’m hoping to be an active designer in the world of transportation and creating products or services that provide more efficient and sustainable ways to travel around cities and towns. I’m not sure what aspect of the field I will be in, but as long as I am making a positive change to our society I can be proud of my work. 

Some of Calder's Work

Calder's Winning Design for the OC x SFW Sneaker Design Contest

Keep Up With Calder

Check out his podcast: @bad_media_

Here are links to Calder's Social Accounts, where you can keep up with his latest moves, and the most recent episodes of his Podcast.

LinkedIn: Calder McCay

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