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Episode 3

Sustainable design

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In this episode

Jeremy and Malin talk about how Vince Frost took the difficult experience of burnout and created the "design your life" movement. We also look at how you can help your clients be more sustainable and what to say if someone is trying to use greenwashing to market their company.

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Businesses play a big role in changing our behaviour and providing sustainable options. On top of that, governments are now starting to make the rules much stricter and companies that are not updating their packaging could be fined. Check out this great resource from the UK government for tips.

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If you are interested in the Design your life approach, you can check out Vince Frost's book. After 25 years of working on his creative process Vince Frost had this thought 'If my design process brings value to me, perhaps it can bring value to others. Or, more radically, bring others to recognise their own value.'

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Episode transcript

Jeremy: Hi and welcome again to the Creative Hold podcast. I am one of your hosts, Jeremy Jusoh and my co-host…

 

Malin: Malin Lernhammar

 

Jeremy: I hope you had a nice week! So today is all about a topic that is very near and dear to our hearts, sustainability. And I..

 

Malin: I think…sorry

 

Jeremy: No go ahead.

 

Malin: I just thought perhaps we should give some background to why it is so important to us.

 

Jeremy: Yes so well I come from the sort of Scandinavian school of design and I studied a year in Copenhagen and Copenhagen is one of the most sustainable forward thinking design cities that I have ever experiences so that way that is where my sort of my interest lie with design and sustainability and then you…

 

Malin: Well, my background is actually in Ecology and sustainability so I never studied design. If you listen to the first episode I think we might have talked about this a little bit but essentially I actually wanted to go in to research but I wanted to do something that had an impact in sustainability in people’s lives and I kind of realised that a lot of the research, as important as it is, it does not always get translated in to everyday people actions. So when we met and we started realising how we could combine design with sustainability it was kind of like that “aha!” moment I think for both of us. It was such a perfect combination of you starting your degree, like doing that year abroad in Copenhagen and seeing all those companies and their values and then me bringing like my degree to the table.  

 

Malin: Maybe we should also mention what we think sustainability means because everyone has a different definition. And I think the main focus is on green energy and on the environment but I think especially as we kind of keep going and learning more we are realising how many other things are involved.

 

Jeremy: Yes so like how people work is a big part of what makes a city or an environment sustainable, right, the amount of hours people put in, the type of work that we do and the way we think about how we structure our lives can impact the sustainability of a city, of your lifestyle, of everything basically. So much more comes in to that. And actually that is a perfect segway to the person we are going to profile today. Today we are going to profile Vince Frost.

 

Malin: O awesome! That is really cool.

 

Jeremy: So Vince Frost started at Pentagram.

 

Malin: As you do!

 

Jeremy: As they do, he started at Pentagram. And he became the youngest associate at Pentagram at the age of 27.

 

Malin: 27. We have got to move on up, we only have one more year.

 

Jeremy: We one have one year to go. And yea so after spending a few years at Pentagram, he started his own business in London in 1994. Which was a design agency.

 

Malin: Is it called Frost design?

 

Jeremy: No so his company now is called Frost Collective but first he started as a design agency and just worked you know the hustle and bustle of the 9-11pm time design agency life and really like as many creatives do really burned himself out a bit and he then sort of said why am I doing this? Why am I as a creative not designing myself in to a more sustainable situation and then use that design thinking in every aspect that I do? It is called you know “designing his life”.

 

Malin: I think I have listened to the podcast they have.

 

Jeremy: Yes he has got a podcast and he has a book that came out in 2014, in the show notes we will put the Amazon link. Yea so he created this Human Centered Design movement around designing one's life and then he started becoming much more conscious about sustainability. He worked with ending hunger with an ending hunger organisation called OZ Harvest. Yea he is heavily now invested in sustainability in these organisations as a design agency but then he is also because he sees design in a sort of more holistic way, Frost Collective is actually not just branding and design and packaging it is also VR design.

