Big talk today. I'm speaking at Campaign's Applied Green Conference thing with Michael, Russell, John and loads of other grown up, important people.
I thought you might like it if I posted my talk here. For the first time ever I've followed Jon Steel's advice and written my talk down, in long hand. One of the benefits of this is that I can post the whole shooting match, here, for you wonderful people.
So I'm doing that in a timed post that goes live round about the same time I'm supposed to be speaking. It's like a simultaneous streaming blogcast.
So here you are; what do you think?
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Hello. My name is (etc, etc, I'll skip that bit here. You lot know who I am.)
Today I’m going to lay out a case for how I think designers, and the design industry, can help with the challenges facing us. I’d love to know what you think about these ideas.
But before we do all that, let’s start with some fun.
Let’s be honest, all this Green / Sustainability stuff can get a bit heavy, can’t it?
I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear someone say Sustainability, it reminds me of Phil Collins. You know, sus sus sustainability, like sus sus sussudio. So in the spirit of that Gorilla ad I wanted to play you this little film I made especially for today.
If you're reading this via rss, see the video here on YouTube.
Seriously, we hear a lot of talk about sustainability in the design industry. Sometimes it even says “sustainability” in client briefs.
According to the Design Council, 95% of design consultancies have less than 5 staff and a turnover of less than £250k a year. So the problem is that when you mention sustainability to 95% of designers they’re not thinking about saving the planet, they’re thinking about next years Annual Report & Accounts.
And that’s part of the problem.
I’m a designer, I run a design company and I accept pounds. We all do.
As an industry we’ve learnt that more stuff equals more pounds. And pounds are good for our sustainability. That’s a pretty simple business model.
If a client asks us to design two postcards; we think, a lot of the time subconsciously, if I can get them to do three postcards that will be great, four will be even better. Because more stuff equals more pounds.
If a client asks us to design a brochure; we say silly things like, “Wouldn’t it be a great idea to send them a letter with the brochure. Yeah, and let’s send them a postcard before we send them the brochure so they know the brochure is coming. And if we send them a postcard before we send them the brochure we really ought to send them a postcard after we send them the brochure.” Much nodding of heads.
I once sat in a meeting where someone said, “I always say, if you’ve got a full colour RPC you should have a full colour envelope”. Yes, they said, “I always say.”
OK, so by default as an industry we produce more stuff because that’s gets us paid more. We all get that, right?
But as an industry we don’t just do that, we also do this:
in case you didn’t spot it
that’s freshly prepared crispy potato slices.
Yes, freshly prepared.
That’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it?
It’s easy to stand up here and slag off unnecessary packaging, but it’s not just packaging designers who are at fault. Designers, by default, just produce lots of stuff.
Here’s our letterhead.
(I'll skip through these pictures to save pixels...)
Nice isn’t it? Nice big arrow. Bit of Helvetica. You know. That’s the one we use for short messages. This is the one we use for longer letters. Oh and there’s this one as well. We use that, er, when we’re bored of the orange one. And there’s this one too. We use this one for invoices.
So here they are all together. Hands up - I designed these. But it’s ridiculous isn’t it? How can we justify 4 different letterheads? You can’t.
And it’s not just packaging and it’s not just self indulgent self promotional stuff.
It’s classics like this.
Is there really a need for this nowadays?
I know there’s more than a designer involved here, marketing managers and brand managers and account managers can all take their share of the blame; but seriously, as designers we could have stopped this. Really, someone should have stood up and said, “Excuse me, but isn’t that a little unnecessary?”
So, the climate change elephant in the industry is, designers, it’s our fault.
I honestly think we have to admit that before we can move on.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, as I already mentioned there are loads of other people involved, but whose fault is it that a swede comes wrapped in cellophane? That potatoes come, freshly prepared, in a great big fucking plastic box?
It’s the designers fault.
