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A Sustainable Design Blog

Be Curious

We frequently get asked for advice because of our unique niche in sustainable design, and being quite interested in the subject we naturally dive head first into an on-the-spot, crash course in designing for sustainability. That can be a bit overwhelming for some, especially if this is your first introduction to the topic. So the next time somebody asks me for a sustainable design tip, I want to try something different. Here’s how I imagine it going.

“Hey Gage, you’re a rock star designer and a brilliant sustainability expert...” (I may have taken a few liberties here) “so, what advice do you have for someone just getting started in design/sustainability?”

“Be curious.”

Hopefully my pupil would ‘be curious’ enough to ask why that is such an awesome piece of advice, and if I were so lucky I’d explain:

“If you’re not curious, you won’t explore other options just to see if they’re better. You might, for example, design a brochure with a pocket folder, just because it was done that way last year, and have no idea that you could have saved a bunch of paper and your company/client 60% of the printing costs by ditching the folder and printing self cover instead (no cover weight stock, but rather the same weight of paper all the way through). Armed with this knowledge, you might check with the sales team to see if they really need a pocket, and if their answer is no, then great, you just saved the day and increased the bottom line.”

“Okay, that’s pretty cool.” My inquirer would say. “But I work online mostly. I’m a UX designer and I don’t print pocket folders. So how would this advice help me?”

“Ah,” I’d say. “It still applies though, no worries. For example, have you ever been curious to know how much energy it takes to run your website?”

“No, not really.”

“Well what if you were curious and you explored that a bit and found that your website is a crazy energy hog? Then that curiosity pushed you to find out why, which then lead you to various solutions for renewable energy hosting and making your site mobile friendly so that smaller devices don’t have to download all that big data just to find your hours of operation, or order a ticket to your event.”

“Okay. I get it. So you’re saying that if I’m always curious, asking questions and looking for answers can lead me to big ideas.” 

“Exactly.” I’d say.

“But wait... isn’t that really just a basic principle for design in general?” My pupil would say with a suspicious look on her face.

“Well yes, actually. That’s just the thing. Sustainable design is, more or less, just smart design. Instead of stopping at aesthetics, you think about the invisible system surrounding your design. How it functions. How it effects people. How it gets from point A to point B. What happens to it after it’s useful life. By being curious you’ll explore more of these big questions that seem invisible to others, but are now obvious to you.”

For a moment my new pupil would stand there with a blank expression on her face until slowly, her eyes would widen and then narrow again sharply and she looks at me, nodding her head in agreement.

“I guess I never thought of it that way.” She’d say. “Thanks!”

And then I’d resist the temptation to push further into the abyss, knowing that if I just let this seed germinate in her mind, her curiosity will lead her to the rest of the answers.



Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks

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

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Put all your eggs in one basket and – WATCH THAT BASKET.- Mark Twain