By Scott Boylston
It was encouraging to see so much attention lavished on sustainable design at the most recent AIGA Educating Designers Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. (http://socialstudiesconference.org/about).
Hosted by MICA (Maryland Institute, College of Art), the conference was entitled ‘Social Studies: Educating Designers in a Connected World,’ and featured categories such as Activism, Community Service, Social Media, and Crossing Cultures. But the main auditorium of the conference was dedicated to sessions on Sustainability, and large audiences gathered for each session.
Some highlights of the conference included a keynote address by Scott Stowell, proprietor of Open (www.notclosed.com) and past designer at Tibor Kalman’s legendary New York studio, M&Co. Stowell discussed a wide array of his studio’s recent work, including his editorial design for Good Magazine (www.goodmagazine.com), a unique publication that donates subscription fees to various good causes. Through professional case studies, Aaris Sherin highlighted innovations in design thinking that led to holistically sustainable solutions, rather than solutions that merely possessed individual sustainable attributes. Sherin’s book “SustainAble: A Handbook of Materials and Applications for Graphic Designers and Their Clients,” includes a wealth of information that will empower designers to make the right material choices, even as it inspires them to re-imagine the role that designers can play in the decision making process. An essay written by Blake Coglianese, based on his MFA thesis at SCAD, is included in the book. Another SCAD alum, Leslie Jensen-Inman (BFA, 2002) presented a city-wide plant-a-tree project created by her students at the University of Tennesee at Chattanooga .
Eric Benson from the University of Chicago at Champaigne-Urbana, and creator of the popular sustainable design website re-nourish (www.re-nourish.com), presented ideas for innovative graphic design pedagogy with Peter Fine of New Mexico State. Barbara Sudick, who holds the Nierenberg Chair at Carnegie Mellon University, offered an eloquent argument for defining sustainability as a ‘new literacy.’ Sudick suggested that designers can produce more socially relevant work by applying frameworks informed by indigenous knowledge. After Sudick’s presentation, I offered the audience a glimpse of material from my upcoming book on sustainable package design, due out this coming February.
The lasting impression from the event was that sustainable thinking is finally seeping more broadly and more deeply into the graphic design field, in both the professional and the educational realms. While people with a shallow understanding of the subject might see it as a trend likely to fade, individuals dedicated to codifying the profession’s relationship to processes, behaviors, and messages that are less damaging to the environment and more respectful toward the greater social good are making great strides in establishing a stable foundation that clarifies the necessity for a permanent presence of these ideas within the industry.