A Challenge to Graphic Designers

Green Graphic & Packaging Design

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Earlier this month, the AIGA MN held its annual graphic Design Show at Shelter Studios in Northeast Minneapolis. This year, the practicing sustainability professionals that make up the MCAD’s Sustainable Design Online (SDO) program’s instructor list were asked to participate in the eco-award portion of the show. I led the team to rewrite the criteria for the Green Leaf Award and we judged the subsequent entries. (See the earlier blog entry for more detail.)

This year, there were very few entries for the Green Leaf Award and not much for sustainable design innovation. What this suggests is that there is lots of opportunity to educate the graphic design industry and lots of opportunity for innovation. Few designers in the industry understand sustainability, nor do they think much beyond specifying some lightly recycled paper.

We did award one project an honorable mention: Pat’s Tap menus and collateral pieces. There was little exceptional about this example, save that the client was very interested in sustainability. Pat’s Tap restaurant, the latest in a long line of Minneapolis neighborhood chef-driven gastro-pub, is one of the few Gold LEED® certified restaurants in the state of Minnesota. The client has invested time and money into meeting a clear eco-standard for the physical restaurant space and to some degree in the food offerings with local beers and some food sourcing.

But the work that the designer did for this client did not meet that same level or standards. The designer could have specified more sustainable papers, instead choosing over the counter office big box 10% recycled fare. Yes the virgin paper is FSC-certified, but in some cases only virgin is used, when 100% recycled could have easily done the job. The designer also misinterpreted the spec sheets from the paper company and wrote down some facts incorrectly on the entry form. This actually points to the poor documentation of the paper companies, which is an issue that sustainable designers face when trying to evaluate options. It was nearly impossible to make a clear assessment of the eco-attributes of a specific paper color and style without cross-referencing multiple sources. Also, the paper company’s product names did not match the product names on the FSC website when we went to verify the FSC certification.

I was asked to speak after the main show judges’ panel at the show opening on Friday night. I explained the MCAD judges decision to not award a winner for the Green Leaf Award and to only offer an honorable mention. The unambitious design tactics for the Pat’s Tap project did not meet the standards that the graphic design industry needs to maintain for sustainable design. We can do better.

And we will. This year, let graphic designers, professionals and students alike, challenge themselves to do better and to get visibility for their efforts in shows like this one, in blogs and other media. It is important to get the word out that there are better ways to design and that MCAD’s SDO program is training designers to meet the challenges that our clients face.

Leaf image courtesy of @whologwhy

Holly Robbins

Holly Robbins is a partner and creative director of This Is Folly, a design concern in Minneapolis. Prior, Holly was a creative manager/director at Target Corporation for eight years, worked at various advertising agencies and design firms, co-founded the design partnership called Studio Flux and did a tour of duty at Greenpeace. No matter where she works, Holly always strives to advance the cause of ecologically-sustainable design, partnering with such organizations as the AIGA/MN, GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition and MCAD, to develop design guidelines and award criteria, and to advance professional sustainable design education. Holly is based in Minnesota.