Month: April 2015

What does sustainability mean in the context of graphic design?

Design Can Change is a great resource that educates designers on the current changes we are seeing in the climate around the globe and the impact these changes will have on our future. They specifically link the core role of designers and the relationships they have with suppliers and printers to achieve outputs (examples outlined below).

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Image credit: Design Can Change

As designers, it is interesting to learn how we can both influence clients to become more sustainable and work with suppliers and printers to identify sustainable options. And as more people are demanding environmental accountability, it is crucial that designers endeavour to reduce their footprint and ensure they encourage and are able to provide sustainable options.

What is Cradle to Cradle design and how can you see this applied in the graphic design industry?
Cradle to Cradle identifies a unique approach to design whilst considering reducing environmental toxicity. It is identified in the 2002 book written by architect William McDonough and chemist Dr. Michael Braungart, called ‘Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things‘. It discusses how products should be created in accordance with the cradle-to-cradle life cycle model as opposed to the cradle-to-grave model – the core difference being the focus on a waste-free end result (as opposed to a disposal phase). Cradle to Cradle suggests that industries have a responsibility to protect and enrich the environmental ecosystem.

As a result, the Cradle to Cradle Certified product standard has been developed to guide both designers and manufacturers through an improvement process judged in accordance with five quality categories. These categories being:

  • Material health – knowing the chemical ingredients of every material in a product and optimising towards safer materials.
  • Material reutilisation – designing products using materials that come from and can safely return to nature.
  • Renewable energy and carbon management – foreseeing a future in which all manufacturing is powered by 100% clean renewable energy.
  • Water stewardship – treating clean water as a precious resource and essential human right.
  • Social fairness – designing product operations to honour people and natural systems affected by the creation, use, disposal and reuse.

Some examples of Cradle to Cradle Certified products are a plant-based laundry detergent, Mushroom Materials (seed husks and stalks combined with mushroom roots) in place of plastic foams such as Styrofoam, and bricks made from clay.

I can see Cradle to Cradle being applied successfully in the graphic design industry through having a solid sustainability strategy. New Paper Leaf, outlines some great considerations relevant to the graphic design industry.

Firstly, a designer can check whether the design solution must be a printed piece, or whether it can be digital (eg PDF/web-based). If it can be web-based, the designer can consider using web hosts that use renewable energy or who purchase carbon offset credits.

If a printed solution is necessary, there are many other considerations that can be taken into account to minimise environmental impact (or to aim for a neutral impact). Some examples include:

  • work with local printers to reduce emissions from transport/shipping,
  • maximise the use of the paper when designing (consider unnecessary excess trimming, bleed and the ability to print multiple pieces per page),
  • consider the next phase of use for the printed piece (could it have dual purpose or serve another purpose after primary use),
  • consider what the paper stock is made from (trees or straw, 100% recycled, has it been bleached, etc),
  • consider what inks and coating the paper stock and printer uses (vegetable-based inks rather than petroleum-based, UV coatings, varnishes, laminates and metallic inks can be non-recyclable),
  • consider what finishing processes the paper stock and printer uses (saddle-stitching is preferred to petroleum-based glues when binding),
  • does the chosen printer have a waste reduction strategy? (waterless or digital printing, FSC Certified, etc), and
  • if the item needs to be packaged, can it be packaged in a material Cradle to Cradle Certified?

A local graphic design studio (whose work I was browsing recently through their newsletter), is Papercut Graphic Design. They caught my eye as I noticed they have created their own ‘green tick’ (below).

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Image credit: Papercut

Even though they’re not at a Cradle to Cradle approach, they proudly identify “from the inception of the design, through the studio, in the choice of paper stock, to the selected printer and to the end of the lifecycle, the products sustainability and reduction of carbon footprint has been considered and managed for the least impact or longest life“. In addition to “…the design should be print friendly and the hosting should be powered by solar wind or a combination of both. Papercut manage the production process of web and print products through the studio so that the most sustainable requirements are met, resulting in the smallest carbon footprint” for web.

The Papercut Green Tick of Approval is a wonderful representation of Papercut’s commitment to sustainable business practices and design. They market the tick as something that both sets themselves apart from other design studios, as well as something that organisations should be eager to display. On reflection, I think having environmental and sustainability policies and strategies is a great asset for any freelancer, studio or organisation. It helps spread awareness, identifies accountability and influences change in the current climate.

In the Creative Gallery of Sustainable Communications, what ad has the most impact for you and why?
When considering the ads most relevant to graphic design, the below ad really speaks to me.

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Image credit: United Nations Environment Programme

The ad’s headline is “A perfect packaging doesn’t involve” and shows icons of water, oil, hazardous chemicals, petroleum, trees, carbon dioxide and animals.

I like it as it identifies the fact that nature can produce perfect packaging itself. It doesn’t need the shiniest, sturdiest, most-cushioned, easily-produced, man-made material. The world often thinks man can better the Earth, but it is already pretty spectacular to begin with – all we need to do is look to nature for our solutions.

Packaging is required on a temporary basis when comparing it to the product it holds, and is used to contain, protect, present, identify, inform and advertise. Even though it is important, the negatives can outweigh the positives when we produce tonnes of excess and non-recyclable packaging.

Environment Victoria outlines that the packaging process already takes a lot of energy, water and natural resources to produce, and identifies that when we throw away packaging after a single-use, these natural resources are lost. They also advise that in Australia, we’ve doubled the amount of natural resources we use to produce packaging in the last 30 years – that’s only produce! That does not mention the effect of the litter it produces and the earth and wildlife it destroys post-use.

