Sustainable Design Thinking: Changing the Design Process

How sustainable thinking can become the foundation for framing and solving a design problem

Maria Smith Bohannon
Assistant Professor
Oakland University, MI

Today our world faces complex problems, just a few of which include climate change, overpopulation, deforestation, pollution, poverty, water quality, and issues of inequality and food scarcity. The data and the facts are irrefutable and cannot be ignored, but how can designers become the architects of change?

Graphic design education needs to include sustainable design thinking at the forefront of the process, enabling graphic designers to think about and solve for greater impact within their communities.

This presentation focuses on how sustainable thinking can become the foundation for framing and solving a design problem by going beyond development of a logo and identity system to thinking more broadly at the start. Sustainable thinking will be implemented at the beginning of the design process with a goal that it can become routine and foundational for all design process.

Developing a creative brief that includes factoring the impact on people, planet, prosperity and culture will yield a more sustainable design solution—one that clarifies the project goal and fosters creative solutions with a plan for execution. This process will provide steps for identifying, researching and understanding complex problems within local communities, and framing solutions that are more sustainable from research, to the designs of visuals and artifacts.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 7.1: Oakland University, MI on October 17, 2020.

Design, Food and Human Connection

A research project with the intent of understanding the parallels between chefs and designers

Nicholas Rock
Assistant Professor
Boston University

Design is present in visible and invisible ways in contemporary society such that the term “design” has permeated everyday language—resulting in a situation where everyone knows what design is and no one knows what design is. Design is becoming further integrated with business, and socio-economic demands require a constant pursuit of data and technological advances while leaving behind the personal and social side of those same topics. Design is altering our human experience under the illusion of increasing our connectedness.  

We have begun an examination of how design can enable a return to more meaningful connections with people. Since design as a concept is becoming increasingly universal, we are looking at it through the lens of something as culturally ubiquitous as food. How can our relationship with food inform our relationship with design in society? How might we improve our approach to how we both practice and teach design by investigating practitioners of gastronomy and culinary arts? 

Our studio began this research project with the intent of understanding the parallels between chefs and designers—hoping to learn from the creative process of chefs pushing the limits of their profession as a way of advancing our own. Through a series of interviews and collaborative experiences, we have held conversations with designers, architects, chefs, restauranteurs, food historians, and farmers to better understand both a historical and contemporary relationship between food, design, and culture. We encountered a shared philosophy of creating opportunities for human connection. Using this insight, we are forming new design methodologies and altering our approach to design education.  

We need to reinforce our connection to each other as human beings. If we return to this as a core principle in design practice and education, then we can create new opportunities to bring people together instead of driving people apart.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 6.3: Fordham University on May 16, 2019.

Material Voice: Communicating with Substrates

Meridyth Espindola
Graduate student
Vermont College of Fine Arts
BFA, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

In the context of graphic design, we translate material significance through substrate semiotics. While substrates are necessary for the representation of visual art and design, that’s not all they do. They also send messages through visual and haptic communication. We can prioritize the consideration of substrate communication earlier in our processes by thinking more critically about design platforms and how they impact the overall message.

Approaching design processes through this lens allows us to tap into a deeper level of communication that engages multiple layers of meaning. When we approach communication from the bottom up, we are able to seek out objects and materials with powerful significance rather than relying on applying our own meaning to them. If substrates are always communicating, what opportunities do we have as designers to integrate them into our process from the beginning rather than waiting until the end?

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 5.1: DePaul University on October 27, 2018.

Works in Process

Scholarship: Creative Work Award Winner

George Garrastegui
Assistant Professor
New York City College of Technology, CUNY

The Works In Process (WIP) podcast is a series of conversations with creative individuals that explore the evolution and techniques behind their latest projects— highlighting, exploring and possibly demystifying the creative process. This podcast is a way to discover, and really uncover the process that goes behind the work that creatives do. Speaking to designers, artists, writers, and other creatives professional, we discuss their process through candid conversations. It is the way they work and their projects that are the inspiration.

Launched in August 2017, the podcast uses the interviews as an avenue to investigate the rigor, repetition, and muscle memory of various creative fields, not the outcome. The initial purpose of the podcast is to uncover a strategic approach. Using the conversations to highlight the breakthrough moments of each guest. This unmasks the perfection myth that is supported by curatorial online platforms. The illusion of perfection is a disadvantage to the emerging creative professional and it devalues the importance of the concept and focuses only on the execution.

