Design Exercise: Garbage In, Awesome Out

Dig into one of 10 design exercises featured in the Summer issue of HOW Magazine, and share your creations on Twitter or Instagram with #DesignXTraining. 

Design Exercises: Garbage In, Awesome Out

Time limit: 60 minutes

Recycling technology is becoming advanced—really advanced. I recently saw a trash can that could automatically separate items that needed to be recycled from those destined for a landfill. Next thing you know, that same trash can will be taking those same recycled materials and making something new from them right on the spot.

How would that work? Whatever you threw in the trash could be dirty, and whatever the trash can produced for you would need to be safe and clean. What would it take to convince people that items directly recycled from garbage can be awesome? Sounds like a problem for designers to solve.

Create a garbage can that, within a matter of minutes, also dispenses a single item produced from the garbage that was placed in it. (Sorry, that object can’t be money.) What would it recycle? Where would it be located? Who would use it? Consider signage, instructions and curb appeal if it appears in public. Don’t worry about how it could be done. Imagine the technology you need will be ready and available to you.

Want to print out a template and drawing space? Cick here to download this page from the magazine.


Despite the team’s best efforts, the initial prototype failed. The new version works great, but the recycling process now takes 24 hours. Redesign the trash can to allow for the user to leave their garbage and return later to retrieve their object.


Your garbage can can create only the object from Exercise 5. Redo the design.

In the Summer issue of HOW, David & Mary Sherwin present a series of 10 essential design exercises to keep your creativity agile, energetic and powerful. Each one is paired with skill-building next steps and creative cross-training activities to help you work out different parts of your brain. Why is creative cross-training important? As Sherwin writes,

“Cross-training taught me a different sort of discipline as a designer. You can work on improving specific skills that come up as part of projects: Arranging elements in a page spread, crafting a compelling identity or icon, laying out a responsive website, or animating graphics for a video. But your biggest gains will come from design cross-training—moving through a variety of different design exercises that help you build and extend your skills.”

Keep an eye out at for more exciting design exercises, and check out all of them in HOW Magazine!