color & materials matter. sustainability matters more.

Recent comments from a former student put me in mind of the following. Several years ago I attended an IDSA Conference in which the keynote, speaking about his successful career in automotive and kitchen appliance design, said that he did what designers are supposed to do: make money for their companies. Huh?!. Sell stuff and make money is what design is about? What a dinosaur! Didn’t he know that design was taking on the [then] new challenge of sustainability? That his re-design of a kitchen mixer made more cheaply and selling at the same price point, but in 12 different, highly desirable colors, was not a success according to new thinking?

Looking back, that speaker was probably the most honest person in the auditorium. Sales was his measure of value and he never used the words sustainable, eco- or environment-friendly. Most of his audience was familiar with, or may have used, eco-jargon, but most hadn’t bothered to learn what it meant, nor was sustainability called out in design briefs or part of design process. Fortunately, much work has been done in the years since attending that conference, and what we know about sustainability has research, practice and advocacy supporting it. From the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs], to industry-specific best practices and standards, the concept of sustainability has been defined and is being translated into actions. 

Does this mean that designers are now at the vanguard, scouting out, advancing, and preparing the way for ongoingness? Has design education re-written the curriculum so that every graduate is equipped with lifecycle thinking and emboldened with a planetary state of mind? Equally important, have design schools integrated sustainability into operations, governance, and the college experience? These are necessary and achievable undertakings that have been launched at many scales and in many locations. While individual action is important and empowering, it is the collective effort amongst designers, studios, colleges, and professional organizations that will amplify progress towards a lasting relationship with the earth.

Design it better. Get started…and don’t stop. Ever.

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Posted in Curriculum, Design, Education, from making to doing, Life cycle, Sustainability, Uncategorized
One comment on “color & materials matter. sustainability matters more.
  1. Hugo Pilate says:

    Hi Heidrun!
    This reminded me of an Indian architect, Prem Chandavarkar, I like bringing up in my classes when speaking of sustainability here’s his blog:

    The quote goes as follows: “As architects, we have conventionally approached the challenge of sustainability as a knowledge problem. We argue that the profession is badly trained, and unaware of the ecological impact of the mode of design that constitutes the mainstream of architectural production. […]. So, we seek to build awareness on issues such as climate-responsive and low-energy design, recycling systems and technologies, materials and products that promote sustainability, renewable energy, ecology, the water cycle, etc. […] It will take us only along the first few steps of our journey, and the major part of the journey requires attitude rather than knowledge, a personal relationship with the natural environment rather than knowledge about it.”

    It took me a while to consider “sustainability” in my design work because it felt too material, too limited, but this idea of journey (also in your conclusion) is something I really value and made it click for me.

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