Thursday, April 5th, 2007

I believe that design can change

I believe that design can change
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I’m not good with numbers, but I find them interesting nevertheless. For example, you and I spend a lot of money. In fact, if you are a member of the AIGA, you take part in purchasing or specifying over $9 billion of printing and paper per year. At the risk of sounding obtuse, I have to say, “That’s a lot.”

Let me give you another number: 81 million tons. That’s the amount of paper waste you and I helped generate over the past year. How about this one? More than a million. That’s how many species are expected to be at risk of extinction by 2,050 as a result of global warming. Another? $11 billion. That’s the average cost of climate-related disasters in Europe during the 80s and 90s.

These numbers make me lay awake at night thinking about the future my seven month old son has to look forward to. I suspect they are just as worrisome to someone like you.

The first steps

At our studio, we read about sustainability and committed to become more responsible. We started to use only 100% PCW papers and tried to look critically at the choices made at our studio. At the same time we felt a little dismayed; it didn’t seem like we were doing enough.

smashLAB is tiny, so changes in our studio don’t add up to much. Plus, we mostly work online and in brand design, which results in very little printing. These facts left us thinking there was little we could do to combat climate change. Perhaps we were better off to let the politicians and environmentalists sort this one out.

Changing my mindset

In my early twenties I became a vegetarian. Initially, I could only think of what I was giving up. I missed hamburgers, steaks, and bacon. (Mmmm… sweet, sweet bacon.) It took months to move past this outlook. (Mmmm… bacon.) With time however, I became aware of the options available to me.

Having grown up in a small town, I had not been exposed to Indian, Thai or Singaporean food— cuisines which often feature meat-free dishes. Needless to say, I had no awareness of Buddhist food, which I now find quite delightful. As a result of vegetarianism I became more open and aware of alternatives. Today I consider a continental meat-based North American diet somewhat dull.

I have learned that it’s difficult to think outside of the familiar, and the notion of sustainability was one which I could only apply to my own limited experience. While I was wrapped up in thinking about what our studio had to stop doing (i.e. printing on virgin fiber), I was missing out on the opportunity.

An insight

We ask clients to candidly consider their weaknesses and strengths when we work with them. In considering our firm’s ability to affect climate change, we asked ourselves the same questions.

Our weaknesses were clear: Our organization is small and has negligible influence. We had limited financial resources and our knowledge of the topic was limited. Our strengths, on the other hand, included being able to craft and distribute messages. Additionally, we could gain access to the required information. We also counted our motivation to “do good” as an asset.

This process led to a pivotal insight: We are members of a widely-distributed network with access to numerous decision makers. If we could create a sensible campaign and distribute it to our colleagues and friends, we could potentially leverage our collective strength.

Looking outside the confines of our studio and thinking of ourselves as part of a whole exposed our true strength, and that marked the beginning of Design Can Change.


Over the next ten months, we researched, engaged in debate, compiled content, built information graphics, stared at endless lines of code, and started to loathe the word “sustainability”. On many days we just wanted to go back to our lives before the project.

We struggled with our lack of knowledge. With no formal education in sustainability, we worried that it was inappropriate for us to broach the topic. As a result, we were thorough in our research and sought partners to help us with the effort.

Additionally, we accepted that as unqualified as we were, it was better to act than stand idly by. We felt it foolish to wait for some savior to solve the problem. We felt that as average citizens, it was our duty to contribute something.

What it is

Design Can Change encourages graphic designers to pool their influence and impact climate change. In some respects it is a starting point for designers who wish to embrace sustainable practices. It is a resource that contains project samples, reading lists and tools. Additionally, it is a directory that allows conscientious buyers of creative services to connect with like-minded designers. It is a framework that helps enable a sustainable mindset in a designers work. It is a pledge to do our best as professionals who have a responsibility to future generations.

It’s up to all of us

Take the next while to visit The presentation is straight forward and easy to skim. Think about what we’re proposing, and please take the pledge. If you share our hopes, I ask you to also lend a hand. We need to reach every one of our colleagues with this message. You can help by doing the following:

– If you have a blog, post about Design Can Change and your efforts to become sustainable
– Download one of the logos below and place it on your website with a link to:
– Grab a copy of this PDF and send it to the designers you know, asking them to take the pledge

There are few other professions in which ethics and social responsibility are as sincerely measured as in the field of graphic design. I believe that is why design can change: because of people like you. Please join us.

