What Is Green Design?

Does the phrase green design mean anything any more? When we talk about sustainable practices, do we even know what were talking about? There is, and has been for a while now, a green fever going around the design community. I feel it has been so polluted with gimmicks and catch phrases that we forget the complete point of it. Sustainable design is not just using soy-based ink and recycled paper in your print jobs. It’s about rethinking the way we design, being more inquisitive, and finding more efficient and effective solutions to the problems were facing.

At the School of Design at NC State, I had the privilege of taking a graphic design studio based around the idea of conscientious design. Our professor, KT Meaney, structured the class so that we didn’t simply try to take some environmental stance with our design, but instead, we searched for problems in our assumptions of the world around us and found ways that design could affect and change those problems. As she puts it in her write up of the class on Design Observer, “It is about understanding the systems we live in, finding the flaws and evaluating them. Our three R’s are research, rethink, redesign.”

In the professional world, I think the first two—research and rethink—all too often go unexplored in our pursuit of green design. Its not just about what the impact the product or deliverable will have but what the impact of the whole system will have. Richard Watson in his article ‘How Greed and Green Can Work Together To Produce Good,’ makes the argument that being green is not an easy thing to achieve, but, with the right commitment and passion, it’s possible, and proves very viable. Watson uses GE as an example of a company that, through design, has made huge strides to become sustainable. It’s made long term commitments to redesigning infrastructure and logistics flaws and to delivering better environmentally friendly products, driving the company to become a leader in sustainability, as well as capital.

I think being more sustainable is something that we all need to be pursing. Whether the polar ice caps are melting at a faster rate or not is beside the point. We all have a responsibility to each other and the generations ahead to preserve and protect our environment. As designers, we should be even more proactive at finding and solving the glaring and subtle problems around us. It won’t be by just looking at just the small stuff or creating some ‘green campaign.’ We’ll have to make a commitment to it for the long term and look hard at the world around us. Who knows, maybe we can even save some green in the process!

Author & Designer: David Mitchell
David Mitchell is a graduate of the School of Design at NC State with a Bachelors of Graphic Design. He is currently a graphic designer at the Farrelly Group, a marketing firm on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh.


By David Mitchell
Published October 26, 2011