The new normal

I once talked to a lead designer in a big firm. He told me about a project his agency was doing for an insurance company; “We interviewed a lot of people that had something to do with people that had a car accident: medical staff, insurance clarks, mechanics. By connecting all the dots we have learned that everybody shares the same wish after an accident: to get back to normal”.

Would it also be the case when the Covid 19 crisis will come to an end? Or perhaps we will use this crisis as an opportunity to change some of our automatic assumptions and behaviour in order to slow down climate change? Would the 'new normal' will be equal to the 'old normal'? It’s rather easy to be cynical about another possible future, but looking at the situation through these two perspectives, provides some optimism:

John Thackara uses a storytelling perspective. He suggests that we are destroying our own home (the planet) because we are not connected to the consequences of our actions (what he calls ‘the metabolic rift’). In order to bridge this gap, writes Thackara, we needs a story that re-connects the economy, us, our bodies and our life with the world around us rather than acting as they are separate places. Needless to say that the Covid 19 pandemic provides exactly this understanding, not only as a cognitive story, but rather as an intimate and personal experience. Therefore it can catalyse a new emerging story.

Naomi Klein suggests an economic perspective. According to her research, a shocking event and crises could lead into two main paths: Due to the public disorientation It can suspend democracy (as we see now days in Israel) and push towards a radical free market policies, or it could catalyse a positive change such as the American ’The new deal’ after ‘The Great depression’ in the 30’s.

Klein quotes the economist Milton Friedman who says “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are laying around". The same ideas that seemed to be too radical just few days ago, suddenly becomes possible. Klein is hoping for a ‘Green new deal’ which will boost the green industries rather then the polluting ones. “The future will be detainment by who ever is willing to fight harder for the ideas they had been laying around”, she says.


(Sustainability in Design Education – post no. 3)

Over the past two weeks I've been interviewing 13 people:
From each type of interview I tried to get a different kind of information:
Students: What exactly do you go through in each course? What do you fill regarding sustainability in general? How do you experience it as part of your studies?
Staff members at KADK: I interviewed people with different roles – from teachers to the head of the institute. I asked different questions according to their role, starting with what do you teach, and ending up with the way they see the future of design.
Staff members from other design educations in Scandinavia: I mostly tried to learn what are they doing in terms of sustainability in design and what is their approach.
Specialist in sustainable design from Designit Oslo: How do they build their capacity in the field as designers that are not specialised in sustainability? What is the most important thing to teach students in this context?

The most fruitful question was 'What is the biggest constrain when working with sustainability?'. This question actually made everybody – even the most fluent and confident professionals, stop for a second and think. Not everyone is willing to share what they are straggling with, and the answers to this question revealed some of it.

After I transcribed the interviews I colour coded the different groups of participants, and wrote the main points they were talking about on post-it notes. I gradually put them on the wall according to different topics that came up. This is how it ended up:
Each Post-it includes a single note. Here is random selection:

Next step: Making sense out of it.

?What's the plan

(sustainability in design education – 2nd post)

"The most interesting phase of a project is setting it up, designing it, scanning the domain, framing the issues, specifying an action, seeking information and advice, planning the work, putting together the team. All these are design tasks, and they are best learned by experience." (Jhon Thackara)

Several teams around the world applied sustainability as a principle in design education. They all tell about a long process that took many months and required several iterations to function well. Each of them was completely different. This project will run for four and a half months which isn't that much (to say the least), and It seems like the planning in more or less done by now. Here is what I intend to do:


1. Project scope: The project will include the bachelor program at the Institute of Visual Design. My personal approach is that sustainability should be inherent to design education, and therefore should already be present in the base of the education program, rather than on a MA level as it is mostly the case.

Working in the context of sustainability in other fields of design like industrial design or architecture is more common, since they are strongly tight to materials and production. I assume that visual design will rather lead me towards looking into discourse and narratives, but we'll see.

2. Partnership: I don't work for people, I work with people. I will try to involve the staff at KADK as much as possible, and keep my work transparent (not very easy for a designer that is used to show only the final outcome). This mindset I'm trying to adapt is also the main reason for writing about this process here.

3. Tools development: Rather than submitting some concrete insights to KADK, I hope to develop some tools that could be used in similar processes happening in other design schools.

Fields of research:

The Process

Next step: Interviews
The interviews which will start next week will include the management, teachers and students at KADK as well as teachers from other universities that are already experienced in this field. I also hope to interview some designers that graduated from KADK and to hear their perspective.

Ignoring the cereals box

In autumn 2000 I started studying visual communication at 'Bezalel' academy in Jerusalem. On the first week I attended 'creative thinking' class with Ruben Cohen, a mythological design teacher. Just before the class ended, Ruben told us that there are two things we need to remember: The first is that we have a responsibility towards the environment; 'Always keep in mind', he said, 'what happens to that serials box you designed after it has been used'. The second thing he said was equally important, but not relevant to this post. That was the first time I heard about what I now frame under the term 'sustainability' during my design education, and unfortunately, also the last.

I've learnt many things during the four years I've been a bachelor student in the design school: professional crafts, concepts creation and visual communication to list a few. It was a life changing experience that effected the person and the designer I am today. However, the effect of my work on the planet was never a part of the conversation. The fact that eighty percent of the environmental impact of the products, services, and infrastructures around us is determined at the design stage (according to the UK design council 2002), seemed to be irrelevant to the design education I received.

20 years have passed and many things have changed in my world. I became a professional designer. I became a mother. I became a student once again. I see the climate changing in front of my eyes, and I can't avoid thinking about the world I am going to leave to my children, and what can I possibly do about it. Ignoring my own footprint on the planet doesn't seem to be possible anymore.

The understanding that design has a part in creating the climate crises we are experiencing becomes more and more common. As design scholar John Thackara writes: "We designed our way into this crises, now we have to design our way out of it". Among many other things that needs to be done to face the current situation, designers needs to adapt sustainability as a professional standard. The cereal box can not be ignored any longer.

Sustainability is an emerging topic in design education. Some study programs on a master level are dedicated exclusively to this theme, while others are experimenting different ways it could be approached and applied. However, this is only the very beginning of tackling such a complex challenges.

I decided to explore this topic in the context of my master thesis in Service System Design at Aalborg university. In the following months I will collaborate with the Visual Design institute at The Danis Academy for Art and Design (KADK), to explore and develop a framework of sustainability for their education. This is a work in process so in the upcoming posts I hope to tell more about it and share some findings and reflections along the way. Your own comments, thoughts and ideas are very welcome in this ongoing conversation.