Environmental Consciousness is Design Consciousness

I like history, so I’m going to tell you some history. A brief history of waste and recycling and repurposing!

Throughout the centuries, worldwide waste and reuse practices have come in and out of style and collective values, something we’ve been familiar with in our own lifetimes. In general, mandated waste practices have been around since at least 500 B.C. But the concept of “reduce, reuse, recycle” was first recorded in 1031, when the Japanese were re-pulping old documents into new paper for local shops. By the 17th century, the Rittenhouse Mill introduced a recycled paper manufacturing process, using recycled cotton and linen rags. Reuse necessarily supported America through war efforts and a depressed economy between 1916-1945; but a celebrated “Throwaway Living” movement picked up pace in the 1950s, beginning decades of burgeoning trash in our environment. It all comes full circle eventually, though, and by 2017 globally evolving science is leading to new innovations that may help reduce our ecological footprint (bacteria that uses plastic for energy, or biodegradable semiconductors, for example). DIY and “upcycling” (turning used goods into something of higher quality) are all the rage too; all the cool kids are doing it!

I’m fascinated by the ebb and flow of history and human practices. There will always be those who are dedicated to finding creative solutions that can help protect the planet. But progress is slow, and sometimes it seems like we’re going backward altogether. If every little bit helps, how can we apply ingenuity to our individual “reduce, reuse, recycle” practice?

Godat gets green

At Godat Design, we play a small part in caring for the environment by recycling in the traditional sense. Recently, we had much to recycle or repurpose, as much-needed office cleaning and organizing got underway. We unearthed old projects, swatch books, letterhead and more. And while staring at the 12 reams of outdated letterhead in front of us, we experienced a stark realization that times really had changed. Digital is real. If you were asking yourself why we had so much of this paper in the first place, we’ll tell you it is a predicament that all businesses, who have been in operation for over 20 years, will face as all communication has increasingly moved online. Very rarely do we mail hand-typed letters, invoices or estimates to clients as we once did. Such is the case here.

So it is no wonder there remained an excess of this paper in our midst. What’s a designer to do? Shred? Use for scrap? Simply throw in the blue bin like we always do? Hmm. Well, when you’re low on branded notepads…

A wise man once said, “It’s why they call it the ‘practice of design’”

Remember what I said earlier about creativity and solutions—and you know we designers love to solve problems! It came to be that Ken asked me to re-engineer these sheets into something useful and updated. Letter-sized pages that contained graphics with old branding, they presented limited but feasible options for custom notepads. I started sketching.

Using a trusty ruler and pencil, I mapped out two 4.5×8” pads per sheet that resulted in less waste but cut off most of the outdated graphics. There were a couple different layouts to contend with, so I had to find a final dimension that could be cut from both. Then I took it to the computer and went beyond a blank notepad.

What is a repurposing project without pushing the design practice and asking questions? Don’t settle for only blank notepads. What if we produced both ruled and blank pads? Then I was told to go further and think about different descriptions or greetings for each. Indeed, it would be nice to have a choice of intents that we can also give to clients during meetings.

Our chosen headers were where we started—sometimes you simply need to name them “notes” and “ideas” to communicate the intention perfectly. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun to explore curious alternatives. I quite like words and any reason to dig around Thesaurus. It’s fun to push the boundaries of context too and think about the impression words will have.

A friend of the studio produces our stationery, so the design file and hand-drawn blueprint got dropped off, along with the reams of paper. What resulted are sturdy hundred page notepads for all our ruminating pleasures. Plus, they complement our other branded stationery nicely. There were even a few rogue sheets hiding in the stacks, which had different graphics that fell inside my cut lines. Happy accidents are always welcome.

A reminder for mindfulness

Quick as the assignment was, situations like these are an opportunity to flex the mind and swim deeper for more creative treasure. I was also tasked with trying something new, and it set me up to stay mindful of future reuse opportunities. Maybe I’ll end up on Project Runway for the unconventional/recycling challenge. Love me a good fashion tie-in (more on that in a future post).

One thing is for certain—an effective project like this is a step in the right direction for the earth and great for my eternally growing pile of sketchbooks/notepads. The next goal is to fill them all. What will we do when we’re done with the pages in the notepad? Recycle, of course. Or maybe make some Godat origami out of it, just to keep this repurposing trend going.

What do you have laying around that could take on a second life?

Posted By

Katie Ylinen

Posted On

September 28, 2017