Sustainability in Design – hype or hope?
It is hard to accept that anything other than moving as quickly as possible towards a sustainable way of working and living is an option for any person today. It follows that any role in a community – including design – should have sustainability at its core. There is, however, the reality that much of the current design work being done, particularly graphic design, is to encourage consumption of one kind or another, so there is an in-built conflict in working for companies that rely on continuous consumption for their existence.
But there are often viable options for approaches to design projects that can minimise an impact on the environment. For example, print projects can utilise unbleached or recycled paper, plant-based inks, and/or constructed in a way that minimise waste in raw materials or extend their use. I believe designers have an important role to play in this regard, encouraging businesses and organisations who use their services to consider what can be done to maximise sustainable practices wherever possible. Digital design can offer alternatives to print but require inputs, such as use of technologies that contribute to energy consumption and electronic waste, that need to be considered. Designers, such as David B Berman in Do Good
Design and Peter Claver Fine in Sustainable Graphic Design: Principles and Practices, highlight the (sometimes) hard decisions faced by businesses and give examples of design projects concerned with environmental and social justice concerns. They also offer guidelines for designers to consider when approaching a given project, as well as projects to initiate or look out for in their own design and local communities.
In a heartfelt TEDx presentation, designer JD Hooge says it is time for designers – of digital technology in particular – but appropriate I think for all designers – to take responsibility for the things they create and their impact on human lives. Hooge speaks about the idea of “purpose in design” and of his career path and determination to become a better designer through creation and “having a point of view”, with the realization that graphic design gives people identity, and has the power to create conversations and spread ideas. He also raises concerns about the influence of digital technology and the design elements embedded within it. Identifying this as both a privilege and a burden for web, product, and graphic designers he advises designers to get out of their comfort zone and become more comprehensively educated. Hooge believes seeing different perspectives, including learning from the past, is incredibly important for designers of the future – with existing tools of data, awareness and hindsight – it’s time to leverage those resources and put humanity back at the centre of design.
And while many companies appear to buy into the sustainable message, designers have a role to play in ensuring that these claims are more than hype, and that they support the hope for a more transparent, robust approach to a sustainable existence.
Berman, David B. Do Good: How Designers Can Change the World. Berkley: New Riders, AIGA Design Press. 2009. https://davidberman.com/wp-content/uploads/DoGoodBermanForCh1Ch12Index.pdf
Claver Fine, Peter. Sustainable Graphic Design: Principles and Practices. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. 2016
JD Hooge, TEDx Portland, “The Power of Design”, Sep 13 2019. Accessed 8 Oct 2021