The Works in Process podcast attempts to broaden the scope of what is process and how its embraced. Thus transforming the attention to the evolution of the concept, rather than its stylistic approach. Moving forward, the goal is to break down each episode, and extract similarities. Similarities of technique, mind-state and ways of addressing their projects. This synthesis can become a resource beyond the audio. WIP looks to highlight the creative individuals’ contribution in various forms: from case studies to in-depth articles, to panels discussions and workshops.

As a culture, we choose to like, heart, share, or comment but rarely do we sit back and appreciate the real work—the process. The Works in Process podcast wants to create a shift in the conversation, and change the focus—slowly.

Creativity is never complete, it’s always a process.

Works In Process (WIP) – http://wip.show/

George Garrastegui is a passionate educator, designer, and a creative catalyst. A native New Yorker, who looks to the city’s rich history and culture for inspiration for his work. With an extensive background in publishing and marketing, he has crafted creative solutions for Popular Mechanics, Esquire, Cadillac, and Ford. When not teaching creative strategy at CUNY’s NYC College of Technology, George focuses on projects that initiate and discuss the creative process and has turned that passion into a podcast: Works in Process. He believes that you are not a designer because it’s your job, you are a designer because it’s who you are.

Recipient of recognition in the Design Incubation Communication Design Awards 2018.

Facilitating a Culture that Celebrates Experimentation and Addresses the Fear of Failure through Assessment

Alex Girard
Assistant Professor
Graphic Design
Art Department
Southern Connecticut State University

At Southern Connecticut State University, it has been observed that students pursuing a design degree are entering the program with a background dominated by a philosophy in which success equals providing a pre-defined, correct answer to a problem. This approach does not prepare students for a design process in which experimentation is paramount, as there is no singular correct answer to a given design problem.

The test-taking model of assessment assumes that information is disseminated by the instructor, retained by the student, and then recalled during a test. In this model, correct answers are consistent across submissions; it does not allow for the synthesis of something new, which is key to a successful design solution. Further, students in this process are often creatively crippled by fear of failure, as failure will negatively impact their final grade. Applying this philosophy of a singular correct answer, students are hesitant to embrace a process that encourages the exploration of ideas with multiple solutions.

While parameters guide a design project, end results are not measured against a pre-defined, correct design solution. In theory, each solution has the potential to be vastly different from another, yet still successful. Developing an assessment model that reinforces this process of experimentation with multiple solutions can be challenging for an instructor.

This presentation outlines a response to the perceived disconnect between the academic background of incoming students and the process required to achieve a successful design solution, utilizing an alternative project assessment model at Southern Connecticut State University. While this assessment model was applied in a limited context, positive results were immediately apparent and lasting; most notably, a marked increase in student experimentation with multiple solutions was observed.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 4.0: SUNY New Paltz on September 9, 2017.

Unforeseen Structures: Chaos, Materials, and Emergent Process

Mitch Goldstein
Assistant Professor
School of Design

Rochester Institute of Technology 

My research focuses on the examination of form and methodology using darkroom photography techniques, specifically the photogram. Photograms use no cameras or lenses — instead, objects are placed on or near unexposed photographic paper and briefly exposed to light. This process results in abstract black and white compositions, which emerge unpredictably from the physical materials used in their creation. Control is relinquished, and instead intuition and chance allow form and structure to develop from the process.

This work closely parallels my visual design practice working in publication design, as well as my applied pedagogy teaching art and design students. My talk focuses on three concepts that this research explores: how to work with chaos and unpredictability, the usage and synthesis of materials and methods, and the exploitation of emergent process. My photogram work, my publication design work, and some of my classroom projects will be shown as examples of these ideas and how they manifest across different contexts.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 4.0: SUNY New Paltz on September 9, 2017.