And if you won’t agree that it’s the designers fault at the very least you’ve got to admit that the designer has done nothing to stop it – which in my view makes it the designers fault.
Now, I don’t want to stand up here and say all designers are bad and we should just get everyone to make less stuff. That’s lovely and everything, but it’s very unrealistic and it’s not gonna help with this bit.
If more stuff equals more pounds, than less stuff equals less pounds, right?
OK. Here’s an interactive bit. Hands up if you’ve read Jon Steel’s book, Perfect Pitch?
Hands up if you drive a Porsche?
The car assholes drive, I think that’s how Jon Steel put it.
Anyway. If you ask Porsche about their sustainability policy they will proudly tell you that 60% of all Porsches ever made are still on the road today.
Think about that for a bit.
Now you might think that a gas guzzling 4.8 litre car can never be environmentally friendly, but just think about that stat for a bit. What they’re saying is that 60% of the stuff we’ve made is so desirable, so well put together, so well designed, that people are still using them.
Imagine if 60% of other stuff was still in use. I don’t know about you, but I’d be happy if 60% of the iPods I’d owned were still working.
Imagine if 60% of carrier bags were still being used. Imagine if 60% of computers were still in use today. 60% of food packaging was still in use.
Lewis Mumford, the historian said “Why should we so gratuitously assume, as we constantly do, that the mere existence of a mechanism for manifolding or of mass production carries with it an obligation to use it to the fullest capacity?”
Or why do constantly we make as much stuff as we can, rather than as much stuff as we need?
Now. Take a look at this:
This is a video simulation of all planes flying across America in 24 hours.
I got that brilliant video from here, but I had to upload it to youTube so I could embed it here. If you're reading this via rss, see the video here on YouTube.
Messy, isn’t it?
These are the flight paths from a Heathrow take off.
The designer in me says wouldn’t it be nicer if some of those lines were, y’know, a little bit straighter. I could drop those flight paths into Freehand, mess about with the Bezier curves and straighten that mess out in no time at all.
A report in June in that well known design journal The Economist found that “if air traffic control systems were reorganized” a fuel efficiency gain of 12% could be made. Fuel efficiency gain of 12%.
What do they mean by reorganized? A continuous gentle descent into the airport (as opposed to a stepped descend, hold, descend again approach) could save around $100k per year, per aircraft. British Airways have 235 planes so that’s a saving of $23.5M every year just by redesigning the flight paths. 23 million dollars just with a bit of Freehand work!
And obviously, not only are we saving money, we’re saving fuel.
Ok, I’m aware that all sounds a bit naive.
So I spoke to some air traffic controllers. They said that whilst that would work, you can’t just go around redesigning flight paths. There are all sort of restrictions. For example you can’t fly over Buckingham Palace.
But listen to their other ideas for making flight paths shorter, this is the exact words,
“Better airport signage = better retrieval of baggage = better turn around time for aircraft loading and unloading = more gates available through operating hours = more aircraft can be landed in a given time period = less aircraft time in the air waiting to land = less fuel wastage from circling aircraft.”
“Even better carry on luggage storage may mean less time loading/unloading = more gates available for a new plane to land at = less time in the air waiting to land. Maybe it's not better storage but better carry on luggage.”
“Maybe it's better exits in an aircraft - could the side of the aircraft just roll up?”
“Maybe the aircraft could be a "canister" carrier, unload the canister, pickup a new one and away you go.”
Let’s look at what they said there: Better airport signage. Better luggage storage. Better carry on luggage. Better exits. Just better aircraft. Aren’t these all design problems? Are you starting to see what I mean?
That other esteemed design publication, BBC News online, reported in February that Belkin, the people that make USB sticks etc, reviewed the packaging on one of its network card products.
“The alternative design signified a 50% reduction in box volume, which will boost transport efficiency and cut material costs.
The new design saved more than 18,000 kilograms of paper and 2,400 kilograms of plastics each year and reduce packaging-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 104 tonnes annually - with clear financial and environmental benefits.”
