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Sensible Design for Our Changing World

I’m a huge fan of sensible design for our changing world. As a designer, I often struggle with the negative impact of my profession on the environment, and for years, I’ve been working to minimize it. I try to do my part – I keep learning, keep preaching to our clients, and continue trying to make a difference. Some of my education has been in the form of conferences. I attended Compost Modern, a conference for Designing for a Sustainable Future, which took place in SF in January. The conference offered an opportunity to listen to a large number of cutting-edge thinkers present a wide range of inspiring topics around socially- and environmentally-sustainable design. The format used was one that I’m seeing more of recently – tons of speakers jammed into one day, each speaking for a short period of time (5 min or 18 min). No Q&A. I’m on the fence with this format, besides being exhausting, most of the presentations aren’t long or in-depth enough to be very thought provoking. But what this format does do is leave you with pages of notes, and if you can find the time (which I haven’t quite yet), it gives you a huge amount of background to start your own research, learning and thinking. The last time I attended this conference, the focus was on environmental issues relating to design. This year the conference speakers seemed to focus more on how design can impact social issues, which I find really fascinating. The idea of using the channels that are already in place, the dollars that have already been allocated, and the talent that can create great products and messaging to affect a social issue is brilliant. A great example of this is the (RED) campaign. (You can do your own research at joinred.com) And it seems that there are more examples every day of companies that are trying harder to be environmentally and socially responsible throughout the entire design and production pipeline. A great example of this is PACT underwear. (Again, you can do your own research at wearPACT.com) It’s all very inspiring – that we, as designers, can actually make a huge positive impact on our world. Conferences like this take me through a bell curve of emotions. I begin the morning in my normal state – feeling not so good about my profession’s negative contribution to environmental issues, but wanting to change that. Then I start hearing about these amazing ideas and positive impact – I start sliding up the bell. About mid-afternoon, I reach the top – my brain is totally immersed in creativity, and I feel like I can change the world. Then I bring myself back to reality and start sliding down the other side. I get overwhelmed. I think: “These are only a handful of great examples. There are a million bad examples that are banned from this conference.” I start thinking about my own experiences and the challenges of budgets, timing, etc. when trying to “do the right thing.” Just as I’m just hitting rock bottom, I remind myself of the thing that keeps me researching, learning and thinking: that there is no such thing as a small change – every contribution helps. While the conference presents us with the best of the best, the presenters are there to inspire us, continue our thinking, get us to research and think outside of the box. And then it is up to us – designers – to always remember – any little change we can make really will make a difference.

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