Exercise #4 :: Pose A Question

What does sustainable graphic design look like?
This question is the foundation underlying my thesis. My end goal is a philosophical framework capable of creating and inspiring designs that directly answer this question. In the mean time, here are some conclusions I have come to along the way all as possible answers (existing and theoretical) to this question.

1. It looks “eco-friendly”
This is an out-of-date environmentalist answer. Craft-like recycled paper, the colors brown and green, trees, flowers, grass—maybe a koala. It should look cheap and poorly done too. The closer it visually resembles the three “R’s” of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle the more sustainable it must be. This subscribes to the “hair-shirt” environmentalist mentality that environmentally-responsible design must portray the concepts of thrift and sacrifice. I am rallying against this answer.

2. It looks the same
Why does sustainable design have to look different? The materials, processes philosophy and decisions behind making an item might change, but the look need not. Good design is good design, and that’s that. This can be seen in new campaigns by Al Gore’s climate action group: the We Campaign, the This Is Reality website, etc. This is fine, the work does not necessarily show what it means to be "sustainable," but it this important? do we need to do better? Is just making the processes sustainable good enough?.

3. It looks “innovative”
If the design ideas, processes, and materials innovate and push contemporary boundaries of thought and practice, then the design look should too. Something else must be added to the design, besides it just being “good,” something that makes it more sustainable than the “looks the same” model. Perhaps it subscribes to a more progressive sort of ideal in the making: it is beautiful, emotional, serves its function, uses new technology and materials for the greater good, etc.

4. It does not exist
Perhaps the best way that design becomes sustainable is by not happening at all. Just think about it, most design simply creates waste, and that is plain un-sustainable. If that just simply went away, where would we be?