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Modern Species Featured In GDUSA Magazine’s 2017 Responsible Designers To Watch Issue

by Gage Mitchell | Nov 1, 2017 | Studio News

We're incredibly honored to be featured alongside some of the most passionate and talented people we know in the 2017 Responsible Designers To Watch issue of GDUSA magazine. For this feature they interviewed our founder, Gage Mitchell, about the origins of our studio and our thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing the sustainable and socially responsible design field. The interview is below for your reading pleasure. And many congrats to all who were featured! Let's keep pushing the industry, and the world forward!

Modern Species, Seattle WA

We’re all passionate, hard working, creative problem solvers who, under the right circumstances, thrive when we’re given a challenge that pushes us beyond our current capabilities. However, we’ve all also experienced what it’s like to feel unfulfilled after pouring our hearts into a project that ultimately supports something that doesn’t align with our values and interests. That feeling led our founder, Gage Mitchell, to create Modern Species, and drove the rest of us here to help build a studio that allows us each to align our values, passions, and skills.

How and why did you become involved with socially responsible and/or sustainable projects clients or causes?

The agency began nearly nine years ago, when Gage returned after a year of traveling abroad (a long honeymoon in lieu of a big wedding) and hung up his shingle in Madison WI. It was there that he took a small business course at UW and began searching for more meaningful work. Business quickly took off so his wife Jen joined to help build the studio. After years of research, learning, trial and error, they developed a unique expertise in sustainable brand design and chose to focus Modern Species’ core services on brand strategy and sustainable packaging, web, and print design for mission-centric organic and natural product companies – both because of the huge impact that industry has on the world (our climate change) and because they love tasty product samples.

Today, we are based in Seattle with a core team consisting of two (soon to be three) designers, a project coordinator, and Gage. About 80% of work still comes from our primary niche, but we also take on cause-related projects within the mental and physical health, and social and economic impact realms because it fits our values and we enjoy helping great organizations do amazing things.

We believe in a holistic approach to responsibility which means that: we carefully choose which clients and projects we work on; we use our expertise to guide that work toward the most impactful and sustainable outcome possible; we operate our business the way all companies should be run – by making social and environmental impact as important, if not more important, than profit.

Are there special challenges or opportunities in pursuing these goals in 2017?

After years of hard work learning to build and operate a responsible design studio, we’re pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished. That said, there’s always room for improvement. Here are some of the challenges and opportunities facing our studio now and in the near future:

Operate More Efficiently
Because we built this company from scratch with a goal of putting purpose and personal growth over profits, we naively failed to build efficient systems and processes. This is a challenge we’re working hard to solve so we can do even more great work for awesome clients, have less deadline and budget stress, and ultimately build a sturdy platform for the future.

Impact and Measurement
Designers are inherently good at empathizing and then communicating through words and images. However, we need to improve as a profession in envisioning our impact, planning our projects to influence the change we seek in a sustainable manner, and then measure the outcomes. This is why Gage is working with a team of other socially responsible design leaders on the AIGA Design for Good Task Force to develop and launch the Path To Impact, a workbook that will help lead designers through the process of envisioning, planning, measuring, and sharing impact-focused work.

Broken Systems
Within our specific niche of consumer packaged goods, there are pervasive problems if we ever want to be a truly sustainable society. One example is the disjointed material recovery system in the U.S. that has different processes and abilities for recycling and composting in each city and state, making it nearly impossible to distribute truly sustainable CPG packaging nationally. There’s definitely a lot we can do to make packaging more sustainable, but the system needs to be overhauled.

Design A Better World
Long story short, we design responsibly because we care enough to get off the sidelines when we can help make an impact. To do our best work as designers though, we need to recognize the realities of the complex, interwoven, and often broken/unjust systems we’re working within in order to create smarter solutions and a better world for future generations. The cards may be stacked against us, but we choose to believe change is possible and we vow to keep pushing ourselves and the industry forward. That is, after all, why we’re called Modern Species.


2017 GDUSA Responsible Designers to Watch

Gage Mitchell is the Principal / Creative Director at Modern Species. For more posts from him, click here.

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Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.- Mark Twain