Compostmodern 2011: Smart Thoughts from Top Designers and... a Poem!


Dara O'Rourke of GoodGuide posing a big question to designers. Photos by Jaymi Heimbuch

Compostmodern 2011 was held this last weekend in San Francisco, CA. The relatively new conference never fails to impress with the caliber of designers it brings to the stage. This year, the audience heard from such names as Yves Behar, creator of the One Laptop Per Child project, Scott Thomas the designer behind the Obama presidential campaign, Jonah Sachs of Free Range Studios, Bruce Mau, Lisa Gansky, Julie Cordua...the list goes on. But even more impressive than the speaker lineup is the level of thought they sparked among audience members. Check out some of the key ideas from the conference that help put sustainability at the forefront of the design industry. Dara O'Rourke, founder of GoodGuide, asked the designers in the room an important question -- one that illustrates the importance of designers not just for coming up with slick new products, but for making sure that products and ideas can, and are, used by their core audience: How we can use social networking to bring together scientific product information and consumers to make behavioral changes. This is the core idea behind sustainable design. It's not just about whether or not we can make something greener. It's also about how we can help change behavior through smart design.

Yves Behar, creator of Fuseproject which has come up with such projects as One Laptop Per Child, the Clever Little Bag and other revolutionary designs, hit on the point that 360-degree design was common 50 years ago. Yet somewhere along the line designers started specializing as advertising became the shepherds of a brand, rather than the product's design. This specialization can be problematic since the whole picture of a product isn't taken into account. However, we're coming back around again, and designers are more and more encouraged to partner with companies to assist with all executions, from product to advertising to company branding. This allows designers to push their beliefs forward through their work with a company. Behar has done it with Puma, by recreating the shoebox to use far, far fewer materials and making it more useful to repurpose, and with Pact Underwear, a project that uses sustainable underwear design to help raise money and awareness for environmental nonprofits. By being included in the entire process, Behar states, designers can make real differences.

Christopher Simmons, Creative Director at MINE, expanded on the idea, noting that inclusiveness is a necessity for sustainable design. "Sustainability is a joint effort," he noted, and that when we talk about leadership and sustainability, we're talking about designers generating ideas at the highest level. That highest level is only achievable when we collaborate, not when we divide designers into those who "get it" and those who don't.

Kate Daughdrill of Detroit SOUP showed us a great format for getting community members involved in dreaming up solutions for issues within their neighborhoods, and it's an ideal format for local green movements. Detroit SOUP is a monthly dinner party that helps fund micro-grants for creative projects in the Detroit area. Everyone comes in with a little extra cash and an open mind, and leaves full and inspired -- and the hosting party hopefully leaves with enough money to fund their project. The format is a brilliant idea for a way local green efforts can get the funding they need. It's local activism at its best -- and can even center around local foods!

As we're faced with hard realities, storytelling is even more important than ever. Compostmodern featured a range of storytelling experts, not the least of which was Jonah Sachs, Founder of Free Range Studios which helped to create The Story of Stuff. Jonah pointed out that our newly developed stories -- such as the various issues facing planet Earth -- have to be stronger than the core stories we carry around with us. They have to feature compelling characters with whom we can relate, or who surprise us, as well as explanation of ideas and direct meaning in our lives. This is a skill the green movement has to continue to perfect in order to incite real behavioral change toward sustainability.

From story telling to poetry, Compostmodern provided. Alissa Walker, the moderator of Compostmodern, created a great poem to sum up the conference. Posted on Gelatobaby, it features some of the great nuggets of thought we mined from the great minds in the design community.

Always inspiring, Compostmodern did not disappoint this year.

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More on Compostmodern:
Your Little Ideas Make Big Differences With Open IDEO's Revolutionary Design Model (Video)
The Moderns Rethinks Office Space for Greener, Happier Workers
Emily Pilloton on When Sustainability Takes a Back Seat in Design (Video)
Eames Demetrios Discusses Looking Beyond Sustainability (Video)
Allan Chochinov's 10 Steps for Sustainable Design
Michel Gelobter on Designing Our Way Out of Global Warming (Video)

Tags: Designers | Environmental Footprint

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