Logos for download

There are two sizes for your use, depending on your site’s design.

dcc tab 120x60
Above: Design Can Change Logo 120×60

dcc tab 56x31
Above: Design Can Change Logo 65×31

Please Digg this page

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Comments & Trackbacks

  1. BJ Vicks says:

    Kudos on this initiative. These are issues I've been grappling with in laying the foundations for my business, and having more resources for sharing solutions to common problems will surely help others who are of a similar mindset.

    Quick note: There's a spelling error on the signup form's second checkbox label: announcements

  2. Brian Fling says:

    Very cool idea. Something I've been thinking about for a while. Let me know if there is anything Blue Flavor can do to help.

  3. Jamie Burton says:

    Thank you. What a wonderful presentation. I believe many designers and non-designers will benefit from this and begin making changes.

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  5. Gerry says:

    Thank you for putting together a fantastic, informative presentation.
    I've often cringed when thinking of the amount of paper our shop uses everyday, from faxes to laser prints to printed pieces. Now I can start to put that guilt to work on something positive. I'll look into putting your link onto our blog. Keep up the good work!

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  7. shawnpetriw says:


    Georgeous work, as always, but you're jumping on a bandwagon of questionable science, and a questionable presentation of it.

    First off, do the math.

    Secondly, your charts art straight out of "How to lie with statistics."

    Thirdly, none of the proponents of the CO2 theory of climate change ever stop to consider that the original heat source (sun) changes temperatures. It could all be the sun's fault.

    Here's another take on the above.

    And finally, aren't you glad we didn't listen to the doomsday scientists back in 1975?

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  9. niko514 says:

    Marvelous. People NEED to change and its a great step for us to start with.

  10. Excellent endeavour guys! While I agree that there is a huge amount of media-driven hype over climate change, I have always felt quite passionately that our species needs to lessen its impact on the planet. In the past it was all about reducing pollution, now the media and politicians have spun it into "climate change". I've read enough history books to know that the world's climate does change and goes through cycles (we spent the last century coming out of a mini-ice age that had predominated the earth during the 1800s), so whether or not what we do today will make life "more comfortable" remains to be seen. But living locally and thinking gobally has been and always will be a good thing, no matter what your motivation!

  11. Jon says:

    When was the last time you read an IPPC report or sat down with a climatologist or scientist in a related field? If I hear one more person say that 'climate change' is a theory, I will...

    So it's the Sun, eh?
    According to PMOD at the World Radiation Center there has been no increase in solar irradiance since at least 1978, when satellite observations began. This means that for the last thirty years, while the temperature has been rising fastest, the sun has not changed. Hmm...

    What about that water vapor? I guess we shouldn't worry about Co2 at all!
    If you were to read through the table of climate forcings in the IPCC report or at NASA's page about forcings in its GCM, you won't find water vapor there at all. This is not because climate scientists are trying to hide the role of water vapor, rather it is because H2O in the troposphere is a feedback effect, it is not a forcing agent. Simply put, any artificial perturbation in water vapor concentrations is too short lived to change the climate.

    Remmeber - newspapers are written by reporters who can (a) be lazy and (b) just want to write something thats stirrs the pot. What does not help, is that there are many mis-information campaigns out there created by groups like "Friends of Science" who drop articles like this on news desks everywhere.. an they get printed.. because a few reporters are lazy..

    anyways.. Good website! Nice design. Great info graphics. Keep it up!

  12. shawnpetriw says:


    "Climage change" is definitely happening. It's just the main cause that's debatable (I said the change being caused by C02 is a theory, not that the actual change was).

    I do know the leading scientists on the subject are certainly NOT in full agreement, and in fact a group have put together their own documentary, called The Great Global Warming Swindle, to combat what they consider to be misleading untruths in Al Gore's film.

    Watch the film on Google Videohere.

  13. shawnpetriw says:


    Go to 1 hour into the video I linked for some damning comments on the IPCC report you mention. The IPCC report (or any report to come out of the UN) is a political report and not necessarily based on good science.

