The S-word. It made its debut among popular culture a while ago, but it seems that nowadays, it's truly everywhere. In a recent article for AIGA, sustainability was referred to as "that word that seeps into everything from annual reports to dinner-time conversation...and seems, at times, unsatisfying blunt or maddeningly evasive." With the bombardment of 'go green' and 'eco-friendly' marketing schemes, the word sustainability seems to have lost some merit among audiences--after all, seeing it on your toilet cleaner, cereal box and sweater label can easily be considered overkill. I like to think of sustainability in the broader sense, not only can the designs we produce be maintained at a certain level but the designs themselves can encompass elements from the environment to reduce waste and production.
As designers our duties entail so much more than purely designing something. Yes, we may have the perfect image, impeccable kerning, and a kickass tagline--but great design encompasses so much more--it's as much about the process as it is about the finished result, it requires concept AND quality production. Unfortunately, more often than not--these elements are not given equal weight in the design process. Students are particularly skilled in the "command+p" mentality--we design, we print, we hand-in. Very little attention is paid to production methods or material selection (in regards to the environment), when in reality these factors are just as important as the colors we choose or the size of our type. To be fair, we are limited by minimal budgets and a lack of resources, but it's important to start considering ALL of the possibilities that design can have. In a world where technology has evened the playing field for creatives--the tools and technology of our trade are accessible to everyone--we often don't take advantage of what's available, especially things within our immediate environment/surroundings.
A recent project by Happiness Brussels (designed by Anthony Burrill in London) has been receiving a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. In an effort to raise money for the Coalition to Restore Louisiana, an organization dedicated to cleaning Louisiana's coastline after the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, a silk-screened poster was produced. Although seemingly simple and straightforward in appearance, the poster's impact comes from the materials used to produce it--collections of oil deposits from Louisiana's shoreline act as the ink in a process that traditionally uses water-based inks. The literal play on words in conjunction with the symbolic use of materials create a powerful juxtaposition that is inherently reliable on the relationship between concept and execution. This is a perfect example of how designers can use their method of production and materials to add a whole other dimension to their work, giving it substance and challenging the way people perceive the issue at hand. Two other powerful examples include the creation of rocking chairs (a symbolic peace sculpture) out of melted guns or commemorative pottery glazed with volcanic ash collected from the Mount St. Helens eruption. The contradiction between material and product is truly beautiful and provides a powerful foundation for discussion, while the concept of reusing materials as a means to produce something completely different is a practice that can yield interesting and innovative results.
Happiness Brussels (Anthony Burrill) http://www.gulfofmexico2010.com/
Hirasuna, Delphine. "The Medium Is the Message" http://www.atissuejournal.com
AIGA. "Reexamining the S Word" http://www.livingprinciples.org/reexamining-the-s-word/