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Design Ethos Recap

Knowledge-sharing around the topic of sustainable design.


As part of the increasing effort by SCAD to encourage knowledge-sharing around the topic of sustainable design, the college held its 1st Design Ethos conference this past weekend. For an inaugural event they managed to gather a veritable who’s who of the eco-design world with names like John Bielenberg of Project M, Joshua Onysko of Pangea  and Eric Benson of renourish to name just a few. The event’s main goal is to,

“bring together design educators and practitioners who are wrestling with these difficult issues in an attempt to help define the next step in graphic design’s continuing evolution.”

This past Saturday I got a chance to take part in one of the panel discussions at entitled “The Triple Bottom Line and the Need for a New Professionalism.”There I had a chance to share some of the challenges and successes we’ve experience working with a range of corporate and non-profit clients and transition ourselves into a more sustainable practice. But the real treat was in the Q&A afterwards when I shared the stage with Brian Dougherty of Celery Design, Cheryl Heller of Heller Communications Design and  Linda Doherty of Citizen Studio.

The questions were extremely varied but a few recurring themes started to emerge:

Designers should learn some psychology as part of their education.

This is something I’ve felt for a long time, and the longer I work in this beloved field of ours the more I’m convinced that we need to know more about our client’s personal motivations, emotional decision making and cognitive biases than we do fonts, kerning and drop shadows. At the end of the day, people do business with people. So facts, figures and charts aren’t going to convince clients they should use PCW paper or print less, YOU are. By the way you treat them and show your commitment to their business. Which reminds me…

Don’t be afraid to involve the client in the design process more

To the uninitiated, there’s always going to be an appearance of “magic” to what we do. But the more you demystify the process for your clients the more they feel involved and  (here comes that psychology again) emotionally invested in the result. Cheryl (that’s right, we’re on a 1st name basis) shared some insight from an article she wrote where she commented on how we designers tend to blame the bad work on the clients and take credit for the good work. Our role should be more of a facilitator of the creation process than order-taker or magician. Plus if we’re all part of the team that came up with the final product, there’s less of a blame game since everyone feels responsible for the outcome.

There are no set easy answers

We repeatedly answered “well it depends on the client” and “it’s up to you” to a lot of the questions we fielded, which might have been a bit frustrating for the attendants but it gets at an unavoidable truth about our industry: we’re making a lot of this up as we go along. Of course there are patterns and best practices, but each project/ client/ account is going to present new challenges, especially when you add the challenge of balancing the triple bottom line to the mix.

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.