Mar 09, 2009

From Compostmodern: Allan Chochinov's 10 Steps for Sustainable Design


I attended Compostmodern back in February and left highly inspired, wanting to do something BIG and GRAND and change the world immediately. After stepping back and realizing I couldn't do this right away (darnnit) I let myself accept that small steps can make big impact, they just might not be obvious. It's also why I took so long blogging about the conference, because it took me this long to acknowledge that small can be ok too.

That said, I loved Allan Chochinov's (Core 77) presentation, not only his 10 Steps for Sustainable Design that I'm capturing and sharing with you, but the subject of his talk. He teaches graphic design in the graduate program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. This past year he challenged his students by giving them the following problem: design a prosthetic arm for amputees. These are graphic design students, not product or industrial designers, so while some of us could have immediately thought about the constraints (how are we supposed to design something where we don't understand 3 dimensions? or materials?), Allan presented the challenge as an opportunity. Don't worry about constraints. Think about how the person wearing the prosthetic arm will feel, physically and emotionally. By thinking about the problem in this framework, accepting that what they designed potentially couldn't "be built," his students emerged with beautiful, creative, and groundbreaking models that broke boundaries in prosthetics thinking and in the resulting prototypes.

Here are Allan's 10 Steps, many of which we already do as designers, although we might not realize it. 10 small steps that individually can make change, and taken together can have that HUGE IMPACT I wrote earlier in this post. My favorite is #6.

1. Acknowledge privilege.
Designers are privileged to be in this field. Act responsibly, with intention, and with empathy.

2. Use the word “consequence.”
Not only in the materials we design with, but in the creation of perceived "need." Is what we're designing really necessary? And what impact, positive and negative, will it have on behavior?

3. Question authority.
I personally would rethink this as "question assumption."

4. Surround yourself with the awesomest people you can.
Naturally. But remember, there are plenty of awesome people who don't live in our world. Get out of the house sometimes.

5. Don't play fair.
Take advantage of the word "design" to get in the door, then insert sustainable, social and financial best practices into the mix.

6. Be intentionally dumb.
If you don't know what you don't know, then you won't be restricted by "wrong answers."

7. Redistribute - then reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Think about the end of a product's lifecycle, then evaluate whether it's REALLY the end. Someone somewhere could benefit from what already exists but that we (privileged folk) don't want anymore.

8. Broaden your market.
Think universal design. Perhaps you have a target audience that is small, but make sure you consider multiple uses and multiple audiences. Our favorite case is  OXO - initially designed for people with limited use of their hands, but everyone loves them because they're so comfy.

9. Indulge in discursive design.
Design something just to provoke a reaction. Have a design conversation, not just a design presentation.

10. Talk to anyone who will listen.

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Pamela Williams's picture

Renee, I also heard Allan's talk at Compostmodern 09 and felt his was one of the top talks of the day. He was empowering because he provided actionable ideas and examples, brilliant examples. I'm glad you took your time to think about this before you posted -- because I hadn't stopped to think about #6 and you made me pause for a moment. It also made me think about John Bielenberg's message to "think wrong."

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