05 January 2010

Recently, David Stairs posted a commentary about the colonization of sustainability. His post presented a great conduit for me to chat about #6: Solving anything complex requires perseverance in everything in my list of learnings from 2009. While the topic of sustainability is not the only idea that I'd fit into this learning, it offers a great lens to frame this point.

In my own process of understanding the S word and all it entails (that until recently would have shown up as a spelling mistake in Word), I continue to find myself both overwhelmed and frustrated. When I first began to explore it seriously three years ago, the word on the street for communication design was, "Change your paper, change your inks and you're good to go."

Advertising used Papyrus, the color palette was beige and the only word you needed was green. Clearly, we've come a long way since then. Or have we?

Stairs' blog post is valuable as it chronicles where we sit. But without alternatives as to how we might not colonize something yet again (which we've apparently not learned from history), we're doomed to repeat our (in)actions. I don't mean to suggest that he necessarily be held accountable to provide the definitive answers for them. We're all responsible. But to expect that every designer has all of this ideology under his or her belt and can then act on it is naive. I've read almost all the authors listed in the post yet I still find myself grappling with the complexities of this sustainable dialogue. Up to now, I've been told that I can earn a living at this thing called design and now you're telling me that all I've done before needs to change? Many designers are still asking, "How exactly do I do that?" With all the content we're wading through, we might find ourselves a bit insecure about confidently proposing or delivering the best alternatives.

The corporate entities listed seem to have more money to ask these questions and act on them while grassroots organizations likely have something to contribute but find themselves reduced to minor projects they can realistically champion. Educators may hold to different perspectives, leaving students to grapple with the best way while the rest of us might be getting our education via 140 characters:

"Designers are bound to muddy the distinction between the scientific meme and the cultural one. Since design is increasingly a hybrid of the creative arts and the social sciences, designers are destined to have it both ways, often with confusion and conflict (not to mention “conflict of interest”) ensuing."

Clearly, a collective voice is emerging. Some of it will be concerning (as Stairs rightly points out) and some of it will continue to remind us how little we really know. And I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing (unless we keep creating from this place!). Not knowing is the first step to understanding. And we're seemingly in a long process of understanding what it means to be in this world with all its diversity. But if we're going to pose concerns, are we not also responsible to suggest options to reduce the risks we witness. This isn't necessarily a comfortable place or a quick fix but one I think we have to figure out. Or at least, I have to figure out. Not so we can title it "sustainable" but so we can continue to make wise choices with what's been offered to us. To get us all on the same page might take a bit of time and patience.

These posts are aimed at being reflective and proactive so I guess I'm wondering if David has ideas of how he might change what he sees so we can avoid falling prey to what he has pointed out? Stating reality only brings us to a certain point. Providing ideas for how we might move forward is a valuable next step. If this is where we sit, what do we do now? Anyone else have ideas to reduce our interloping ways? Sketches and visuals welcomed.

(image via Keri Smith)
One of twelve in this series


david said...

Hi Kara,

Just discovered your incoming feed; sorry to be so slow to respond. I think you've made some good points. Were I to really make sustainability suggestions, the best I could offer would be to "steal all good ideas that won't land you in jail." It's gonna take that, and more.

-Follow Al Gore's advice and buy a hybrid.

-Walk whenever it's a short distance; corollary to that: live within walking distance of work.

-Be anal about recycling.

-Volunteer in the developing world.

-Don't attend expensive design conferences.

My actual list is much longer, but I don't want to bore.

I do want to say that I visited your Master's degree statement, and I want you to know that life could best be described as "ambiguity through complexity." Coleridge described it in his "Biographia Literaria" over two centuries ago.

And so far as "introducing a design methodology into a development context" is concerned, all people everywhere are born with an innate sense of design, an indigenous understanding that people make things with their hands/eyes/brains in an effort to improve their environment.

Sorry to be so pendantic; it's in my nature, I guess.

And don't let me leave without saying I LOVE your company name!

If you'd like, you can continue this through email. I'm at wandegeya@yahoo.com.

David Stairs

olivelife said...

Thanks for your comments, David. I will be taking you up on your offer to continue the discussion beyond the blog.

But I would welcome more "stolen ideas" so as to let others in on it. Because it's not boring. I think these are questions some of my design students are asking (not to mention many others). A collaborative list in more than one location is a way to let others interact with this topic. But no pressure. But for the record, I (and others) would be interested.

Tidbits related to this?
I sold my car 10 years ago when I moved to Lithuania for a stint and now use Zipcar for any longer distance travels. I now get to walk to work and am grateful for the chances I've had participate internationally (and at home too!). I concur: innate design skills abound.

Loads more to sort through. The recycling and composting notions for apartment dwellers have yet to be sorted in our fair city. But one topic...I hope something further can get discussed here: http://www.icograda.org/news/year/2010_news/articles1691.htm

Again, thanks for taking time out of your day to respond.

And thanks for the name props. Olives make me very happy.