Where Graphic Design is Failing

Green Graphic & Packaging Design

When Valerie Casey founded the Designers Accord in 2007 to create awareness of sustainability issues in graphic design, she hoped it would be a short term project. One that would start the conversation and put in place industry standards for sustainability that would become the norm. Five years later, though, even with all the movement’s success, too many sustainable graphic design books, events, and conversations are still focused around the introductory topic of what sustainable design is, and why it’s important, instead of innovating beyond what should be obvious by now.

So why isn’t the sustainable graphic design conversation progressing?

New techniques and innovations in ecocentric paper, printing, inks, technology, materials, and manufacturing are being developed at a rapid pace. Yet, instead of discussing new inventions and techniques that affect the lifecycle of our deliverables, an embarrassing number of designers either don’t know that sustainability is an issue, or think that their responsibility stops at recycled paper and soy ink (hint: there’s a lot more to it than that).

For a progressive group of people like designers who constantly ask the question “What will the future of design look like?”, it seems everyone should be aware that regardless of what the aesthetics may be, the future of design must be sustainable because the business world is changing. As evidence, almost every large corporation today has a Director of Sustainability, or at least a public waste reduction plan. As consumers and governments become more aware of the world’s finite resources and start to demand more responsible companies, it will be the design firm of the future who will deliver those ecocentric solutions to meet the needs of the new business world.

So why isn’t this awareness sweeping through graphic design the way it has through other design industries? Perhaps it’s because our creative counterparts who design buildings, spaces, and products learn about sustainability issues in school. They also have certifications setting a baseline from which to start, and then push beyond. If communication design schools could add sustainable design thinking to their curriculum, not only would it create that needed baseline for our industry, but it would also produce an army of young, motivated designers equipped with this new (and much needed) set of tools – ready to offer great value to any design firm / business.

Relying solely on the educational system to rescue our industry is folly, though, because the need for sustainability has already occurred, and our industry must act immediately. Those interested in sustainable design must begin pushing beyond the basics. We need to seek out and share our innovations, processes, and successes. No more intro to sustainability. Let’s take the conversation to the next level and start making real change happen. In the words of Ric Grefé, “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevancy even less.”

What do you think?

Gage Mitchell (article author) is partner and Designer at Modern Species, a sustainable brand design studio specializing in the organic products industry. Past AIGA Wisconsin and Charlotte board member. Adopter of the Designers Accord. Editorial Director of the Living Principles website.

This article appeared in GDUSA’s September 2012 Issue and on LivingPrinciples.org in November 2012.