The Design Economy by Valeria Hedman
Summary / introduction
Sustainability issues of products and materials have been widely recognised and discussed for a number of years now. Everywhere we look we see how a linear materials economy threatens not only the natural environment but also consequently imperils the survival of a linear production industry, since it will have nothing to produce if the raw resources are indeed consumed. But how do we address issues of sustainability within our own economy, the design industry?
As designers, we don’t mine for materials, but for ideas. We don’t extract natural resources, but thoughts and knowledge. We plant information and harvest concepts. Design production is carried out on desks, sketchbooks and hard drives, rather than factory floors (although our studio spaces might once have housed other industries).
Our products might sometimes be intangible, but nothing is as solid as an idea well executed. And so our work is expressed, packaged and distributed for others to consume and subsequently dispose. The ideas that we extract, produce and distribute get carried along through our very own linear system – the design economy.
Image: Cover design by Emigré
So how can we sustain a perpetual creative industry? What are the challenges and reforms facing our economy? Where are the opportunities and the new approaches? Well, here are some.
Mining for ideas requires access to previous knowledge and information supplied by others.
A // A new approach to authorship is the Creative Commons project briefly explained as “Free as in free speech, not free beer”. Really great when pitching ideas, can be a problem if you actually want to use something commercially, but nonetheless a very important tool and consideration.
B // The forever interesting debate between Open Source and Free Software, whichever you fancy, are both still contributing to new opportunities to share knowledge and information and that affects us designers pretty much.
As in any production process, the added ingredients in the manufacturing procedure will end up being part of the produce. Be it toxics in our materials or dishonest information, our work has an impact further down the line.
A // Designers like Jessica Helfand call for design reform. “Simply put, this means being a human being first, a designer second.” Although a couple of years old, it’s still an interesting read.
Link: On Citizenship and Humanity: An Appeal for Design Reform
B // Creative minds are also finding alternatives and real solutions for a more responsible design approach. Three Trees Don’t Make a Forrest was set up last year and are pushing the envelope.
“For a designer the solutions go deeper than just trying to convince our clients and suppliers to go green. Climate change demands integrity and there should be no time or space given to green wash. To really affect change the commitment must lie with us first and, like giving up all habitual habits, there will be challenging times ahead but the pay off is global on the feel good scale.”
Link: Three Trees Don’t Make a Forrest
Ideas and concepts are worthless unless they are somehow expressed. The mediums that we use to express our work play a major role in communicating our messages.
A // Designers around the world are revisiting the “medium as message” concept: Venezuelas new Constitution, with 350 articles, is among the world’s longest, most complicated, and most comprehensive constitution. In order for ordinary people to be reached by this new and important information, the articles (including right to free education, universal health care, rights of minorities) where printed on the back of everyday food items such as beans, rice and cereals. Genius:)
Link: Canola oil with Article 80
B // David Ogilvy was a famous adman that disliked billboards already in the 60s. We know they are rubbish (increasingly viewed as visual pollution) and a stealth medium (made out of the most durable materials man can make) that is offering nothing in return to those who are compelled to look at them day in and day out. Also a huge reason why people dislike advertising in general.
And we could just stop designing for them. No more 800 point type:) And more importantly, we could use more exciting mediums when developing a campaign. Here is a designer who took it one step further…
Link: Tree in front of Billboard
Design shapes our assumptions about what is norm and as designers we play a major role in promoting uncompromising consumerism and thus recasting citizens into consumers.
A // From the prime example of designing proper voting ballots to signage that is inclusive, there are many ways we can directly influence this recasting of roles and they include providing design that facilitates participation in public as well as civic life. Check out who’s saying what.
Link: Readings In Cultural Citizenship And Popular Culture
B // We could also stop calling them consumers and start considering them as our audiences. And then we can implement proper product labels on consumer products that actually enable people to make informed choices. A new and disputed proposal is the Carbon Footprint label on every product. Read more about it here.
Link: The Carbon Label
If knowledge and ideas are extracted, produced, distributed and consumed as commodities, what is left of them is their long-term influence on our audiences? A linear system makes it difficult to convert the gained experience into a resource we can actually make use of.
Closing the loop has been the goal of industry leaders for many years and with the aid of evaluative procedures our audiences can talk back to us and we can finally have a real conversation.
Howard Luck Gossage was another famous adman who pioneered the use of “offline” interaction in his communication. “Three decades before the word interactive became fashionable, Gossage was using coupons in his ads, partly so that he could measure their effect, but primarily because he wanted to initiate a dialog between his customers and his clients.”
Maybe the coupon thing is not my cup of tea, but the idea that the audience should be somehow rewarded is truly interesting.
Link: Article about Howard Luck Gossage
Netdiver asked all fab scouts to answer some questions..
#1 – Greatest moment?
One of the most influential moments of my career has got to be working on a poster for the University of the Arts London together with fellow designer Falko Grentrup, since we enjoyed collaborating so much that it became clear we had a special creative connection and it marked the beginning of what is now Transfer Studio.
#2 – What next?
According to DesignWeek the British design industry will start to feel the effects of the global financial turbulence in 3 months time. Just in time for Christmas break :)
artwork / All is full of Love
Valeria Hedman is a Swedish graphic designer currently working as creative director for Transfer Studio, a London based creative agency. Honoured with a design masters from Central Saint Martins, she is part of a new breed of creatives who are making valuable contributions to the European design and cultural scene.
Her work has been recognized by among others the D&AD, the UK’s creative sector body for excellence, education and enterprise, and EULDA, Europe’s high-profile graphic design scheme as well as featured in several publications.
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