Design can change patterns

Now, I have to admit that being in the Design sphere, my pet love was Print design in the beggining of my career. I was always thrilled to start on a new project as I just loved paper. I find them fascinating in their colour, texture and the end result when ink is printed on them. The crisp typographic edges I would look at under my magnifier would give me immense pleasure when a print project is finished. I loved going through the thick paper catalogues to choose the appropriate paper to support my designs. But as the years passed by, electronic ‘paper’ became my most used surface to lay out the hours of design spills my brain will pour out. The recent awareness of protecting the environment has made me take a new step at looking at paper use with a new eye.

And a new conscience.

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Last week’s UN conference in Bangkok about climate change made it clear once more: mankind has to change its consumption patterns pretty soon to save the planet. For today, PingMag is trying to show some possible small steps towards that: instead of ranting about environmental issues, Canadian design agency smashLAB made a start to raise awareness amongst graphic designers. With their web project Design Can Change they want to provide a forum for all sorts of information regarding sustainability, for example a Green Paper Guide, a list of paper companies using less chemically treated paper.

Eric, when did you start with the Design Can Change project?

We started looking at how we could become more sustainable about 3 years ago, but it was only about a year ago that we really started to research it more: most of the resources available were for architects or product designers – but not for graphic designers that mostly work with posters, books, magazines, or brochures.

So your own work was the initial trigger?

In our situation, we just wanted to know how to waste less energy. As a small firm, we can only make so much of a difference in our own work. But if we get other designers to share the same idea we might have more power to make a difference. That is why we try to provide the Design Can Change forum online. It is necessary that people share information as rapidly as they possibly can.

Ah, your main idea is building an ecologically conscious community, then?

Exactly. It’s funny because designers are in this unique spot where they are connected to all of the businesses and can actually affect things starting from the concept stage. For example, I met someone today who works for a company that prints brochures and catalogues in 40 different countries and ships thousands of catalogues around. If he just switches to using more friendly paper, that might have an impact. Or, if you convince a client to use a digital brochure like a PDF file for their annual report, this wouldn’t only be far more cost-effective…

And Design can Change is non-commercial?

There wasn’t a way to do it commercially, and it wasn’t intended to create a profit. Perhaps a notion was the responsibility our profession has to do something good overall, I suppose. It is an ethical thing, as it doesn’t make any business sense. Of course, we were very careful about the fact that we weren’t sustainability experts by any means. We are just a design shop that aggregated information and wanted to share it with the community

On the Design Can Change website you present a Green Paper Guide, a list of paper companies using less chemically treated paper, a Checklist For Sustainability for double-checking throughout the designing process, and a pledge for graphic designers to change their attitude. First, your Green Paper Guide is a list of papers from various companies and their scale of eco-friendliness: where did you gather all the info?

It was a mix: we sourced a couple of other organisations who had similar data out, and we went through all the different paper manufactures we could find to collect their data. But it is really difficult to keep up as the paper companies are changing quite rapidly. In addition, it is very much focussed on North American. Even as it was, it took quite a while and to do it on a global scale would have been an enormous amount of work.

By the way, all of your PDFs have a nice phrase on top, saying: Please do not print this document. It looks nicer on your screen and can help save a tree. Nicely put… Do you think people might switch completely to digital paper in the future?

There will always be a need for printed material – books are so tactile. But a brochure is a good example: people print because they are in the habit of printing. That is not necessarily the most effective way of communicating a message, and it often gets thrown in the trash immediately anyway.

Let’s get to the guide lines: Sustainable Design Checklist, the Design Can Change pledge tries to influence the designer towards a sustainable mindset. Do you have any action in mind as a next step?

The first step was to share a general notion. We are spending a lot of time trying to contact as many designers as possible, to get them on board. For a while now, as a company, we are going to take a bit of a break and let it bubble on its own. Also, we had more suggestions from people who do parallel work in other organisations, like for example Eric Benson from re-nourish. Also, the AIGA has a sustainability effort.

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