On Wednesday, June 15, 2016 we presented our talk “Retooling Graphic Design Assignments: Building the Framework for a Sustainable Future” at AIGA Nuts+Bolts in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Historically, to create, we destroy… and we must change this way of designing.
In an era of global warming and concerns regarding the health and wellbeing of our planet, graphic designers find themselves in a position to help change the course of our future. While contemporary practice encourages students to think about the “here” and the “now”—the client-based successes and instant gratifications of their work—the dire state in which we find the Earth calls for us to drastically refocus our efforts and to create recognition that, without changing our design methods, our way of working will eventually cease to exist.
As graphic design educators, we currently possess the tools to help build the framework for a more sustainable future. By encouraging a culture of care and ethical practice, we can bring to light the effect design solutions have over time on ourselves and the planet. But how do we go about shaping this change? How do we resonate such a dire call-to-action within our students? What are the best ways of teaching sustainable design in the classroom?
Despite our own involvement in this effort, fellow faculty may not feel comfortable adding a sustainability component into their classroom based on a lack of experience with the topic. In addition, many of our students may not have had any introduction to the issue in their foundational design courses. This presentation will showcase a sustainable packaging design project tested by the authors on three occasions over three years in three different higher education classrooms – a Research 1, a teaching university, and a small liberal arts college. In each iteration, we collected student feedback about the successes and pitfalls of the project through quantitative and qualitative surveys to further improve the success of the project going forward. This nuts and bolts sustainability packaging project also includes three tested (and successful) options for a warm-up exercise, contemporary readings and videos, and well-paced exercises and deliverables that will help both the student and educator understand the ecological systems of our world and, in-turn, design more responsibly within them. Based on our findings, the framework has been built for developing an easy-to-implement toolkit for educators to include sustainability into additional common graphic design assignments (web, book, print collateral, mobile, etc.)
Including sustainable design parameters in the classroom does not mean razing any established current course structure. Rather than a rebuild it all, we should consider it a small “home improvement” project. By retooling existing assignments and reframing the way we teach graphic design, instructors can build in sustainability components piece-by-piece in order to elicit student mindfulness towards responsible practice and a sustainable present and future.
Educators, try this project in your class! Download the project toolkit here (zip)