Piper Kujac

The 2009 Compostmodern Conference

by , 03/03/09

compost modern 2009, sustainable design conference, green design, renewable energy, recyclable materials, san francisco compostmodern, AIGA Chair Phil Hamlett
photo credit: Mark Adams, AIGA
Last week, the 2009 Compostmodern Conference was presented by the San Francisco Chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) and AIGA Center for Sustainable Design (CFSD). The groundbreaking event brought together design luminaries from around the world to address issues of ecology, business, and social responsibility. Here are a few highlights from the eight uber-talented guest speakers, including design tips from the movers and shakers in design today.

compost modern 2009, sustainable design conference, green design, renewable energy, recyclable materials, san francisco compostmodern
photo credit: Mark Adams, AIGA
Emcee Joel Makower, author of Strategies for a Green Economy and founder of Greenbiz.com, kicked of the day with a Dickinsesque intro, ‘It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times’, leading into this year’s conference theme of ‘Convergence’ – that is, the infusion of today’s problems with intelligence and innovation. Makower noted the failed products and ideals we face today and reinstated the mission of Compostmodern – to lay fertile ground for intelligent ideas and a socially and ecologically responsible society.

compost modern 2009, sustainable design conference, green design, renewable energy, recyclable materials, san francisco compostmodern, Allan Chochinov, Zen Hands
photo credit: Mark Adams, AIGA
Part One of the conference included Filmmaker Eames Demetrios of Kymaerica and Core77 Editor in Chief, Allan Chochinov, who focused on the ‘Power of Ten’, function over form, and ‘how to make it beautiful’. Allan talked about the product designer’s dilemma, that they often feel ‘handcuffed to a machine churning out more and more crap’; and offered a shift in perspective, that ‘designers think they are in the artifact business, but in fact they are not; they are in the consequence business.’ Allan enlightened us with his prosthetic arm design studio at the School of Visual Arts, including interactive arm designs adopted by Toobers & Zots, and noted that design has ‘functional limits, but there are no limits to what a design can mean.’ Allan pointed out a more light-hearted example of this in the new iphone application GoSkyWatch, which has an on/off button indicating if Pluto is a planet.. this speaks volumes to the disillusioned generation of us who memorized the galactic order of planets rotating the sun in grade school.

compost modern 2009, sustainable design conference, green design, renewable energy, recyclable materials, san francisco compostmodern
photo credit: Mark Adams, AIGA
Allan’s students’ work illustrated the following Ten Steps to Denting an Impossible Design Problem:

1. Acknowledge Privilege- that is the privilege the designer has to make a difference.
2. Use the word ‘consequence’- as in the consequence of our designs.
3. Question Authority- and don’t wait for client’s permission to design sustainably.
4. Surround yourself with the awesomest people you know- keep growing your ideas.
5. Don’t play fair- start with aesthetics if that works best to sell sustainable design.
6. Be intentionally dumb- don’t limit yourself with rules; think fresh and simply.
7. Redistribute the stuff we already have- reduce, reuse, and recycle.
8. Broaden your market- design for universal use.
9. Indulge in discursive design- get people to think differently.
10. Talk to anyone who will listen- spread the news and share good ideas.

compost modern 2009, sustainable design conference, green design, renewable energy, recyclable materials, san francisco compostmodern, saul griffith
photo credit: Mark Adams, AIGA
Part Two was presented by climate strategist Michel Gelobter, founder of Cooler, and inventor Saul Griffith, of Makani Power. Saul Griffith charted his own life’s energy use to illustrate ‘measuring what is measurable’ in order to create change and offered up these four points:

1. Get used to the numbers… use math to measure the impacts of design.
2. The client is not longer the client; the client is the planet.
3. Design for an heirloom culture – create products to be used for generations.
4. Transform ourselves into a share economy, so that objects we only use on occasion are co-owned and less of them need to be produced.

compost modern 2009, sustainable design conference, green design, renewable energy, recyclable materials, san francisco compostmodern, Emily Pilloton, Project H Presentation

Part Three included the work of Project M founder, John Bielenberg, designer Pam Dorr of Hale Empowerment & Revitalization Organization (HERO), and Project H founder Emily Pilloton. John Bielenberg illustrated ‘thinking wrong; doing right’ with his Mavlab design projects and presented some of the community building projects generated from ruralstudio in Greensboro, Alabama and the infamous $425 t-shirt campaign put on by buyameter.org.

compost modern 2009, sustainable design conference, green design, renewable energy, recyclable materials, san francisco compostmodern, Project H Learning Landscape
photo credit: Mark Adams, AIGA
Emily Pilloton inspired us with her whirlwind year of book writing for Metropolis about today’s design revolution and growing her design organization, Project H into fruition. The Project H Learning Landscape kicked off its first iteration of schoolyard math toys in Uganda last year. Emily’s own philanthropic design journey helped illustrate these four points:

1. What = How (sustainability = human + environment)
2. The other 90% is next-door (think local + global)
3. Always bring pom-poms (and a picket sign)
4. Scalable systems, not stuff (take the product out of product design)

compost modern 2009, sustainable design conference, green design, renewable energy, recyclable materials, san francisco compostmodern

Finally, accomplished sustainable design strategist Nathan Shedroff, whose recent work includes launching CCA’s MBA Program, and Dawn Danby, from AutoDesk, closed the conference with a few reinforcements and tips for effectively going back out into our respective fields. Dawn encouraged us to look at ‘how to solve the problem we’ve got, and figure out how to pay for it.’ She talked about John Thackara’s book In the Bubble and offered up these four points:

1. Be cool with the paradox- you can’t change everything at once.
2. Learn the language- understand where people are coming from, beyond the sustainable design bubble, to communicate effectively with them.
3. Reconsider work worth doing- and acknowledge our own part of the problem.
4. The client is the planet.

compost modern 2009, sustainable design conference, green design, renewable energy, recyclable materials, san francisco compostmodern
photo credit: Mark Adams, AIGA
Nathan Shedroff talked about the merging of design and business strategies and described ‘marketing as the inhale, and sales as the exhale,’ and warned, ‘don’t do things today that make tomorrow worse.’ He then asked the question of ‘What happens if you get it right?’ and encouraged us to design with success in mind for a better way of life.

+ Compostmodern

compost modern 2009, sustainable design conference, green design, renewable energy, recyclable materials, san francisco compostmodern, Allan Chockinov, Prosthetic Hand Design
photo credit: Mark Adams, AIGA

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