Defining my design practice

I have a strong interest in sustainable graphic design, but contrary to some, I see sustainability from a broader and more holistic perspective. Sustainable design is not just design that focuses on environmental and social causes. Here, I attempt to define how sustainability influences and defines the content and process of my work. This serves as a documentation of my evolving thoughts and practice, and is not meant to be absolute.

Check out the design constraints here.

This article by Andrew Russel and Lee Vinsel makes the case for recognizing and celebrating the importance of maintenance in our society vs innovation. Rather than starting over from scratch every time something needs to be fixed, they argue that is is more sensible and affordable to improve existing systems, especially when talking about transit. This concept has value when applied to design. Often when companies are experiencing issues or need to refresh themselves, they turn to branding. However, in many cases, an improvement of the user experience for the product or platform could be more worthwhile and impactful.

August 14, 2017

Another perspective on my less bad / more good chart. This framework for regenerative design is adapted by a piece from Bill Reed. I thought this was particularly interesting because it demonstrates that just sustaining something is not enough. Sustainability, in this example, means things stay the same without getting better or worse. In order to actually make something better, it needs to be part of a regenerative system.

July 25, 2017

The purpose of starting these exercises was to explore my design practice, which I describe as sustainable graphic design. When I have described this to other people, they often find similarities in other approaches or styles. Though they are not the same as sustainable graphic design, I think there are valuable elements that sustainable graphic design can pull from each.

Good Design: I have asked myself, what makes sustainable graphic design different from just regular “good design”? I think the challenge in comparing sustainable graphic design to good graphic design is that there are very subjective interpretations of each. I think good design addresses many principles of sustainable design: it recognizes its role as part of a larger system, it is made to be flexible and adaptable to present and future systems, etc. However, I think many define good design from more of an aesthetic point of view: it communicates clearly and/or looks good/ cool/ pleasing/ interesting. Sustainable graphic design does not ignore its aesthetic output, but there is definitely more to it than just that.

Eco Friendly Design: This type of design often only addresses the environmental impact of design, and has become a shallow term similar to green design.

Green Design: Though Green Graphic Design may have meant something many years ago, it has been adopted as a marketing term and often does not have any deeper meaning. I’ve often seen reusable branded products such as tote bags used as an example of “green design,” but this fails to address whether these items were actually needed in the first place, or if they are just another opportunity to brand something that may have a life cycle only slightly longer than a disposable product.

Social Impact Design: Social impact design is similar to sustainable graphic design in that I feel that many people define it differently in terms of what it means, how it works, and how the impact is measured. The definition of this field that most resonates with me, as well as some relevant criticism and considerations, is in this article by Nicole Joslin. Often social impact design is seen as “a vision of the design-expert whose distinct creativity and ingenuity will single-handedly transform the world one beautiful building at a time,” but Joslin recognizes the needs for “a more collective mode of practice and interdisciplinary view of design expertise.” I think social impact design and sustainable graphic design both share the interest in a community focused, interdisciplinary practice, but both also share the danger of becoming unrealistic without humility and recognition of the limits of a designer’s skill set. Formally, I do not think there is a specific design process or conceptual approach to social impact design as there is sustainable graphic design, rather it is more about who you are working with and how the project impacts the world around it.

User Experience Design: User experience exists at the cross of design, data, and business. Jesse James Garret, a pioneer in this field, defines it as “the design of anything independent of medium or across media, with human experience as an explicit outcome and human engagement as an explicit goal.” (His breakdown here is also useful to defining user experience design) I think these elements of UX: the intensive interview process, the idea of working across different media, and the human element of UX all relate to sustainable graphic design. However, UX does not necessarily require one to address the environmental, social, and economical impact of what is being made as sustainable graphic design does.

Service Design: I had not been familiar with this design approach until Patrick Seymour of Tsang Seymour told me about it when I was describing sustainable graphic design. Shahrzad Samadzadeh has an overview of this area of design here. It shares a lot of similarities with user experience design, such as a robust research process, user journeys, and a business focus. It differs in its time based approach—rather than just considering present issues and pain points for a user, service design predicts and adapts to potential future needs and issues. Service design also focuses on the design of the entire system rather than just a product, recognizing that a continued interaction or experience does not always have a tangible output. I think this is a valuable aspect of this design approach that relates to sustainable graphic design.

