In Service Design, Trash May Very Well Equal Treasure

 Photo by  Mark Turnauckas  

Photo by Mark Turnauckas 

I recently came across a TED talk from Robin Nagle about sanitation engineers in New York City. The talk resonated with me for a couple of reasons (1) my older brother is a sanitation engineer, AKA a trash man and (2) like all good anthropological work, it revealed several challenges that are ripe for design. Watch the video below. 

 I rarely think about the job my brother does or the invaluable service he provides to his community. I seldom dwell on fact that without people like him our society is at risk for disease and decay. But it's true, trash men perform a job that most of us would turn up our noses at (literally).

And if you think about it, these men (and women) probably know more about consumer trends, consumption habits and other human behaviors than any million-dollar market research firm. Whether we (or they) recognize it or not, our trash men have an intimate relationship with us. In the act of removing our cast-offs and cast-aways, they learn what we value and what our values are. They have insight into struggles of the community and the socio-economic trends; trash men have a unique view into our society's consumeristic mindset and behaviors.

So in what ways can sanitation engineers contribute to the design of products and service that improve our society? Nagle suggests sustainability solutions as one option but what about the design of public services such as child care or financial-support systems? How about the development of new roadways and transportation systems? 

Can you think of other undervalued professionals or careers that could provide us insight to improve our society? Message me: @jess_dugan