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.
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.