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A Sustainable Design Blog

Designing Backwards: Brainstorming for Global Impact

As a bright-eyed and bushy ‘stached intern I was given the task to familiarize myself with sustainable graphic design. In order to do this I read Brian Dougherty’s Green Graphic Design

This book, for those of you who have yet to read it, breaks down the concept of green graphic design and the details for how to communicate, persuade and spread the message of responsible design. The book can be a little idealistic at times, but it has a lot of amazing take aways that can help people be more mindful of the environment and their user’s experience with their designs.

The section I thought summarized the book very well (besides the avocado metaphor which you can read about when you pick up a copy of the book) was the idea of designing backwards. Dougherty describes this process as,

“a mental journey, starting from a design project’s ultimate destination and working backwards until we arrive back at the design studio.”

This is a multi-step brainstorm process that allows you to fully assess each aspect of your design project’s journey beginning with the end—how it will be discarted.

There are six sections:

  • 6. Waste: Design for destiny; Consider reuse; Recyclability; Compostability
  • 5. User: User Experience; Add value through design; Educate; Enable action
  • 4. Delivery: Design for distribution; Explore efficient packing; stripping away layers; Alternative distribution
  • 3. Warehouse: Consider print on demand; Perform actual usage audit
  • 2. Bindery: Consider mechanical bindings; Eliminate trim waste
  • 1. Printing: Design for green printing; Explore recycled paper; Design press sheets; Consider digital printing: UV inks; Low VOC printing

The benefits of working backwards allows the designer to avoid potential roadblocks that could occur along the road that would prevent green choices to be made. Once you know how the design will be disposed of you can then think of how to make the design impactful to the user. Consider different methods of delivery that would create the largest impact within your target audience group while eliminating the amount of waste created from production.

Utilizing this brainstorming tool could help your project a have a more meaningful lifespan, or it simply could be an interesting way to challenge the way you normally do things. Either way I would recommend Green Graphic Design to anyone who wants to learn more about how this process can actually change the scope of your designs and teach you communication techniques to sell clients on your designs—even if they are more costly. There are a lot of really great take-aways and it's a good intro to world of sustainable design.

Bradlee Thielen Bradlee is a Summer 2018 design intern with Modern Species. For more posts from him, click here.

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Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.- Albert Einstein