Tuesday, February 15, 2011

tuesday musings: SHED and the meaning of sustainable design

Sat­ur­day morn­ing at Yale Uni­ver­sity School of Art (New Haven CT), I attended SHED, spon­sored by AIGA CT and Mohawk Paper.  Billed as “an open dis­cus­sion about cul­ture, hap­pi­ness, con­sumerism, design and the future of our planet”, I was intrigued. One of the pil­lars of the inte­rior design indus­try must surely be con­sumerism, so maybe I could learn a few tricks to rec­on­cile the drive for new inte­ri­ors with the bur­den this puts upon the planet.

Living priciples SHED Connecticut

The panel of “four amaz­ing social good thinkers and doers” included: Mod­er­a­tor Julie Lasky, Edi­tor of Change Observer; Eric Ben­son, Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Graphic Design at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois and Founder of Re-Nourish; Neil Brown, Asso­ciate Cre­ative Direc­tor at Bar­num Design and founder of Salt­Space; Aaris Sherin, Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Graphic Design at St. John's Uni­ver­sity and author of Sus­tain­Able. Each offered their view­points on the sus­tain­able design work they are cur­rently engaged in – read more on their respec­tive websites.

Lee Moody from Mohawk introduces SHED Connecticut speakers

Lee Moody from Mohawk intro­duces SHED Con­necti­cut speakers

Design panel at SHED Connecticut

L to R: Julie Lasky, Eric Ben­son, Neil Brown, Aaris Sherin at SHED Connecticut

While much of the dis­cus­sion focused on graphic design, there was crossover to other seg­ments of the design indus­try. Eric Ben­son dis­cussed the idea of “emo­tional sus­tain­abil­ity” and the need to engage empa­thy in order for peo­ple to care about this (or any) issue.  Neil Brown expounded on the need to edu­cate oth­ers about sus­tain­abil­ity and empower them to design change. His point – peo­ple will be the instru­ments of change, not tech­nol­ogy nor gov­ern­ments, but indi­vid­u­als within small com­mu­nity units. From my view­point as an inte­rior designer, this dove­tails with what I and other col­leagues say: our job is to edu­cate clients about sus­tain­able choices and one by one, ini­ti­ate change.

designer treasures at SHED Connecticut

design­ers brought trea­sures to SHED Con­necti­cut for a swap

Aaris Sherin posed the ques­tion: how can you as a designer make the world a bet­ter place? As Neil pointed out, design is a think­ing process for solv­ing prob­lems. Design­ers can and should con­nect what we are doing in our com­mu­ni­ties, using our skill sets, to fos­ter solu­tions for the com­mu­nity as a whole. Inte­rior design­ers like myself pro­vide com­mu­nity sup­port through local char­ity show house events like Designer Spaces & Mar­ket Places and Junior League of Hartford's Dec­o­ra­tor Show Houses — rais­ing funds for non-profit orga­ni­za­tions by doing what we do best. Graphic design­ers can sup­port com­mu­nity through ini­tia­tives like Design is Love.  Apply your skills in any way that feels best, but make an effort to engage in your com­mu­nity – sus­tain­able design is also about sus­tain­ing people.

Most applic­a­ble to inte­rior design­ers, Ms. Sherin spoke about the “tyranny of things” and how so many peo­ple labor under the bur­den of their “stuff”. The exam­ple cited was a $200 teapot, pur­chased for the long term. Many agreed this was a won­der­ful con­cept, to pur­chase the best qual­ity and keep it for life. But how to rec­on­cile that ideal with the masses of peo­ple who can never afford that $200 teapot? Should they spend $10 on the Wal­mart teapot to be dis­posed of in a year? Never buy a teapot at all? For the pro­duc­ers of the $200 teapot – how do they sus­tain their busi­ness if they only sell one teapot to a con­sumer, ever? Should the $10 teapot man­u­fac­turer be dri­ven out of busi­ness – what hap­pens to their employ­ees? So many lay­ers of peo­ple affected by every aspect of the sus­tain­abil­ity dis­cus­sion. How will con­tin­ual con­sump­tion work going forward?

Eric Ben­son offered this thought, so applic­a­ble to inte­rior design: anthro­po­mor­phize the objects’ char­ac­ter­is­tics to cre­ate an endur­ing impor­tant rela­tion­ship where “dis­pos­able” becomes an unfash­ion­able and ulti­mately unthink­able con­cept. Wow, right? Think about the objects you live with – do you love them? Do they nur­ture you and your fam­ily? Do they func­tion in a way that sus­tains you? If not, then SHED them. There is surely some­one who will trea­sure that which you no longer do. Pass it on, pay it for­ward, freecy­cle – call it what you will, just do it.

my SHED Connecticut treasure

my SHED Con­necti­cut trea­sure finds a new home with Danielle Garrick

Ulti­mately, sus­tain­abil­ity is about mind­ful­ness. The busy­ness of our lives dis­tracts us from the deci­sions we make every day with every pur­chase. Make a con­sid­ered deci­sion to replace some­thing, don’t let it be auto­matic. It’s okay to want some­thing new or more func­tional or sim­ply more beau­ti­ful, only con­sider where it comes from and where the piece being replaced is going. You don’t have to raise chick­ens on your high-rise bal­cony to live sus­tain­ably (unless you want to, of course). All you have to do is think.

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  1. "Dis­pos­able” becomes an unfash­ion­able and ulti­mately unthink­able con­cept". Sim­ple mes­sage in this but very pro­found. Good article!

