Charting a Course for Sustainable Design
I left art school in the mid ‘90s with a Masters in Product Design, a passion for sustainability and a desire not to fill the world with more meaningless stuff. Despite my youthful energy and enthusiasm, I wasn’t actually able or confident to do a ‘real’ project for at least three years afterwards. The challenges of sustainability just seemed so monumental to me that I was left feeling paralyzed and lost. The need to redesign and rethink pretty much everything meant that no single intervention ever seemed enough.
In the end I did manage to find that ‘macro-micro’ design and sustainability balance, in this project with Electrolux, working on designs for the eco-kitchen of the future, which got me started down the right path. I’d finally discovered what is really pretty obvious now — that your essential ingredients for a successful project will include the helicopter/systems/holistic view to orientate yourself; as well as a clear focus or ‘brief’ to solve a tangible, manageable problem and design a piece of that system. My own personal journey illustrates just how tricky it can be for designers to get on track on sustainability. Faced with such a momentous transformation, where do you even start?
If that all sounds pretty familiar, we had you very much in mind as we produced and publishedThe Sustainable Design Compass — a tool that unpacks the many faces and approaches of designing for sustainability.
The need for business and society to move to a more sustainable world is increasingly clear and accepted; the role of design within this transition is not. Wrapped up in a publication, suitably titled “Many Routes, One Destination,” we explore the various ways designers can and must help build a sustainable future.
Sustainability is a multi-dimensional concept and design practice is similarly diverse, too, so navigating your way through this complexity can be a real headache. We’re convinced the richness of design can and should work across a whole raft of sustainability areas, from big to small improvements, from societal to technical issues.
That could mean: adding sustainability as a non-negotiable part of each and every design project you work on; it could be helping new green and clean technology succeed and scale-up through great design thinking; it could be designing-in sustainable behaviour change to new products and services; or tackling societies thorny problems through design innovation. It might even stretch to designers embracing new ecological or biologically inspired methods for their design work, or even to them creating inspiring visions of the future that delight, rather than depress and scare people — the route we used in that original Electrolux Eco-kitchen project. Doing even some of the above would mean designers have a crucial role to play in delivering a sustainable world.
But the design community needs to step-up on sustainability, too. We can no longer just interest ourselves with the creation of cool stuff, the latest fashion or trend, or selling more stuff; designers must wake up to the responsibilities and opportunities that sustainability presents.
The Sustainable Design Compass maps out a sustainability route that works for you, your strengths and skills. It presents a series of discreet pathways designers can follow on sustainability that can work for individual designers and the wider design community, too.
If sustainability is a destination, then designers will need a tool to help get us all there. Check out our compass for sustainable design and let’s start charting a course to sustainability.
Chris Sherwin is Head of Sustainability at Seymourpowell, one of the world’s leading design and innovation companies.