 

Malin: Right and I think the word collective also communicates a lot more than just companies that are working together. But the word collective, to me at least, signifies some sort of not that kind of top down hierarchy. Having a more collaborative environment in general. I think he is such a perfect example that you are explaining of how it is not just about environment, it is not just about your personal gain but it is a combination of that financial goal, social goals, environmental goals and how we can make everything work for us and be kind of future proof.

 

Jeremy: Yes, and I think for us as Creative Hold, you know we want to improve the lives of creatives and we as creatives never think about the business of our lives. You know if we start thinking about our work-life balance as a design project, applying those methods can probably help you create a more fulfilled life so that you don’t have to always put your…

 

Malin: Yes I have hear a lot of people say more like “work-life integration” because I think it is unrealistic sometimes to say “O I am only going to focus on the number of hours I’m working”.

 

Jeremy: Yes!

 

Malin: Because I think it is important to notice not just the number of hours you are working but how you feel about those hours. And if you are a person who loves working in the evening and you need that day to get outside and do stuff or get inspiration or go to the gym, that might be more sustainable as a tactic for you rather than I am only going to work 9-5 for example. So I think the Design your life podcast is so cool because it has that holistic view of things.

 

Jeremy: Yes and he interviews a bunch of different people from different creative industries and industries and talking about what they do to design their own lives. And I am thinking, I wonder what we could do, or what one could do immediately to design your life, like what are these first steps that one can do?

 

Malin: Yea, I think one for the biggest things is you need that why in your work because you can go to work every day and you can interact with clients, you can do your books you know we can do all these things that some of them you might enjoy, some of them you might not but if you have that bigger picture of like “In 5 years I want my business to look like this” or I want to be able to have time with my kids or I want to be able to work with companies that have this output in to the world. If you have that as a goal, then those hours that you are putting in are going to feel like they make more sense.

 

Jeremy: Yes and another question I am going to ask you since we are talking about Vince Frost and his Frost Collective, do you think that creatives will have to become collectives in order to be more sustainable? Do we have to what is the word sort of “collectivise” our skills going forward in order to be more sustainable as an industry?

 

Malin: And competitive.

 

Jeremy: And competitive yes.

 

Malin: I don’t think you have to but I do think we are going to see a lot of collectives coming up, I know I have even heard on other podcasts there are like a couple of ones that are advertising because we have mentioned in some of the recent blog posts as well how the industry is becoming so demanding for you need to be a very well rounded solution where you need to be like a business advisor and you need to be a social media person and you need to do the actual design and you need to advice on printing and you need to advice on how it works with your website so it is really difficult for one team to do that unless you are a giant company so I think, I am hoping that we are going to see more people team up in a little bit more of a collaborative way that just referring each other. And ultimately we kind of have this vision where the community that we are building through the Facebook group and you as listeners can actually start helping each other out and both sharing ideas to support each other but maybe like collaborate on projects! So if that is something that you think is interesting, we would love to hear that from you and then we can facilitate that community being built around that.

 

Jeremy: Yes so I think, this is a bit less of a deep dive into the person because I find that the “design your life” approach is more interesting to discuss for ourselves because I really appreciate us talking more about what he is doing and how we can apply that to our own always so yea.

 

Malin: I think it is really good that we are starting with ourselves because knowing and thinking about this stuff ourselves with this bit that I am going to talk about which is how to help our clients be more sustainable. Some of the tips I think are definitely going to be applicable to your own agency or your own work and I’ll bring up some of the stuff we have done but a lot of it is also what you can help your client with and I don’t know if you agree with this but I think there is a big perception that our job as creatives when we get hired is to help our clients grow their business which usually means revenue.

 

Jeremy: Sometimes also like we as creatives come in when something is wrong and they don't know what and they assume that it is the marketing or something else but not their work process.  

