Sustainable Design

sustainable design

How is Graphic Design related to Sustainability?

When designers start a new project, thinking about sustainability should be a natural process, once the result will affect the environment, the society and the economy. Unfortunately, this is not a usual practice.

Since the beginning of the University, the lack of relation between design and sustainability always bothered me. As students, we learn that design is form and function; it solves the client’s problems and needs; it is aesthetic and must talk to its audience. We study Semiotic, Psychology, Sociology, Marketing, Finances, Research, Computer Graphics, Drawing, Creation Thinking, Art and Design History, etc. We learn isolated theories but we usually are not taught how to practice the sustainable design.

Design Background

With the Industrial Revolution, the Graphic Design became independent from the Arts. It has become possible because of the scale production. One piece only can be called Design when it is reproducible. It is made to the market, which means it will be consumed and discarded, involving economic, social and environment factors.

embalagem antiga, revolução industrial

The designers’ mission is to translate the verbal communication into visual, giving form and function to the creation.

Among its functions, the designer is responsible for choosing the color palette, the typography, the graphic elements and the size of the composition. Besides, he needs to choose – or at least consider – the materials, technologies, and suppliers involved in the project.

The result of a designer’s job can be a stationery identity, a packaging or a magazine (graphic design), a chair (product design), an apparel or a bag (fashion design).

Those products will be manufactured, then transported and sold. The user will be the final client, who will buy, use and throw away the product. We call this route as product life cycle.

From the production to the discard, there are many steps involving the environment (raw material, print, production, usage), the society (suppliers, employees, clients) and the economy (cost, price, outlets, advertisement).

Did you notice how intrinsic is the relation between design and sustainability?

“A sustainable future is one in which a healthy environment, economic prosperity and social justice are pursued simultaneously to ensure the well-being and quality of life of present and future generations. Education is crucial to attaining that future.” (Learning for a Sustainable Future – Teacher Centre)


Although we still frequently find on the market a design inherited from the After World War II, known as Styling.

styling design example
styling design example

Most used as a way to overcome the economic crisis of 1929, the Styling is purely aesthetic and considers the quantity over the quality. The only goal was to encourage the impulse buying and -of course, obtain more profit. In this scenario, the design doesn’t solve any client need or has any function. The result is a disaster: irrational disposal, overconsumption, and obsolescence.

Our Reality

We are near to an environmental collapse that must be contained immediately. Our natural resources are scarce, our forests are turning into pasture, large amounts of pollutants are thrown away every day, the landfills are overloaded, the air and water are polluted.We still have people hungry, social inequality, sweatshops and urban violence.

We don’t have any more space for disposable projects or irrational design that prioritizes the aesthetics and overuse our natural resources to pleasure the luxury and the impulse shopping.
We can’t accept unethical brands that exploit workers, pollute the environment and sell useless objects for exorbitant prices.

Apply the sustainable principles to every design project is a must and a responsibility of all professional. It will guarantee economic progress, better life condition and a healthy environment.

To Finish

I leave you with this wonderful quote from the father of Sustainable Design, Victor Papanek:

“Design must be an innovative, highly creative, cross-disciplinary tool responsive to the needs of men. It must be more research-oriented, and we must stop defiling the earth itself with poorly-designed objects and structures.” (Victor Papanek)

And a book you should read: Design for the Real World – Victor Papanek

eco design, sustainable design, design for the real world
Design for the Real World – Victor Papanek

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