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The Green Imperative: Still relevant after all these years

The role or designers in sustainability.


Image from Elastic, Just Looking

There are few things more satisfying than starting the year off with a good book. My starter book this year was The Green Imperative by Victor Papanek, designer, eco-design pioneer and author of Design for the Real World.

I know I’m a bit late, but even though it was published 14 years ago, Papnek’s second book communicates insights and levels some warnings that are still applicable today. Thankfully there have been tremendous advances made in the design world since then, as far as an awareness of our role in sustainability, but reading this book reminds me that much more has to be done.

Why Read This Book?

1.It’s the end of January already, you haven’t made a dent in your resolutions list and you need a quick sense of accomplishment.

2. You’re one of the growing population of conscientious designers looking to get a good top-level understanding of our role in the plan to rescue the planet.

3. You’re neck-deep in paper swatches, client meetings and mock-ups and are thinking to yourself, “There must be more to being a designer than this?”

4. You agree with this statement:

“…the crucial issue for designers today concerns systems, processes and foods that protect the environment and are ecologically benign, and that the other almost equally important areas are those that designers have frequently neglected – the elderly, the disadvantaged and all other who have special needs.”

5. You’re curious about what these phrases mean; Vernacular Architecture, Life Cycle Analysis, Design for Disassembly, Distributive Production.

6. You want to know who the greatest designers on the planet are, at least in the eyes of Mr. Papanek. (hint – it’s not Pentagram)

7. You’ve always had a suspicion that the way we designers think (upside down thinking, thinking backwards, ideating, design thinking or whatever you want to call it) could save the world but didn’t have any solid evidence to back up your hypothesis.

8. You share in Mr. Papanek’s view of the future of our industry:

  • There will be a demand for some designers who are specialists in ecological design. But all design education should be based on ecological methods and ideas. This would involve incorporating studies in the scientific method, biology, anthropology, cultural geography, social ecology, philosophy and ethics.
  • There will be a greater emphasis on permanence, quality and craftsmanship in designed products. The styles of the future will be based on products that age gracefully rather than quickly changing fads, trends.
  • Designers and manufacturers will need to question the ultimate consequences of a new product being introduced. Profit balances and production quotas are not enough.
  • There must be a greater concern for and a deeper understanding of nature, and this will be a preserving and healing force for the global environment.
  • It will be understood that no design stands on its own: all design has social, ecological and environmental consequences that need to be evaluated and discussed in a common forum.

I recommend this book, as it was recommended to me, as part of any responsible designer’s reference library

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” – Goethe

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Andrew Davies

Drew's degrees in Illustration, 2D animation and Broadcast Design, and his volleyball skillz mean he can get your design done and play well with others at the same time. He’s the Creative Director at Paragon and will call you out if you start hanging out with shady-looking fonts and messing around with whacked-out color palettes.

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