18,000 kilograms of paper. 2,400 kilograms of plastic. 104 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
Clear financial and environmental benefits. Ahh ha, we’re back to pounds again. Good.
You see - I want designers and the design industry to move towards a business model where design is a way of thinking rather than a way of creating more billable units.
Someone with a designer’s brain can spot these problems and can go about solving them.
Someone with a designer’s brain can be invaluable in the fight against climate change.
I keep having this thought that the best design minds in history would see Climate Change as amazing opportunity. Don’t you get the feeling Da Vinci could have knocked up an alternative fuel in his spare time? Don’t you think that Raymond Loewy would have found an efficient way to package some of Tesco’s Finest Swede before his elevenses?
I want this speech to be a rallying call to the design industry. We ought to say to companies don’t use us to implement your shit ideas, use us at a much higher level.
Now, I don’t just mean chuck loads of designers into every boardroom in the country, that wouldn’t work. I mean that people who think like designers think, can see these solutions more easily than others.
In the FTSE 100 38% of CEO’s have an accounting background, 23% sales 18% general management (whatever that means) 0% have design backgrounds.
I want people with design backgrounds to be CEO’s and CFO’s and CMO’s and town planners and air traffic controllers and European Commissioners.
You’ll probably have noticed recently that Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, LG, and Nokia have all agreed to standardize their mobile phone chargers. Everyone can agree that’s a brilliant idea. And I’m sure some designer at Nokia or Motorola had the idea ages ago, but why have they only done this now?
Because the EU's WEEE directive makes manufacturers responsible for some of the costs associated with recycling their equipment, and a broadly applied standard removes the need for a new charger to be distributed with every phone.
This is cheaper (ahhh pounds again) for the manufacturer, and also results in a smaller, less heavy box, which reduces on shipping costs, storage costs, warehouse costs and so on.
So regulation forced them to do it. Wouldn’t it have been nice if it was the other way round? Wouldn’t it have been nice if the CEO of Samsung had a design brain and stuck his neck out and they’d done this off their own back?
I want design to be a management tool. I want designers to get paid (more) for brilliant thinking.
“Reuse, reduce, use less, make smaller, make clever, we're running out of resources can you still do something clever?”
Well to me, that’s a design brief.
All these climate change issues look like design problems to me.
Maybe we won’t be able to get people to change their behaviour so we’ll have to work around that.
My brother lives in America and so I got over there quite a lot. Am I going to stop flying out to see him? Well, yeah, I might but my Mum and Dad won’t. And they’re not gonna miss the opportunity to fly out and see their grand children. So may we have to redesign the planes so that they use 50% less fuel. Maybe boats were the answer? We just need to design them so they’re a little bit faster…
Maybe we need to design a communications system that means they can get the sensation of holding that grandchild from their lounge. I don’t know the answers, but I know that the problems are design problems.
You think I’m mad? Remember when people used to think you needed the tactile feeling of an LP to sell music?
I guess I’m saying to you – I’m a designer. Use me better.
You can also read Michael Johnson's talk here and Russell Davies' talk here.
This should be essential reading for business decision makers and designers alike. I think it's brilliant.
From your point about air travel, if you've read 'The Cloudspotter's Guide', it discusses air travel, especially contrails (the condensation trails behind planes that can form at altitude) - what becomes apparent is that the vapour trails can cause more environmental concern than emissions. The book suggests that aircraft fly at lower altitudes to prevent this - this would increase the emisssions but prevent contrails. I've only ever seen this argument in the book - the media concentrate solely on emission problems, but it appears that they are only part of the problem.
I thought the Porsche 60% is a wonderful argument - I've always been fascinated with the way companies measure carbon footprints - and there seems to be sketchy lines about where the footprint starts (ie transportation and manufacturing processes). Surely Porsche have it right - the longevity of the product is key.