  14. Jess Sand says:

    Eric, you asked me to let you know when The Sustainable Studio goes live on BoDo. It's live:

    This is going to be a monthly column in which I explore these issues from the designer's viewpoint—including taking a look at the rhetoric and trying to find ractical solutions for design professionals. Future articles will include topics like implementing a sustainable workflow, specifying greener, discussing the issues with clients, and even the larger implications of our field.

    I'll shamelessly ask that if you dig it, could you please plug it as appropriate? I'd really like to see this discussion continue throughout our field.


  15. Thanks to all of you for your comments and feedback--it's all greatly appreciated. :-)

    Jess, thanks for the article. We're really happy to see this become a long-standing topic on BODO. Kudos!


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  17. shanti says:

    Great presentation. Loved the presentation, moreover, I loved the toolkit part of it more. Knowing that the problem isn't enough without being able to act on it on an individual level though another part of the problem is on a policy level as well.

    Maybe I've missed this when I browsed the GDC/BC's website, I am wondering what are the GDC/BC's initiative around the sustainability? I saw the AIGA has an initiative around sustainability by having the Centre for Sustainable Design. What about a section of the website that houses resources and offers discussions to show the ways for graphic designers to be a sustainable designers? Sometimes, going green is not just a matter of expensive, but also the immediacy of the resources to be able to do it. Just a thought.

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  20. Great goals. I mean it. But it as a call to action I found it ironic that not to many are going to hear the call...

    Any reason why the site is completely inaccessible, unsearchable and reliant on JavaScript to serve up a 100% site? Even Google thinks the site is only one page deep. Methinks you should at least consider _some_ static content. None of the content is bookmarkable.

  21. Hi John,

    Thanks for the comments and feedback. You make some good points, and we did consider these before developing the site. That being said, we felt that mass accessibility wasn't the primary concern, given our intended audience.

    Most of our projects are built to W3C accessibility standards; however, as we were building the site primarily for graphic designers, we felt it was less of a concern than the sites we create for more general audiences.

    As I'm sure you know, every interactive project requires some level of compromise. Often making things more accessible reduces some of the visual appeal, and vice versa. We feel that these are decisions that have to be made on a per project basis. Could this site have been built better? Yes, certainly; nevertheless, given its audience and purpose, I'm quite comfortable with the compromises made.

    As for the bookmarks, give that another try. The entire site is bookmark-able.



  22. inel says:

    This site is just what I have been looking for: sleek visuals that present the issue clearly. I blog about climate change with an emphasis on making it clear and simple enough for middle school kids to understand key points and know where to go for ideas on taking action. They appreciate the issue better than many adults, and I am always looking for visual representations of the facts and have already used plenty from the IPCC and NOAA! Well, it is good to see more graphic designers joining the effort to combat climate change.

    As far as John Lascurettes' comments are concerned, I share his concerns, as I always do when excellent graphics appear to be wasted by being embedded and unsearchable. The Vattenfall website falls short on speed, accessibility and search engine access too.

    However, as long as bloggers discover your website, and describe it in words that search engines can pick up on, you can spread the word about anything these days. So that's what I intend to do.

    As far as shawnpetriw's comments are concerned: ignore them. He is peddling misrepresentations of science by a minority who twist the truth. Basing your information on IPCC reports is exactly what graphic designers should do.

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  24. Rian says:

    I felt that the social network for sustainable designers was the most unique and promising aspect of this project. There are so many climate change web sites appearing since An Inconvenient Truth was released, having one that speaks and mobilizes designers specifically will be a huge step forward.

    Any word on when the community features of the site will be open to the public? I only ask because it has been much more than "two weeks" since the site launched (two months I believe).

  25. Hi Rian,

    Thanks for the comment--I'm happy to hear that you find the site useful.

    The member listing area... Yes, I know... We've been bad about that one. We really did intend to have that online some time ago; however, it has been a very busy couple of months. (Sadly, we've had to push back a few Design Can Change updates, so that we can keep helping clients with projects that need to be completed.)

    That being said, we do hope to get to that particular function again very shortly. In the meanwhile, however, you may find this interesting. We've recently created forums for designers to share ideas on the topic. It's still brand new, so not many posts yet, but we think it will be a great venue for discussion. Visit it here:

    (And we'll try to get that directory online as soon as possible--thanks for your patience.)

  26. Gong Szeto says:

    brilliant post, and gobsmacked over kudos. i just post to my blog about this.

    cheers from new mexico, gs.

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