  2. Cynthia says:

    Thanks Chris­tine for com­ment­ing. The big pic­ture of sus­tain­abil­ity can be over­whelm­ing. Some­times, peo­ple just need a place to start.

  3. LeeLee says:

    Thanks so much Cyn­thia ! Get­ting involved in spread­ing the word– IS the first step ~ which you did SO well.
    Years ago when I was first get­ting my head around about what can I DO , or what mes­sage can I say to get the com­mu­nity ( my cus­tomers) ~ it all starts with under­stand­ing where do you start !
    Thanks again. The LIVING Prin­ci­ples EVENT was so suc­cess­ful — we are going to fol­low up with some round­table dis­cus­sions ~ to con­tinue the con­ver­sa­tion of how you can start to !.…..so EVERYONE stay tuned .…..thanks again.

  4. […] This post was men­tioned on Twit­ter by Mohawk Fine Papers and Re-nourish, Cyn­thia­Ma­son­In­te­rior. Cyn­thia­Ma­son­In­te­rior said: Tues­day Mus­ings: SHED and the mean­ing of sus­tain­able design http://ow.ly/3WtCK #inte­ri­orde­sign #green #slowhome […]

  5. Jim Coon says:

    Thanks Cindy for your post. It's excit­ing to see that this event impacted more than just graphic design­ers. It's our inten­tion to involve design­ers as well as com­mu­nity activists inter­ested in build­ing a sus­tain­able world. I'm going to share this with friends who were not able to make the event because you did such a great job of report­ing. It made me feel like I was back in the event. As Lee said there is a lot more com­ing from CT AIGA and Liv­ing Principles.

  6. Rich Hollant says:

    Fab­u­lous post, Cindy… and an inter­est­ing exten­sion of the con­ver­sa­tion. Though I'm a com­mu­ni­ca­tions designer, I take my cues from dis­ci­plines other than com­mu­ni­ca­tions design. For exam­ple, from my inte­rior design friends, I've adopted the idea that design isn't always about solv­ing prob­lems. Some­times it's about focus­ing warmth, or cel­e­brat­ing being (or cel­e­brat­ing achievements…what we call here at co:lab "cel­e­brat­ing your evo­lu­tion". Some­times it's about mak­ing a deci­sion that is inex­plic­a­bly and counter-intuitively right because if just feels right and that feel­ing must be hon­ored. Of course, you can twist just about any action to be a problem-solving solu­tion… but I think in the exam­ples just stated that it would be inauthentic—forced. I won­der if we took the lead estab­lished by some inte­rior design­ers and viewed sus­tain­abil­ity less as a prob­lem to be solved and more as a cel­e­bra­tion of where we're evolv­ing if we wouldn't honor the premises in a deeper way.
    I very much appre­ci­ate the con­nec­tive tis­sue you rep­re­sent to our sis­ter group of inte­rior design­ers and look for­ward to shed­ding the descrip­tors asso­ci­ated with both of our pro­fes­sions to the day we are con­sid­ered less by what we do and more by how we think—simply "design­ers".
    Plus: you brought the best swag to the swap. Darnit…

  7. Cynthia says:

    Thanks Lee for extend­ing the invi­ta­tion through­out our com­mu­nity. Once a deter­mined group starts think­ing, any­thing is possible.

  8. Cynthia says:

    Thanks Jim for your kind words. Sus­tain­abil­ity is such a BIG issue, there is room for many dis­ci­plines to chip away from dif­fer­ent angles. I look for­ward to future LP events.

  9. Cynthia says:

    Rich, you are, as usual, cor­rect. So much of inte­rior design is about feel­ing and emo­tion. The issue of sus­tain­abil­ity can be approached from so many angles, and should be. Every action mat­ters and every per­son can con­tribute. As a dear friend of mine says: "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."

    On a per­sonal note, I have never in my life been referred to as "con­nec­tive tis­sue", which is still mak­ing me laugh! And I did tell you, I am ALL about the swag… Cheers, my friend!

  10. Cyn­thia, what a won­der­ful post!
    It is so great to hear dif­fer­ent people's take on the event. We were really hop­ing that the con­ver­sa­tion would extend to other fields of design and beyond and read­ing your post exposes the fact that we've suc­ceeded.
    Shed was a great tes­ta­ment that if we join forces and col­lab­o­rate among cre­ative, forward-thinking indi­vid­u­als, there is indeed a brighter future for Connecticut.

    Thanks so much for attend­ing and for shar­ing your thoughts after­wards. It's all about sus­tain­ing the dia­logue. Hope you have big plans for those rolls of unstretched can­vas :)

  11. Cynthia says:

    Thanks Con­stanza! I think it's such an impor­tant issue that it can be over­whelm­ing for any one indi­vid­ual to think they can make a dif­fer­ence. But, one by one, from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, suc­cess it attain­able. Look­ing for­ward to more dia­logue on this topic.

  12. […] hap­pily in my “Eco Green LaLa Land” until I read a really con­scious prick­ing arti­cle “SHED and the Mean­ing of Sus­tain­able Design” by inte­rior designer  Cyn­thia Mason of  The  Exu­ber­ant Home.  Cyn­thia suc­cinctly highlighted […]

  13. Christine Koroki says:

    What a great post! I loved read­ing about the har­mo­niza­tion of mind­ful­ness with the prob­lem solv­ing nature of design­ers. Its nice to know the seed has been planted and is begin­ning to grow where not only design­ers but every­one has begun "think­ing" and "start­ing". Sup­port­ing events like SHED and other orga­ni­za­tions will keep up with the nour­ish­ment of sus­tain­able design! Thanks Cyn­thia for your article!