June 30, 2017

User focused design shares a lot of similarities with user experience design and sustainable graphic design. This design style recognizes that whatever is being created is both part of a larger system and needs to be adaptable to this system both in the present and in the future.

June 13, 2017

Activity focused design also involves elements of sustainable graphic design: it considers all the elements and interactions of a project or product and testing to see if they work. However, it does not address elements that may not have been previously considered or tested before, and limits both the solutions and the potential for a product to be relevant and functional in the future.

June 6, 2017

Genius design involves elements of sustainable design such as drawing on previous knowledge and expertise to develop a solution and likely evolves throughout one's practice. However, like self design, it relies solely on one's own experiences or may only address one's own problems, rather than focusing on the larger system it exists in.

May 23, 2017

Self design is, as it sounds, design that is created to solve a specific problem for one's self or one's group. Though the solution may be sustainable in that instance, it likely does not address that it it part of a larger system and would likely need to be re-evaluated for use in other situations.

May 2, 2017

Unintended design is not considered, no design decisions are made on the output of a product. Its design is solely determined by the development and production. I thought this decision style had a lot of similarities with vernacular design, which draws from the available resources to produce something. Sustainable design needs to adapt to and learn from the environment it is in, which may sometimes mean leaving a design decision to chance or as an outcome of a process rather than a conscious decision.

April 1, 2017

The Five Design Decision styles is an article by Jared Spool detailing different approaches to design, as well as their pros and cons. I thought there were interesting elements of each that could apply to sustainable graphic design, and will detail each in the next series of posts.

April 4, 2017

Kristian Bjornard was one of the first people to introduce me to the concept of sustainable graphic design. This is the manifesto he wrote for Sustainabilitists, outlining the principles of sustainable graphic design and exploring the possible visual outcomes of this movement.

March 9, 2017

Inspired by Bruno Munari's Design As Art:
“The designer of today re-establishes the long-lost contact between art and the public, between living people and art as a living thing. Instead of pictures for the drawing-room, electric gadgets for the kitchen. There should be no such thing as art divorced from life, with beautiful things to look at and hideous things to use. If what we use every day is made with art, and not thrown together by chance or caprice, then we shall have nothing to hide.”

March 8, 2017

Inspired by Chappell Ellison, Lindsay Ballant, and many others. Everything you do, even beyond design, is a political act. Sustainable design acknowledges this and strives to be conscious of every action.

March 7, 2017

Applying Gestalt principles to sustainable graphic design. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

February 22, 2017

Last week at a User Experience Design class at General Assembly, we discussed the importance of evaluating both objective and subjective data to come up with the best and most sustainable solution to a problem.

February 21, 2017

Inspired by Chappell Ellison's essay “Can Designers Save the World Without Creating More Stuff?.” In the essay, she emphasizes that the most sustainable design often does not result in a grand visual product, but in simple interactions that make an immediate difference.

February 20, 2017

From John Ehrenfeld's book Flourishing: A Frank Conversation about Sustainability.
“If we live in a culture that says the quality of a person’s life is reflected in how well we take care of others, the world and themselves, then we will have an entirely different kind of culture that is aligned with sustainability.”

February 16, 2017

Inspired by essays from a sustainable graphic design class. Sustainable design cannot separate itself from the human element of design.

February 15, 2017

The image on the right is a new representation of the triple bottom line of sustainability. The more commonly seen representation is that on the left. However, this depiction of sustainability allows one to separate environmental, social, and economic sustainability. In reality, economic sustainability cannot exist without society, and social sustainability cannot exist without an environment. Therefore, true sustainability can only be achieved if all are considered.

February 14, 2017

Sustainable graphic design must understand and recognize its role as part of a larger system; it is not a solitary artifact and cannot be treated as such. It must be integrated into this system rather than treated as a veneer. It also must not sacrifice usability for aesthetics.

February 9, 2017

Sustainable design must strive to not only reduce negative impact, but create positive impact. It must not only reduce the waste or harm that a system may cause, but also create a system that does not cause harm in the first place.

February 8, 2017

Inspired by this. Sustainable graphic design must recognize that everything is connected. Design is not just a veneer or a polish, it must visually respond to what it is conceptually communicating.

February 7, 2017