Here is my somewhat recent essay on Design and Sustainability (After having not written an essay for quite some time and finishing it rather quickly – I am reasonably satisfied). I have to follow this soon by interviewing a designer about the same kind of thing.
*It has since been marked, I did alright, not wonderfully (all the more reason NOT to copy my work)… a bit short on specific examples.
I could’ve approached this more practically but chose to focus on thought and idea based strategies. Thackera was a set text, the rest I scrumaged for.
Before the random visitor decides to copy what I’ve written and submit it themselves, this essay is thoroughly © Rebecca Matheson 2008.
Strategies towards designing for environmental sustainability
Designers are increasingly acknowledging the importance of identifying and maintaining a standard of environmental sustainability in their work. As thinking goes more global, and environmental issues escalate, the prevalence and influence of design needs to step up to match the concerns. Communication design is no exception. Although less dominant in terms of tangible product or architecture, communication and graphic designers engage with materials and machines which in turn affect the world. Designers have at their hands the means of conveying strong messages about change, these messages need to link in with the consistency of their own lives in the hope to inspire contagious thought and action to improve standards of how humans treat their world. Strategies involve acknowledging those around us, our context, our role in the system of things and forward thinking.
In the complexity of today’s world, designers need to forget their one-man, one-woman show and remember that the process and the outcome is defined by many. Thackera encourages designers to, “Foster new relationships outside our usual stomping grounds” (2006, p.8). There is importance in engaging with others to understand the bigger picture. The bigger picture takes into account the consequences of choices in design, Susan Szenasy affirms this in her realisation, “It became clear to me that we needed to talk about the ethical implications of Descartes’s cogito ergo sum principle of a man-centered universe and contrast it to a more communal, collaborative approach in which social justice is at least as important as individual well-being.” (Szenasy, 2003) She talks about building a new world view that is inclusive over individualistic. To define anything new it is import to present some kind of vision to inspire collective thought, “If you want to build a ship, don’t divide the work and give orders, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” (Thackera, 2006 quotes Antoine de Saint-Exupery p.25), this pushes beyond just the borders of just motivating those who consider themselves designers and involves a greater collective of individuals and groups.
With this mind shift is an emphasis on values and manifestos with the conviction that, “Ethics and responsibility can inform design decisions without constraining the social and technical innovation we all need to do.” (Thackera, 2006, p.7). This presents itself in agendas such as The Natural Step which maintains that we can open the funnel between resources and demand, through innovation and creativity. (Natural Step, 2003) This in turn calls on the talent of designers to begin to solve these environmental problems. It is the small decisions and innovations that make headway into getting somewhere and influencing sustainability.
The methodical approach to thinking more holistically in response to environment and design is to begin to ask questions about how human systems are interacting with natural systems, inclusive of ecology, economy and culture, “People create change by looking at the past to find better ways of doing things in the future: by transcending the boundaries of the social systems they’ve created.” (The Designers Atlas of Sustainability, 2007, p.201) decisions on both small and large scale projects along with education and awareness, contribute to understanding and action that does have impact on the environment. This also calls into account responsibility, what is local and what is global and general respect for the earth, “The graphic designer will need to understand materials, their contents, their end impacts and the full life cycle of their design objects as to not further damage our biodiversity and increase the depletion of our important natural resources.” (Benson, 2003) This may be as simple as what design studio Hershey Cause did by reducing a little used 750 page Institute of Medicine report to a simple and useable 24 pages. Communication Designers are now beginning to question materials, and are thoroughly researching their printers techniques. It is simple to say there is regard for environment but there is a vast difference in how far this plays out.
Beyond materials stretches a holistic approach to design where simplicity becomes a significant and deciding factor. Eva Anderson emphasises the importance of ‘Simplifying Design (and your Life)’ through her long standing investigation of eco design. Rising problems of environment affected by consumerism and excess consumption point towards the inverse to bring about positive environmental change. The Gaia approach, “Everything is connected to every thing else” (Anderson, 1998, p.267) practically dictates that the small decisions, influence the greater scheme of things. Excessive design means a higher use of resources and the production and transportation to bring those resources home. “In isolation, these small acts seem inconsequential. But as the small changes accumulate over time and frequency, they have the potential for lasting sociological and ecological transformation.” (Anderson, 1998, p.271)
Simplicity brings with it the thought of lasting design. What design will exist and serve its purpose so well, that the continued request for more and better things fails to even show? Durability and the elimination of a ‘timed product’ with a life expectancy bring a further dimension to communication design and induce greater thought before a final product is produced, marketed and sold. Ed van Hinte in talking about design and time, presents his book as an example, “This book (click here) is the result: a luxurious, distinctive little publication bound in embossed gold foil, with an exquisite binding that exudes care and preciousness. You’ll want to keep it – which is exactly the point.” (Steffan, 2006, p86) If we pour timelessness into our design the suggestion of, ‘just don’t design’ no longer eliminates the designer’s craft. It is important to put thought into simplicity and durability, in this way design can persist with a conscience into a world with a delicate environment.
Through the employment of careful thought, simplicity, and regard, designers can begin to engage globally and locally with their customers and their resources. Suddenly systems draw to the forefront of design and each piece is not a standalone but a small part of something much bigger. The inspiration of designers who consider the environment and share their learning needs to continue in conversation, through designs themselves and across generations so that the past is not forgotten and the future of design will persist. Environmental issues are ever present, yet by changing our thinking and modifying our actions we can progress toward a less damaging approach to what has more recently become a significant cause of concern.
- Anderson, E. (1998), ‘Simplifying Design (And your life)’, in Crawford, T. (ed), AIGA Professional Practices in Graphic Design, Alworth Communications, New York, USA
- Benson, E (2003), ‘Why is Sustainability Important’, viewed March 24 2008, http://designcanchange.org/#community/voices/sustainability/eric_benson
- Hershey Cause,(2008), The Institute of Medicine/The California Endowment, viewed 24th March 2008 http://www.hersheycause.com/clients-institute-of-medicine.php
- Natural Step (2003), ‘Opening the walls of the funnel’, viewed March 24 2008, http://www.naturalstep.org/com/What_is_sustainability/
- Steffan, Alex (2007), “Worldchanging: a user’s guide for the 21st century”, Harry N. Abrams Inc, NY.
- Szenasy, S (2003), Ethics and Sustainability: Graphic Designers’ Role, Design Can Change, viewed March 20 2008, http://designcanchange.org/#community/voices/sustainability/susan_szenasy
- Thackara, J (2006) In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass, USA
- Thorpe, A (2007), The Designers Atlas of Sustainability, Island Press, Washington, USA
- ‘Eternally Yours, Time in Design’ – Book design by Ed van Hinte, 010 Publishers, Rotterdam, 2004, viewed 3/4/08 http://bp3.blogger.com/_s6ldlT__L7g/Rs885tccQmI/AAAAAAAAAbA/fQMMthCuKEo/s1600-h/DSCN2881.JPG