It’s finally here! Our book Design to Renourish: Sustainable Graphic Design in Practice is available!
The process of writing the book has been quite a journey! After two full years filled with many dizzying twists and turns, Design to Renourish has arrived.
This book is for graphic designers who want to create sustainable work. The idea of designing for people, planet, and profit makes sense, but it can be discouraging when clients (and, as it turns out, publishers) are only concerned with saving money and time, and not with saving resources. This book addresses the real life challenges of working with clients and outlines how to incorporate systems thinking into a design workflow. With a detailed explanation of the systems thinking process and ten case studies and interviews with the designers, this book prepares you to get started with a sustainable design ethos right away.
A few goals for the book
Eric and I wanted to prove that sustainable graphic design is possible in the “real world.” We have seen a lot of student graphic design work or research that addresses social issues or incorporates “greener” practices. We’ve seen a lot of sustainable design projects in disciplines such as industrial, product, or interior design. But in our specific field we’ve seen less of this type of work going on, and because the graphic design industry has a big impact on natural resources, we hoped to encourage designers to embrace a more responsible approach tack – and we wanted to make it practical to do so.
It’s in our second goal where things get really interesting. We set out to produce the book as a case study. A few books in the graphic design industry have pushed publishing towards environmental responsibility, but we intended to go even further. Our publisher, CRC Press, agreed that the book would be printed in a manner that exemplifies the Re-nourish criteria.
After conducting in-depth research, contacting experts, calculating paper sizes and weights, considering energy use, and measuring distances between manufacturing, distribution, and printing locations, we presented the publisher with our top three choices for paper, printing companies, and book trim sizes (using our own Project Calculator for the latter). Every item on our list was met with opposition mainly due to expense or ignorance but we continued to present options. We went so far as to suggest approaching the paper manufacturer to donate paper. We also tried to convince the publisher that our book size suggestions would save hundreds of pounds of paper, offsetting the higher expense of our paper choices. The quest for making this book a case study added six months of negotiations to the project timeframe.
Eric and I continued to place one foot in front of the other even though we were not covering as much distance as we had hoped. We were finally able to secure Rolland Opaque 30% post-consumer waste recycled paper for the interior paper and the cover. The printing would be done with vegetable-based inks in a company not far from the paper distribution. It was a long way from the wheat straw agricultural residue fiber paper we had our hearts set on, but it was the best our publisher was offering. After those six months of frustrating negotiations we were anxious to get this book published, so we agreed.
Or so we thought.
Imagine my surprise when I opened the published—and now publicly available—book for the first time and discovered that the interior paper had been switched to a 10% recycled “house stock” right before printing!
Now, you may be thinking, “How can they do that?! Isn’t that a breach of contract?” Yes, technically it is. But Eric and I agreed that this book, with its two years of collaboration, research, blood, sweat, and tears, would not be suspended in an endless legal purgatory as time rendered the contents obsolete. The book was already six months behind schedule due to the negotiations regarding production that were, in hindsight, futile. But there was another problem. There is a section in the book which details the production process and specs of the book. With the last minute unapproved paper switch, CRC Press edited the text (with errors) to reflect the new paper.
Now what? The thought of recycling all those books and reprinting was out of the question because, first, that would be extremely wasteful, and second, CRC Press refused to print on anything except the 10% recycled house stock paper, even for future print runs.
I mentioned in the beginning of this post that “it can be discouraging when clients (and, as it turns out, publishers) are only concerned with saving money or time, and not with saving resources.” While we are deeply disappointed that our publisher did not follow through on their initial promise to produce the book sustainably, Eric and I realized that the book itself is still, in fact, a case study. It makes up for the one quality the case studies in the book are missing: difficult clients. We set out to find projects where the clients didn’t share the same ethos as the designer, where the company or product didn’t already focus on sustainability, or where the design team had to convince the client to implement sustainable design strategies. Projects like this would help our readers learn how to persuade clients that weren’t like-minded. Our book as a case study is half of the missing example of this component; the other half leads to a successfully executed sustainable project, which is where we ultimately failed. But we poke at the norm and we pushed back. Just think what could be accomplished if more authors pushed their publishers the way we did!
Some small victories
Aside from the front cover, we were not able to design the book (as graphic designers this part pains us). We did insist that the interior pages would be designed without bleeds to reduce paper, ink and energy consumption. The publisher also agreed not to print hardcover books because they are not easily recycled in many curbside recycling programs and require a significant amount more resources for production and shipping than softcover.
In the end, and per our request, CRC Press donated $1500 to the Natural Resource Defense Fund to mitigate some of the impacts of using the less sustainable paper. They also agreed to disassemble the entire first print run to replace the page containing their editing error. (A few books made it out into the world before the stock was frozen. And to the folks that received those copies, hey, you never know, those just may be worth something someday! We’ve seen things like this on Antiques Roadshow.)
The book “fix” is still in progress and is taking a bit longer than we were promised. The good news is that you can still purchase Design to Renourish now and it will ship as soon as it is ready.*
*On January 3 the publisher told us that backorders would be ready in two weeks and the remainder of the books ready to go out in four weeks.