By Christine Miller and Scott Boylston
(Originally published on Friday, Jan. 11, 2008 in the Chronicle)
What does sustainability mean to you? How do you feel when you engage in what you consider sustainable practices, like reusing a plastic container or riding your bike instead of driving your car to class?
Industrial design students in the Fall 2007 Contextual Research Methods course at the Savannah College of Art and Design asked these questions to understand how people think and feel about sustainability and sustainable practices. Using ethnographic-style research methods, the students explored the wide range of meanings people attach to sustainability, and designed more knowledgeable solutions as a result.
As part of their study, the industrial design students distributed “workbooks” to students in the graphic design course The Role of Design in Social Awareness. In the workbooks, students wrote about their interests, their passions and what they enjoy doing in their leisure time. They explained what influenced their thinking and actions relating to sustainability, and listed three main areas they associate with sustainable practices. Finally, they used words, pictures and sketches to express what sustainability means to them.
Based on the responses in the workbooks, the industrial design students identified four major areas of concern: transportation, energy conservation, recycling and personal choices, such as supporting local organic produce, buying certified organic products or recycling at home. The industrial design students then developed a “co-creation” session, during which they worked on teams with the graphic design students to conceptualize college-wide campaigns about sustainable practices in these four areas.
The co-creation session resulted in four initiatives that can be taken to the next phase of development by subsequent classes. Several students worked over the holiday break to create a podcast documenting the project, which is scheduled to debut at the SCAD Teach-in Jan. 31.
This project demonstrated how students benefit from interdepartmental interaction. The spontaneity that resulted from working with creative individuals whom they hadn’t met before — and who possessed distinctly different methodological approaches — was one of the key factors in energizing the teams’ creative output.
Sustainability, at its core, is about understanding the broad context of the designed world and arriving at a holistic appreciation of complex systems. To achieve this, it’s imperative that designers in one field understand the methodologies and factors at play in other specialties. The Fall 2007 exercise was beneficial because even as it encouraged students to wrestle with sustainable design ideas, it also reinforced the notion that disciplines must work together to develop sustainable models of ideation and action.