Image for post
Image for post

The Beginning
In January 2019, I emailed a few design faculty I knew in North America. From Toronto to California, I hoped to recruit a few folks to join me in introducing climate science into our classrooms that semester. I had the idea a week or two before the term started. Everyone I emailed said “Sounds good. Maybe next time, I have my class already planned.” I was too late in asking them, but I forged ahead with it anyway that term on my own.

I may have been a few weeks too late, but design and design education are decades late to the climate emergency. Science, governments, and the oil companies have known for decades about greenhouse gases and the likelihood of human-caused climate change from burning fossil fuels. Climate change is here now and like Covid-19, it doesn’t give a damn if you believe in it or not. It’s going to wreak havoc on our lives going forward. It’ll get worse the less we do to drawdown our greenhouse gas emissions. However, the more we work to reduce our carbon footprint to zero and, at the same time, regenerate our planet, the better we’ll have it in the decades ahead. …


A Toolkit for Making Positive Impact

Image for post
Image for post
Illustration for Re-nourish by Veronica Steffen

The planet and humanity needs designers to change the way they make things. This was the astutely accurate thesis from the 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart.

Their book changed my life. I had for some time wondered what negative impacts all the printed ephemera I designed had on our natural environment. I worried about deforestation, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). It wasn’t until after reading their book that I was fully aware of the negative environmental and social impacts the designer created. I was confused and frustrated. …


After The Climate Strike, how can designers keep the momentum moving and growing?

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Markus Spiske

Beyond your professional design life, there is a lot you can do in your public and personal life to improve the world. If you live in a democracy, vote. Vote specifically to uplift your value system in combination with improving the greater good for the rest of us. (If you’re not registered to vote in the US, vote.org is the place to go before you read anymore of the article!)

Vote with your pocketbook as well. What you decide to purchase (or not to purchase) has an impact. Support groups and companies that align with your values and together help design the world you want to live in. …


Image for post
Image for post

At the end of our 2016 book “Design to Renourish: Sustainable Graphic Design In Practice,” we wrote that our systems thinking for designers process was in its infancy and and more exploration from the discipline was needed. A year after the book was published, this statement is still as true as it was then. But, after a course I taught in fall 2017 at the University of Illinois, I believe that we have more evidence that the theory and process in the book is sound.

In fall 2017, Priscilla Boff Ferronato (a PhD candidate in Informatics and Design) and myself each taught a section of a Human Centered Design (HCD) course directed toward Graphic Designers. We planned the entire course using the process defined in “Design to Renourish.” Each of the two challenges (as we called the assignments) tasked each team of students to follow our systems thinking design process: determine project goals, map out the design problem, brainstorm design outcomes, and evaluate each possible project outcome to solve a social or environmental issue that affects humanity. …


What is systems thinking?

Image for post
Image for post
Imagine a food chain. That’s a system!

For a moment, try to remember back to your first semester in college. (It wasn’t that long ago, was it?) Think about the foundational art and design courses you took that term and the vocabulary your instructor covered in the first few weeks to help you better understand the worlds of art and design. Most likely you were introduced to the German word Gestalt meaning that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts” or a “unified whole.” Understanding the concept of Gestalt is a good starting point to explore how to think in systems. When we discuss “systems” in this book we are not necessarily referring to what you may already understand as systems like letterforms in an alphabet or the components of a branding campaign, but rather to the scientific methodology used in the natural sciences like biology and ecology. Environmental pioneer John Muir describes this concept most clearly: “When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe.” In other words, everything is connected on our planet and our natural systems depend on balance. …


Image for post
Image for post

This is my second cathartic installment charting my personal and emotional journey as a designer and educator coming to grips with the possible death of many of Earth’s ecological systems.

Since my last post I have been constantly searching for uplifting news about positive steps folks have taken to combat the rise of greenhouse gases either through design or everyday activism. Whatever good news I unearthed, it was tempered by the frustrating fact that greenhouse gas emissions (in the US) rose by 3.4% in 2018 and CO2 rose 3.5 parts per million globally, despite our overall drawdown of coal in our energy portfolios. Much of the increase in the US was due to Trump’s rollback of Obama-era GHG regulations combined with a booming economy (travel, consumption, and manufacturing) — and a colder winter. In fact “emissions from the American industrial sectors — including steel, cement, chemicals and refineries — increased by 5.7 …


Image for post
Image for post

This is my first cathartic installment charting my personal and emotional journey as a designer and educator coming to grips with the possible death of many of Earth’s ecological systems.

Where to begin? I have grieved the loss of our ecosystems and potential for a better future for years. It’s been a traumatic journey. The climate news isn’t happy. It’s sad and horrible to think how stupid we’ve all been gorging on what our Mother Earth has given us, all the while releasing an egregious amount of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. I’ve mourned my child’s and my own future for over 10 years. …

About

Eric Benson

Associate Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Co-founder of Re-nourish and Fresh Press Agri-Fiber Paper Lab.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store