Posted by: Simon | Oct 03, 2007 at 13:52
Nicely said Ben. Encore!
Posted by: Richard | Oct 03, 2007 at 14:04
Just a small comment on the Swede example - from an environmental standpoint this actually make sense because the product (cucumbers are the same) has a dramatically improved shelf life as a result, which means that fewer are thrown away by the store, fewer are shipped by the distributor, less fuel used, etc.
Counterintuitive as it sounds overall environmental impact is often reduced by increasing the amount of packaging used. Another example is the TV manufacturer who by increasing the strength of his boxes was able to stack them higher, reduce warehouse space required and number of shipping containers, etc.
The main goal when it comes to packaging is, sure, to remove it when not needed, but more importantly to make sure that what is used it either recyclable or biodegradable.
Posted by: wookie | Oct 03, 2007 at 14:21
Posted by: Angus | Oct 03, 2007 at 15:01
I guess what I meant when I asked you to design some stationery was that I wanted you to design something that meant that we wouldn't need designers. What I suppose I meant that what I wanted was something that meant that we would use less energy (partially).
Redesign THAT sentence.
Posted by: Tom | Oct 03, 2007 at 16:06
I hope that was filmed as I'd like to see just how passionate you are when saying it. As its a great bit of work, and with some brilliant examples.
Posted by: Rob Mortimer | Oct 03, 2007 at 16:47
Really smart and thought provoking.
Posted by: henry lambert | Oct 03, 2007 at 18:01
You were never away for 2 weeks 'though, were you ?
Posted by: Tom | Oct 03, 2007 at 19:10
i like this talk alot ben, i've been reading and commenting for over a year now, and i think this is one of the best reads i have had on here.
i run a small record label, and i have started thinking about these things, even though our footprint is pretty small, and budgets constrain every aspect of what we do. I think its a vital thing that should drill down to every organization. its just so hard using that dusty old brain... hah
Posted by: jon | Oct 04, 2007 at 01:55
Posted by: Ben | Oct 04, 2007 at 02:36
"My brother lives in America and so I go over there quite a lot. Am I going to stop flying out to see him? Well, yeah, I might"
... what fu*k is that brother?
Posted by: Brother | Oct 04, 2007 at 05:34
Bang on. Just this week I was trying to convince a client to preprint his stationery (letterheads, faxes, invoices) because they would look nicer than Word template equivalents. Now I've realised that InDesign+Acrobat can convert them into forms that will look as unique/distinctive, and use LESS resources. Subconscious sustainability; it's a start.
Posted by: Caspian | Oct 04, 2007 at 07:46
A remarkable piece, thank you.
Posted by: gilest | Oct 04, 2007 at 12:31
Posted by: Marcus | Oct 04, 2007 at 12:57
Brilliant. Now get the video up on youtube.
Posted by: John Dodds | Oct 04, 2007 at 13:31
Is that your yellow sweater? You're such a dandy.
Nice work, by the way. Impressed you actually spoke to some air-traffic controllers.
Posted by: patrick | Oct 04, 2007 at 15:48
Amazing article, Ben! That was just what I needed to hear. Everyone could use a little more designer instinct, especially the ones that make the big decisions. Cheers, great ideas.
Posted by: Jason Robb | Oct 04, 2007 at 20:34
Excellent Ben. Really very excellent. I hope it went down as well at the conference as it did when I just read it. For your information, I stood up and clapped at the end, and then went to get a coffee afterwards, almost as if I was really there.
Posted by: dan at innocent | Oct 04, 2007 at 23:12
yay! bloody brilliant ben. i'm sure it got a fantastic response at the conference. now, time for a few key decision makers to give it some bloody thought.
Posted by: lauren | Oct 07, 2007 at 21:31
This is one of the best articles I've read in awhile. Thanks so much for sharing.
Posted by: Naomi | Oct 08, 2007 at 14:20
That's the kind of thinking I appreciate.