Uncovering Classical Painting Through Design Process and Artifacts

Zachary Winegardner
MFA Candidate
The Ohio State University

This research is being conducted to investigate the question of “how can digital design tools and critical making uncover and inspire the presentation of complex information in classical paintings?” This approach is practice led research, in which a process of making serves as the primary generation of methods of inquiry and new information about the subject matter. This process consists of a series of technical creations culminating in a design research artifact. The artifact itself is a 3D virtual environment that mimics the scene represented in Jacques Louis David’s neoclassical painting, Oath of the Horatii. The artifact is able to both generate new questions and serve as a means to investigate them. One example of this is the posing of proportional human models to match the painting’s posed figures. Curiosities and discrepancies took form during this attempt and warranted further investigation. By using the 3D scene with an overlaying image plane of the painting to compare arm lengths, I was able to evaluate the comparison between the painting’s proportions and correct 3D human proportions to discover that David greatly manipulates his figures.

This study is significant to me because the process of making in a 3D medium generated questions that I would not normally find myself asking, and the further investigation of these questions through making led to new information on a painting that I was already very familiar with. This demonstrates how critical making can lead to new knowledge for design researchers. It is also significant in educational spaces by exemplifying a process in which the method of discovery can influence the presentation of information. The experiential learning occurring in this research will be carried through into the design of the presented artifact, which will aid in the understanding of complex paintings.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 3.3: Kent State University on Saturday, March 11, 2017.

Fashioning The Brand

Summer Doll-Myers
Graphic Design
Kutztown University

Ann Lemon
Advertising
Kutztown University

The good, the bad and the beautiful of fashion advertising.

What does it mean to wear a label, a logo, a brand – across your chest or on your back pocket? Consumers, especially millennials, are becoming more invested in the brands they love by following, liking, and pinning products in addition to wearing them. The entire brand “story” is built from an archive of images that support an ongoing narrative. Fashion is a $1.2 trillion global industry according to a report from the U.S. Joint Economic Committee.

“Fashion apparel for the teenager is not the first considered purchase,” Wissink said. Teens see electronics as “popularity devices, not utilities.” –International Business Times

It isn’t just about “did you see what he’s wearing?” but more about “can you believe she still has an iPhone 4”?! Millennials are more skeptical about what they see as inauthentic or contrived messages.

The majority of ads for brands found in fashion magazines and online are non-conceptual. With the trend moving toward believing in a brand, ads need to be more than just pretty – they need to be designed around a solid brand concept.

After years of this Intro-Level Advertising Design assignment being used to teach students the power of the image in an ad, this brief got a revamp. First and foremost, students needed to have a concept. They were required to research positioning, and identify a specific audience. Beginning with sketches, they were not allowed to move on to shooting before a big, insightful, on-brand concept was approved. Students then explored the collaborative realities of production by taking on the roles of art director, photographer, casting director, writer, and stylist. We will show the project process award-winning student examples.

 

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 3.1: Kean University on Saturday, Oct 22, 2016.

Making Small Things: Robots, Cracks, and Hamburgers

Whether exploring meditations on a single theme, embracing new materials or studying the affects of repetition and reproduction, designer Chris St. Cyr’s work exploits both the familiar and the unknown.

Chris St.Cyr
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
The College of Saint Rose

cracksMake some thing. Somewhere between morning routines, client projects and preparing for a class there is time to create something… a small something. Over time, these creations may evolve into larger projects or they can remain a collection of random ideas waiting for connections to given them form. The trick is to think small— a two-minute sketch, a single bullet item, one typeface, one principle, two constraints, no command z, a page, or one post.

hamburgersOver the past five years I’ve developed a series of small personal projects that continue to evolve and grow. Social media is part of the production process. It is used to start conversations and provides a place for my creations to exist on their own and to engage with a globally networked community. One project, an investigation of the efficiency of modular design systems and has evolved from building 3D Lego structures to using Lego block printing to create a system of robot symbols for use on T-shirts, stickers, and in augmented reality. In another project (perhaps a reaction against the Lego project) old rub down press type is used as a catalyst for the investigation of randomness, reaction, and flow. Here there is very little control and rubbing cracked letterforms onto sketchbook paper gives form to the compositions which are then scanned, manipulated and printed, all of which adds another layer of uncertainty to the outcome. robotsA third, and more recent project, is a meditation on the mobile menu symbol—affectionately known as the “Hamburger Menu.” More specifically it involves a series of motion design experiments that explore how three horizontal lines can transition into the shape of an “X.” As the projects have changed over time one thing remains consistent—they all started as a single small exploration of a design principle, material, tool or technique.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 3.0: Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) on Saturday, Sept 24, 2016.