 

Malin: Yes and I think we have to start questioning why does it have to mean this very short term purely financial goal. Because if we are being slightly seen as consultants or in some cases if you are like overhauling a website or branding or something like a big project, you really should be a consultant for how the business should run in the future. Because you are going in to see, exactly like you are saying, something is wrong. Why is it wrong, how can we fix it? So I think we need to take ourselves out of this mentality when we go in to a project thinking we have to show them these short term wins for them to like the project and hire us again, do you know what I mean?

 

Jeremy: And also, we should also get out of the mentality of we should just make something. And you know sometimes you need to destroy something.

 

Malin: hahaha, the destructive approach.

 

Jeremy: Yes!

 

Malin: No but pairing back.

 

Jeremy: Yes, exactly right.

 

Malin: One of the quotes I really liked was from a guy called Stephen Wahl, he is from IDEO which is one of the companies we have always had as our kind of role model company. If you don’t know about IDEO, they are I think maybe the poster child for Human Centered Design.

 

Jeremy: Yes, I think that is where we got our Human Centered Design from.

 

Malin: Yes they have got a ton of free courses and lots of stuff for how to think sustainably and they also do environmental, social, all these different angles. And he said at the 2007 AIGA conference: “As designers we have been very effective in teaching people about more, can we teach them what enough means?”.

 

Jeremy: Yes.

 

Malin: And I think it is easy to say “O well my clients they set the requirements for this project, they are the ones who know their printing budget and they are the ones who are asking something from me and I need to just fullfill that request”

 

Jeremy: Right.

 

Malin: When actually what we put out into the world both in terms of even on our portfolio how we portray a project, what the marketing assets are saying, what the brand message is saying and all that is shaping people’s perspective of the world in a way. Like all the output that companies are putting out there is shaping our values and perceptions in a way.

 

Jeremy: Yes and I think it is really important that we bring that up with our own clients as well.
 

Malin: Yes, I think a really good way to do that is during the discovery phase to say “Ok, we are looking for your strategy that is going to last you for the next 20 years”. Right, we know that the market is moving fast and there is always new technology happening and everyone is changing all the time but we are trying to create a strategy so you don’t have to come back to us every year to pay us money. So you can even start with that financial incentive which is what a lot of clients probably respond to so you are saying, we want to make sure the strategy is going to last for you in the next 20 years for example. What is your vision? And when you open it up to that kind of discussion, you already have their attention, they are brainstorming and then you can frame it in the sense of in order to have that company that is going to work 20 years from now we need happy employees, you need happy customers and that is going to be that social aspect of how you treat people. How you know you communicate with your customers and also, I don’t know if you agree with this? But I think most people now they don’t just buy from a company that is neutral, they want a mission.

 

Jeremy: Yes, also I mean I think neutral can be seen as anti-mission.

 

Malin: Yea!

 

Jeremy: If you are silent you are against.

 

Malin: Yes that is true, it is quite dangerous to be silent.

 

Jeremy: I think yea value neutral is a value in itself and I think you can’t afford to be that anymore.

 

Malin: Yes, I totally agree. So you are kind of bringing it back then to that financial base that maybe clients are more comfortable with. So you are saying look people care about your mission, they care about what you stand for, being neutral is going to be negative as an impact on your finances.

Malin: So if you want to encourage sustainable choices in the companies then I think the first thing you need to do is step away from all the buzzwords. Really look at what you want the outcome to be like you should ask the company what the outcome should be and then you work backwards

Malin: So instead of using these words, try to think about the goal. If the company’s goal is to reduce waste, you can start internally to really do something that is not flashy but something that is actually going to work. So like are you keeping the lights on even when no one is working? Are you producing a ton of food waste since no one is eating all those bagels you put out?

Malin: And then once you have done that, you can tell people about it as part of your brand story like you can put it on your about page. You can post like maybe challenges on your Instagram saying “hey we are trying to reduce our own impact, this is what we have done so far and this is what our goal is”. And then you are being super clear with what you are actually doing because have you heard the term “greenwashing”?

