Back in 2010 British designer Thomas Thwaites gave a TED talk presenting his ‘Toaster Project’, a rather unusual design project whereby he set out to replicate something as common as the cheapest toaster he could find from scratch. After a series of absurd ordeals such as mining his own iron ore for making steel and attempting to mould recycled plastic in his back yard, the resulting device, faintly resembling a toaster, didn’t even succeed in browning a single slice of bread. The point that Thwaites was trying to make in all of this was that we are so dependent on industry, economy and technology for even the most basic of our everyday activities, that everyday items as ubiquitous as a toaster (or an iPhone for that matter) are impossible to produce without the assistance of the vast machine that is Western civilization.
Recently, a creative team in Lisbon, Portugal, undertook a similar project; this time however, involving graphic design and print. Commissioned by electricity company EDP Group (an international energy company active in Portugal, Brazil and the United States), the team at the advertising agency Leo Burnett Lisboa were asked to produce a brochure about the company’s Access to Energy (A2E) initiative. The campaign itself tries to bring electricity to isolated communities in regions like the Amazon and Sub-Saharan Africa, all the while raising awareness about the global consumption of electricity and how the First World abuses its energy sources. In response, the Leo Burnett Lisboa team decided to produce the commissioned brochure without the use of any electricity whatsoever – after all, what better way is there to illustrate the importance of electricity in our lives than by taking it away completely?
For the making of this brochure, naturally, the team had to abandon their computers and printers, and find ways to do everything off the grid. An exercise in literally going back to basics, drawings were drawn completely by hand, natural sunlight of course was used as a light source - and even as a backlit drawing table (the drawings were then taped to windows) to put the layout together. Paper sheets were pressed and left to dry, whilst the printing also took place manually using two colours. Finally, each and every one of the hundreds of brochures was folded by hand. Even the documentation of the whole process was achieved without any use of electricity, using analog cameras for taking pictures and even shooting a short film. After watching the video showing the whole process described above, take a moment to think: how many of the things that you have done today would have been possible without electricity?