Posted by: Randall | Oct 08, 2007 at 18:43
and you should definatly start selling t-shirts, badges and other sustainably produced merchandise with "use me better on it"
I'd love to go into a briefing wearing that!
Posted by: adamc | Oct 09, 2007 at 15:18
That's really good, that is. Solutions rather than hand-wringing.
Posted by: Steve | Oct 11, 2007 at 13:46
Spot on. One of the most concise and inspiring explanations of the issues we've all been trying to get clear I've read for ages.
Posted by: apolaine | Oct 12, 2007 at 11:20
Posted by: Thuy | Oct 12, 2007 at 14:58
Great article/ thoughts! Thank you. I would recommend to every designer to understand more about reducing their eco-footprint (and clients) to read the book: Cradle to Cradle
Posted by: lainie liberti | Oct 15, 2007 at 19:53
I'm stealing all of this from you. Not really, but kind of. Outstanding.
Posted by: Jules | Oct 16, 2007 at 14:18
Mr Ben Terrett, applause from Sweden. Excellent!
We are right now doing something similar to this, aiming at the top and redisigning some iconic thinking. I hope that you can use it as an example by the end of next year.
Posted by: trfr-johan | Oct 18, 2007 at 08:25
Great article, thanks.
On a similar note, it always amazes me that the government want to get people 'off the road and into trains' Why? Trains are so 19th century. What needs to be addressed is why on earth, in the 21st century, do people need to travel from home to their place of work. They can just as easily sit at a computer and use a phone from home. Tax incentives to encourage home working could have a tremendous impact on traffic (yes, I know not everyone can work from home, but many can, even for part of the week).
Posted by: Phil | Oct 29, 2007 at 12:59
Am a Graphic Design student and this has been the first article about sustainable design i could actually pay attention and relate to. You've hammered in some valuable points into my young impressionable designer mind! thanks!
Posted by: becky | Nov 06, 2007 at 19:46
Thanks Becky. Email tom at thedesignconspiracy dot com if you're interested in doing a plaement.
Posted by: Ben | Nov 06, 2007 at 20:27
The longevity of the product is not key in the case of the Porsche (first respones from Simon). If you buy a Porsche and are remotely serious about reducing your carbon footprint, either never drive it or scrap it at once and buy a Smart car or some other much lower emitting motor. Cars are responsible for vastly more carbon dioxide in their driving than they are in their manufacture and final disposal.
Posted by: Nick Schoon | Nov 07, 2007 at 13:03
Very nice. This is a great piece.
Posted by: Brian(US) | Mar 04, 2008 at 16:37
I think your initial point should not be over looked, all people doing talks, in any industry, if you have a website write your speach in long hand and you can post it on your site and share it with the world not just the audience on the day.
By the way I like the balance of speach and slides, it came together nicely, well done.
Posted by: Graphic Designers Perth | Mar 17, 2008 at 01:12
brilliant. i'd like to see alan sugars answer to those points!
Posted by: chav asbovour | Aug 14, 2008 at 13:50
everyone says "they don't make them like they used to"...
Its like somehow from industrial revolution, mass production, global economy and the proliferation of visual communication, design has not only become about quantity over quality, but actually regressed.
I wish I had read this when I was writing my thesis a few years ago, (called Graphic Design and Utopia) about how designers - specifically graphic designers - have an enormous responsibility to society.
Depressing and inspiring.
Posted by: Jon Ashby | Jan 11, 2009 at 10:04
great article. I also like this subject. In fact there is a great designer that have been working hard on that same subject. This guy is Bruce Mau, a canadian design, based in Toronto. He has written a book about this stuff, called Massive Change. He even crafted a nice slogan for the book.
"It's not about the world of design. It's about the design of the world."
It is worth stopping by his website, to read some of his ideas.
That guy went deep into this subject, with a professionals from a variety of fields to help him think about these issues.
