Teaching sustainability to a new group of students always brings to attention issues with my teaching style, pace of content delivery, and strength of the project parameters. In other words, every time I teach this topic, it's a learning experience. Typically I've assigned projects that last around 4-5 weeks where the first two class periods are heavily focused on reading, research, and ample discussion. This method has worked "all right" in the past, however, in many cases the design results were more hit-or-miss than other assignments that didn't include a sustainability discussion. I'm always searching for new ways to fix this.
This past April, an opportunity presented itself in the form of an email invitation from Professor YoungAe Kim from the University of South Dakota to help teach a one-week, all-day intensive workshop at the June "Design Habit 2012" that focused on sustainable packaging and display design. At first I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to teach sustainability in this short of time frame and get "good" results, but after a day of doubt, I felt that this time frame was realistic in the workplace and merited a test.
I decided, like in past assignments, to utilize Scott Boylston's book "Designing Sustainable Packaging" and focus on just one of the many elements associated with packaging and sustainability - rightsizing/minimizing material. The assignment was simple: create a new brand and connected packaging for an over packaged product that reduces the materials used. I went further to narrow the project parameters by only allowing chip board as the final packaging material (no plastic!) to simplify the understanding of sustainability.
I broke the days down to this schedule:
Class 1: Introduce topic. Discussion. Trip to big box store to choose product.
Class 2: Discuss chapters 1-3 in Boylston and Re-nourish. Work!
Class 3: 10 sketches pin-up of identity and packaging
Class 4: 2 moquettes of packaging due. Brand story due. Work day!
Class 5: Identity due. Work day!
Class 6: Packaging due.
I also provided them with resources online:
Sustainable Packaging Coalition
Wicked World of Packaging
My strategy for the beginning of the project was to say no to every design idea to force the class to think beyond their initial ideas (something that is crucial to becoming more sustainable). This method worked for a while, however, as the class periods went along, I noticed that many of the students were still just focused on developing the visual identity and lagging behind in the packaging and needed a boost. I invited Scott Boylston to join us via Skype on class number four for an hour to invigorate the fourteen students. He was a great resource and hopefully help strengthen the message of the project. The next day I switched to FaceTime and brought in Melanie Weisenthal (Art Director at Victoria Secret) to lecture about sustainability and packaging. Both of the designers connected the somewhat disconnected world of South Dakota with the the design world at large. The students were able to dialogue with prominent graphic designers that they wouldn't be able to meet in the MidWest.
In the end, the students produced some fairly inspiring results that were in many ways, more creative and polished than the students that had five weeks to complete the assignment. I'm proud to showcase a few of the outstanding ones below:
Ashley Palmer (Senior) - repackage of cufflings and related sub-brand (beer/liquor)
Taylor Eilers (Senior) - repackage of cutlery
Andrew (Senior) - repackage of razor
Keaton (Senior) - repackage of camping head lamp
Sally Whiting (Senior) - repackage of frosting bag and tips
Amanda Connelly (Senior) - repackage of flower bulbs
Calvin LaBrie (Junior) - repackage of hiking/camping reflective vest
Design Habit was a marathon. The students averaged maybe two hours of sleep a night and YoungAe and I were typically in the studio from 9 AM until 9 PM (enjoying the Vermillion night life after). However, despite the lack of sleep, I enjoyed every minute of it. I felt as if I was back in college, learning with the students, trying to help them achieve beautiful, responsible, and pragmatic results. I learned that in one week, with dedication and hard-work, teaching sustainability to a group of designers is not only possible but maybe the best way to do it!
Eric is currently an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Illinois. His research explores how design can be sustainable and consequently how to teach it. Eric has a BFA in Industrial/Graphic design from the University of Michigan and an MFA in Design from the University of Texas.