 

Jeremy: Yes I have heard the term greenwashing where you put these vanity metrics of your green sustainability when actually you are not doing much.

 

Malin: Yes, you are just using it as a marketing ploy.

 

Jeremy: Exactly.

 

Malin: And I think whenever someone comes to us and say you know we want to say that we are doing this, and it seems deceiving to you, I think it is important that we realise it is probably deceiving to the customer. And they are going to make their choice based on these different words that we are placing out there

Malin: So think about a way to explain to your client that not being upfront with what you are doing will always have a bad impact on your brand eventually. People will find out and that has a much bigger negative impact on your business than any short term positives they got from the greenwashing. Essentially it just doesn’t make sense strategically and you can bring that up as a creative consultant.

Jeremy: I have a question. In an industry where you might not have a very big negative impact but you still want to stand for something and help out, what can you do then?

Malin: There is usually always something you can still improve on so take a look at your process but also remember that it does not all have to be reducing a negative impact, you can have apositive one as well. Maybe team up with a charity or offer an internship program and you have a great impact as a business. That works both for our own companies and as advice for our clients.

Malin: If you want to find out what impact the print or like package design that you are creating is going to have, there is a ton of calculators online so we will put some in the story...

Jeremy: The Show notes

Malin: Right, the show notes! Yes so you can put in the kind of paper you are using and the dimensions and ink and then it tells you what the impact is and gives you tips for how to be more sustainable. One is called Re-nourish print calculator so we don't have to be helpless. 

Malin: I wanted to ask you because you have probably heard that expression “reduce, reuse, recycle” Do you know why it is that order specifically?

 

Jeremy: No, I do not.

 

Malin: So it is very intentional and it is because it is the order we should try to do things in. So actually reducing has much more impact than reusing and reusing has much more impact than recycling. So even though please recycle if you have recycling, it is much more effective to start with the reduce phase and this is where we can cycle back and it comes down to your whole design thinking and your process and intentionality behind it.

Malin: So people who live in the UK probably know about Lush. And they try to reduce by having almost no packaging, they call it like naked products so like a bar of soap you don’t need plastic or a bunch of paper around it but they also have these like black pots. Actually they have a facility where whenever you return a pot, which usually is incentivised by getting like a face mask or something small then they cut it open, they clean it out and melt it down to make a new pot. So it is like that closed system of not having to produce more materials. And this is also a great reason for your clients, they probably save a ton of money not having to purchase more material. And so they also build up that brand of being more sustainable, being really intentional and strategic about and showing and yelling about their strategy in the best way possible and people resonate with that.

Jeremy: I think this is more how do you incentivise this as a positive thing to a client that seems very value neutral on these things. I think as a lot of people's apathy overcomes their need for action. So how do we as creatives in the business world incentivise these actions, like we can say once they have bought in to these goals then of course we can do all these things but how do we start there?

Malin: I think a good thing to do is to start with the industry they are in and then find a really big player, like let's say they are in the sports industry or the fashion industry take like Nike, they are probably going to respect and think that Nike are making generally good decisions. And then show an example of what they did to reduce and the impact that that had. Because I think then it becomes much more abstract and more like a vision for what the big companies are doing. It makes it a little bit less scary. 

Jeremy: Yes and I think it is a good place to start because there are so many things you can do and there becomes an element of choice paralysis of what you could do. Mirroring something has already been done is probably a better starting point than trying to innovate right away. 

Malin: Generally, doing anything is better than doing nothing. So the whole message we want to get across today is there are so many things you can do, don't get discouraged just try something. Figure out what works for your business and your clients business and stay positive!

A plastic planet are working to help us make the switch from single use plastic. Recycling is not as effective as we need so by encouraging and helping us find new opportunities, this is a great resource for you and your clients.

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Ways to help create more sustainable packaging