I find it quite disappointing to learn this, as I don’t think environmental destruction was a consideration before these types of processes became the norm. Upon reflection, it seems having environmental accountability is a commodity and not something everyone should be doing out of responsibility. This is saddening and I am concerned about my previous ignorance.

List five things a graphic designer can do in their practice to decrease their impact on the environment.
After conducting my research, it is actually hard to limit myself to only five. Some steps I can personally take would be:

  • to suggest alternatives to printed materials and explore whether the clients needs could be met through a digital outcome,
  • to consider the emissions of unnecessary shipping/transport and use local printers,
  • to check what paper stock and inks the local printer uses and discourage unnecessary varnishes and coatings,
  • to maximise the use of the printed material, and
  • to check whether web hosts use renewable energy to power their servers.

Design and ethics

I would personally summarise ethics as conducting oneself in a transparent and moral manner. AGDA defines ethics as professional conduct expectations in the client/designer/subcontractor relationship. This covers:

  • A designers obligation to the client (best interests, conflicts of interest and confidentiality).
  • A designers responsibility to other designers (free pitching, existing commissions, plagiarism and criticism of others’ work).
  • Commissions (details for securing and accepting commissions and subcontracting).
  • Fees (charges, free pitching, reductions, other financial interests and selection of another designer).
  • Design competitions.
  • Self-promotion (content, credit and use of designer’s name).

What is free pitching and how does it affect the industry as a whole?
Pitching is the competitive provision of design services (including concepts) for a client in an attempt to win new business. Therefore, free pitching is when the designer does not get paid for these services/concepts. Free pitching can come in many forms and can be either client or designer initiated, such as (and not limited to):

  • Design competitions where the chosen designer’s “prize” is publicity.
  • Handing over design concepts with the premise of potential future paid work.
  • Deliberately providing free design to displace other designers.

Free pitching can also be referred to as speculative work (spec work), predatory pricing and unpaid competitive tendering.

DIA claims free pitching “undermines the value of design services and destroys the professional standing of designers”. In short, by providing services for free, a designer is identifying and communicating their time, skills and product (design) is not worth paying for, which in turn, destroys both a designer’s credibility and the design profession.

DIA also discusses how design is commonly considered as an industry and not a profession. Many other fields in which people gain qualifications and have representative bodies, don’t require any form of pitching – think doctors, accountants and tradesmen. For example, try asking three accountants to complete your tax return, pitch the completed outcome and provide the paperwork to you, for free, in a bid to gain future business (or that you will tell your friends how great they are).

Further arguments against free pitching also outline that pitching delivers:

  • work designed to win the pitch, rather than provide the best solution,
  • an undercut of the financial viability of design,
  • unexperienced and less qualified designers to the process, providing a poor representation of the design profession, and
  • higher freelance rates for paid projects for designers who accommodate free pitching but still need to earn a viable income.

A great resource I came across was NO!SPEC, which is a group of designers whose aim is to educate both designers and clients on the negative effect of spec work. This site outlines that design organisations across Australia, New Zealand, the USA and the UK all fundamentally oppose spec work, and provide consistent advice that a designer should not undertake any work without adequate compensation.

Lastly, the DIA classifies free pitching as unprofessional and asks the conclusionary question: “Are you in the business of winning pitches, or designing?”.

Why is it important to have a code of ethics in the graphic design industry?
Just like any other profession, a code of ethics is important in order to establish the appropriate and acceptable behaviour of a professional group, in order to reflect its values. A code of ethics in the graphic design industry is especially important as it identifies graphic design as a responsible profession, it also identifies what is ‘fair play’ and sets the standards of professional service and conduct. This benefits the client as they can gain a better understanding of how their designer should carry out their business and why.

What is the difference between a copyright and a trademark or patent?
Copyright © is the legal rights to the expression of a concept or idea, but not the concept or idea itself. Copyright is automatically granted to the creator and can provide protection of websites, photographs, graphics and illustrations. If work is created for an employer as part of a day-to-day job, the copyright belongs to the employer. If working as a freelancer for a client, the copyright is often identified in a written agreement.

A trademark is the legal rights to the concept or idea itself, and can cover a logo, phrase, colour, sound, scent, shape and aspect of packaging. A trademark doesn’t have to be registered (TM – unregistered trademark), though it’s legally more difficult to stop others from copying or imitating the trademark. A registered trademark ® comes at a cost, and needs to be applied for and approved. A registered trademark is easier to defence against infringement in a court of law.

A patent protects an invention and how it works or functions, it also comes at a cost and needs to be applied for and approved.

What measures do you need to take as a freelance designer to protect your creative output?
There are a number of measures I can take as a designer:

  • Do not copy other people’s work (even temporarily to express ideas).
  • Understand copyright licences for images and fonts and use them legally.
  • Include a copyright notice and symbol for my designs.
  • Advise confidentiality if providing concepts to a client before an agreement is in place, ie “all ideas are presented in confidence and are owned by me”.
  • Search the trademarks database available at IP Australia to make sure I am not infringing any registered trademarks.
  • Ask for documentation to confirm the client owns the copyright when asked to modify a design.
  • Identify in the agreement (signed by myself and the client) who owns the intellectual property (IP) rights – if I am giving them up, I should include a clause on folio use for myself.
  • If I own IP, I should keep track of the renewal dates.
  • Understand it is up to me to protect my own copyright.