In my opinion he is the best designer I know. Not only trying to save the world, but also doing great looking graphic material.
Some links mentioned above:
Bruce Mau Website - www.brucemaudesign.com/
Massive Change at amazon - www.amazon.com/Massive-Change-Bruce-Mau/dp/0714844012
Massive CHange website - www.massivechange.com/
Posted by: Claudio | Jun 16, 2009 at 20:37
Great article, I really enjoyed reading this. Agree completely.
Posted by: Ricky | Jul 02, 2010 at 05:53
This is a brilliant post.
Posted by: Mihir Pathare | Oct 03, 2010 at 09:13
estoy feliz de ser diseñador!!!!!!!!
si no damos, no somos felices, demos. :)
Posted by: jose | Oct 26, 2010 at 15:07
Time and again we need some of these talks to shake us up, make us realise - heck, yeah I am a designer why didn't I do/think any of that, point being we need design thinking/thinkers, and change the reality that time and again there are just a few who take this initiative to remind us to start thinking!
Posted by: Socho | Feb 24, 2011 at 09:10
Fantastic work Ben- A great thought provoking article. Brings to mind the crazy habit of putting bananaa on a polystyrene dish and wrapping them in clingfilm. C'est fou! http://www.craftyfish.com/blog/2010/05/03/banana-to-go/
Posted by: Orangegodd | Feb 27, 2011 at 01:07
Time and again we need some of these talks to shake us up, make us realise - heck, yeah I am a designer why didn't I do/think any of that,
Posted by: sophie45 | Apr 20, 2011 at 03:33
ing! I like the eyes on the garage doors
Posted by: kellly | May 11, 2011 at 02:08
The greeting card is a good idea too. Something you can do yourself.
Posted by: Sologin | Jun 03, 2011 at 01:54
Brilliant. Very thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing, and inspiring people to think outside the box.
Posted by: KelownaPhotos | Aug 25, 2011 at 18:05
This is a timely eye-opener to designers and other professions in almost all industries since all of us need to conserve on something. Though it is important for a product to be in use for a very long time, it is also important for it to be efficient in its role. For example, newer models of Porsche cars must have adapted to innovation which should make them more efficient and environment-friendly compared to their older models. The point is to make a middle ground between the length of time to use a product and the time when it needs to be replaced by a better one. So, instead of designers becoming CEOs, I'd say let's have a post everywhere to contribute to solving design problems.
Posted by: Account Deleted | Sep 13, 2011 at 02:40
This has got to be one of the best reads for me in a long time.
I am in my first year of tertiary study in New Zealand and this is the information I need in order to make my future actions a lot more focused and more powerful. I google so much, trying to better my knowledge of everything to do with creativity in general but rarely come across such gold.
I wish I could have seen your presentation in real life, would have been powerful stuff.
Cheers for the good read Ben and keep up the sweet work!
Posted by: Latham_Arnott | Mar 25, 2012 at 02:28
Ben. Hats off to you for even thinking to write on something as important and relevant to our times like this. These things used to always hit me. 'Isn't it unneccesary? Why does something have to be done in a certain way?'
Today being a designer, for the first time I've realised how important we are or rather how important each one of our roles is when it comes to designing. Will always be inspired by what you have written and as far as possible will spread this message to most designers.
Also would make a conscious effort to design things more wisely.
One more thing comes to my mind when you mention these things. Many of our design institutes, and I'm talking of some very reputed, world famous ones, make it a pre-requisite to send them a portfolio or send them prints of actual artworks as just mailing them isn't enough. I find that a real waste of time, effort and also waste of paper. It is discouraging to see that people don't realise these things and even when they do prefer to stick to old norms.
I hope changes happen soon because climate change is something that is going to and is affecting not one, but each one of us personally.
Thankyou once again for this amazing article. Keep writing great stuff!
Posted by: Sandhya Ragoowansi | Nov 18, 2013 at 11:58