“Don’t fight forces, use them” is a Buckminster Fuller quote that is especially relevant for designers in these times of converging economic and environmental pressures. I was reminded of this idea at Practivism - a talk on sustainability and communication design - when Brian Dougherty said, “We can all invent this - be the expert.”
Dougherty was referring to the blossoming area of graphic design practice that weaves sustainability thinking into the outcome. It’s a niche ripe for becoming mainstream through the experiments of a set of brave visual innovators.
Practivism is the hybrid word for practice and activism drummed up by the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC) BC team to describe this particular form of practical problem solving. The Practivism event in Vancouver this November was an evening of talks by Dougherty along with Eric Karjaluoto and Marc Alt. Marian Bantjes captured the synergy of the night in a heart-racing promotional poster.
Eric Karjaluoto kept the audience giggling through his comedic slideshow which included an advertisement he found depicting an SUV driving into the sunset titled: “Because you Hate Mother Nature.” He introduced a new word he found on a blog: Depletist – a description of an individual with environmentally inappropriate behaviour. Karjaluoto is the author of the web site Design can Change which aims to bring the design community together to design positive outcomes. A self-described “mini-van driving, fast-food lover”, Eric is looking to do the right thing to make sure the world becomes a better place for his daughter.
Brian Dougherty of Celery Design Collaborative enraptured the audience with a set of designs layered deeply with sustainability solutions. He showed us clever die-cuts engineered to nest in snug patterns that maximized press-sheets, paper folds that eliminated the need for glue and innovations for multiple-use that let packaging overflow with value. The Lemnis LED lights packaging that doubled as a lampshade is a particularly impressive example.
He introduced us to a sensible scorecard for decision-making during the design process which rates source, energy impacts and destiny. Celery is well-known for their ‘Ecological Guide to Paper‘ that unpacks the myriad of choices we have for the main material that graphic designers use. He delivered his insights and sublime solutions with genuine friendliness and more than one vegetable metaphor. I am looking forward to his book launching this winter, Green Graphic Design
Marc Alt, VP of the Designers Accord – a global coalition working to create positive environmental and social impact – expanded the discussion to industrial design trends that used the developing world as a lens. He introduced us to the Hippo-Roller – a rollable water barrel with long handles that allows people to transport water on the ground instead of on their head. It has become popular with both men and women making it a uniquely gender neutral way to carry water. He encouraged us to think about Design for the Other 90% as discussed by Paul Pollack and D-REV a initiative that searches for ways to meet the survival needs of those living in poverty. Alt linked design for the developing world to Western society by giving us a glimpse of Nike’s greenest shoe – which he dubbed the Air Gandalf because of its Tolkien qualities. He closed with a reminder that “sending an email is not a carbon-neutral act.”
I recently saw a version of Fuller’s “forces” quote in The Natural Step Canada annual report worded as; “When the wind blows some build walls and others build windmills.” In an industry of quick turn around times and even quicker product lifecycles it’s nice to know that this troupe of creative thinkers are taking the time to reinvent design paradigms for these windy times.