Graphic Design & Sustainability

February 21, 2019

Author: Alexander Exner

Why is the topic of sustainability important for the Graphic Design sector?
What do Graphic Design and Sustainability have to do with each other?

Following on from the 16HRS conference by Momentum Novum and United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), where I had been speaking on this topic, I will be answering these questions within this article.

I think before diving into this topic, it is important to understand that the word ‘sustainability’ has a broad range of meanings to different people. In order to establish what people associate with this word, I conducted a small non representative study among people I know. I was careful to ensure the group comprised of individuals from various different countries and industry sectors.

Each person’s definition of sustainability was correct, but very different. This demonstrates a very broad range understanding of different views and associations people have for this topic.

My own definition of Sustainability is as follows:

“Sustainability means to create a healthy environment for communities and people within those”

This in my view takes into account all aspects of life, meaning people having a stable work life balance, reducing waste, living within the planetary boundaries and taking care not to overconsume.  

With the resources our planet has to offer, we are simply not ABLE to SUSTAIN the lifestyle that many people around the planet have now adopted.

As Al Gore said within the movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim:

“What we take for granted might not be here for our children.”

- Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

How do Graphic Design and the Creative Sector fall into the equation?

As Graphic Designers we are always communicating a message. Regardless of whether or not this is intentional, when creating a design we are targeting an individual or a group and therefore visually communicating.

You could say:

DESIGN = COMMUNICATION  

&

EFFECTIVE DESIGN = GOOD COMMUNICATION

If this is the case, it raises the questions as to whether or not sustainable values are communicated effectively to people who are NOT already caring about this issue in the first place? In my personal view the answer is, it is kind ok however it certainly could be better.  

As designers / creatives we possess the ability to speak a language which at large anyone can understand.

VISUAL LANGUAGE

Through filmmaking, good web design, choosing brand colours, making a layout look appealing or a websites UX (User Experience) for people to engage with, we can utilise this visual language to communicate. We can help to relay to people what the meaning of Sustainability is, why it matters and what each and everyone of us can do.

In order to see a good example of a design which is not as appealing as it may could be, we can go into the internet archive and have a look at how the Fridays For Future website has been looking like not too long ago in 2019.

Image: http://wayback.archive.org/ -> https://fridaysforfuture.org/

Given that Fridays For Future is a student movement, in my view credit is due for them to even have a website on the internet up and running in order to display their cause. However looking at the design back then, we can see an image which is slightly low in resolution showing the impressive amounts of people gathering, we can see there was no logo on the site in order to create a brand identity and also key information that the site was displaying was not highlighted as clear as it could be.

Comparing this to the current version of the Fridays For Future website you can see that all has changed.

1.    A clear colour scheme was found and implemented

2.    A logo identity created

3.    Key messages highlighted within the page making it easy to access and know relevant parts of the website

4.    High resolution imagery was introduced

5.    Interactive and engaging features were added to the site

You can go to www.fridaysforfuture.org to see it for yourself.

Image: www.fridaysforfuture.org

Another great example where Sustainability is communicated very effectively with a great design is Ecosia. A internet search engine which donates parts of their profits in order to counter deforestation.  

Images: Ecosia website -> www.ecosia.org

What can you do if you are a
Graphic Designer/ Own an Agency &
you wish to practise sustainable
Graphic Design

1.    As creative individuals we often have more power than we think when we are communicating with brands that are our clients. We often have a lot of power steering them in the direction they are going: Don't be afraid to bring the topic of sustainability up in meetings with your clients.

2.    If you produce physical products i.e. T-Shirts, Posters, Roller Banners, Brochure prints etc. give your clients the option to choose a more sustainable production material, for instance that could be printing on fair trade T-Shirts or on recycled paper. Most importantly encourage them to check their production quantities in order to reduce waste. Does a product need to be produced/Can it be a ‘digital only’ product?

3.    Use green web hosting options which are running their servers with renewable energy.

4.    Whether you work for yourself or have a team, it is always a good idea to shut your computer down completely at the end of the day and turn appliances such as the Wifi off. This not only saves electricity which would be completely wasted in off work hours but it also helps to reduce wear off on your electronic products.

5.    To dive into what you can do in-depth to act more sustainably as a business, you can also instruct a sustainability consultancy agency, such as Momentum Novum to assist you with finding better ways to act more sustainable.

What can you do if you are an aspiring Graphic Designer & you wish to practise sustainable
Graphic Design

Junior / aspiring Graphic designers often find themselves in a position where they either wish to find work in the creative/design sector or intend on building a greater portfolio showcasing the work they created in order to get instructed by clients or hired by an agency. It is very well possible to find initiatives with sustainability as their core value that can very well use the help of a designer in order to communicate what they stand for. If this is an initiative by volunteers, one could consider offering this work for free or if it is a small business within the design sector one can consider offering it for a low cost. Design is needed literally everywhere!

Further:

1.    Apply for jobs within a design studio that shares your passion of sustainability or a job within a business that has  sustainability as their core value.

2.    If you can’t find a studio / company that specifically has sustainability within their business philosophy, mention your passion for the topic within the job interview and see if there is scope for you to push for sustainable behaviour within the business you may intend to join. You may find often within small to medium size businesses you can achieve more than you would expect. But the same is also possible within big companies.

3.    Build your portfolio by looking for work coming from sustainable innovators.

4.    Search for positions on job portals such a GreenJobs

5.    Make sure that you are not using your design skills in order to assist an organisation to greenwash their brand image.

Summary

I strongly believe the global Covid-19 crisis has shown wide range of individual people and governments around that world that it is sensible to listen to scientists in order to fight global issues. I believe this is similarly applicable when it comes to a global pandemic as in the instance of changing policy and behaviours within individual people. People from the media and within the design sector can help in order to help make a voice of reason about such matters be heard. Our industry sector possess great powers in order to contribute towards a more sustainable future.