First podcast episode is finally out!

The conscious Communication Design podcast is finally live and available everywhere where you can listen to podcasts. -or if you’re missing a platform, do let me know! And you’ll always find the full transcript here on the blog.

In order to allow for good accessibility and citeability, you’ll find a full transcript of each episode here on this blog. So find below the transcript of episode 1: First Things First:

Hi this is Lisa, and you’re listening to the Conscious Communication Design Podcast.

I’m a design researcher and educator and I  want to talk about how we can make communication design sustainable. How we can be conscious about our decisions, and what impact we and our work have on the world and how we can use our skills for positive change.

The one thing Communication and Graphic Designers are incredibly good at: fixing problems. We’re good at it cause we do it every day, it’s our job, and our passion. It is what we do. -Identifying the problem, finding a solution, that’s part of every design project.

I’m imagining a world where we use that skill and help make the world a better place. Bit by bit, step by step, pixel by pixel.

Because I think we have a lot more power than we’re often aware of. We can use our skills to advertise for clients products or services, or, we use them to help our clients make better products and services to begin with.

I’m very aware about how idealistic this sounds. But think about it, each design project is basically a whole string of decisions we make: from deciding to take on a project, (no, starts before that: what are we putting out there about ourselves, to attract what type of clients) to how and when and for how long and how often we’re going to engage with the client and how we interact with them, to how we present ourselves to them (think: “are you the person executing your clients wishes” or “are you a consultant, hired for your expertise and with a say in the outcome”), to then obviously more creative decisions: which medium is going to be used to communicate your message, what is your message. (-How much are you basing that on assumptions about your audience?)  

I think we should make these decisions consciously – being aware of the consequences. Being informed.

So what does that look like?

Does it mean you have to say no to clients you don’t want to work with? 

Does it mean we have to print everything on ugly grey recycled paper without any beautiful finishings?

Does it mean we’re not printing at all and moving everything to digital and be done with it already?

Short answer: no, no & no.

There’s a lot more options, and there’s a lot more factors to consider. 

But what if I told you, that greening your business can help your profitability?

That we can measure the carbon footprint of your digital media campaign, and that we can drastically reduce it?

That there is ways to limit the waste your print product creates, and its toxicity?

To make you understand where I’m coming from with all this, I’ll give you an introduction to who I am.

My name is Lisa Zimmermann, I’m from Germany originally, but have emigrated to Ireland many moons ago. So if you were wondering what the weird accent is, it’s a mix of German, Irish and whoever I listen to on a daily basis. 

When I studied Communication Design, I realised quite soon that I was in a pickle: I loved advertising. But working in an ad agency wouldn’t work for me, as I had quite a large amount of moral objections towards a lot of typical types of clients. In the last year of my undergrad studies, even when I did a 3month internship as a copywriter in a typical PR and ad agency in Berlin, a lot of the clients’ projects I was working on, I wasn’t happy advertising for. For example: we did a campaign for a zoo, which was soo much fun of course. I’m very aware that zoos are an important part of culture and heritage for a lot of people. But I had made the decision years ago not to go to them anymore, as I just don’t find it right – for animal welfare reasons. So now I was advertising for one? That couldn’t be right either, – right?

I had found myself in an ethical dilemma, torn between my dream to be a communication designer and copywriter, and, being true to what I believed in and who I was.

So I worked freelance on the side, and thankfully landed a couple of clients that I had no ethical concerns with. Some of them were even – in the very nature of their business – eco-friendly.

Because I moved to Ireland and happened to have to write a thesis, I started my first bit of research. I wanted to find out how sustainable Irish Communication Designers work, and what that even means, so I read anything I could find on Sustainable Graphic Design – as it’s usually called in the literature. And then I surveyed Irish designers and interviewed a few. -To find out that most didn’t apply sustainability principles as they didn’t know how. And how would they, it’s not part of the curriculum usually?! But, let’s be honest, who was I to teach them, an unexperienced graduate and a blow in from another country. 

Even in that first bit of research, I had discovered that most literature was focusing on making printing sustainable, and missing out on the ethical debate, on sustainable business practice, and on the digital side of things. I felt this research had to move with the changing role – which is nowadays more accurately described as ‘Communication Designer’. 

 But I felt that I didn’t quite know enough about what sustainability means, and I wanted to understand and be able to judge when a print product is sustainable. So I studied Environmental Sciences and wrote a thesis on paper sizing ingredients. FYI: paper sizing is the process of coating paper with a mix of starches and chemicals in order to make it printable. 

I started working as a lecturer, in communication design, typography, web design, and I teach graphic design principles and Adobe CC skills to interior and fashion designers and architects. I’m not currently teaching the stuff I researched – yet. Because there is no room for it in the traditional curriculum. 

That’s why I just designed my own course, a certificate Programme in Sustainable Communication Design, that is aimed at professionals – people with work experience. 

So long story short, after three Masters theses on this stuff – I finally feel somewhat confident enough to talk about it. But please do call me out if I’m talking BS, because I am not claiming ultimate wisdom. In fact, I want and need feedback from listeners, as the only way we can come up with solutions for a sustainable future is by collaboration and learning from another.

There is a great new movement happening in the advertising industry in Ireland and the UK called the Great Reset or Purposedisruptors. Similar to the First Things First manifestos, people agree to want to take responsibility, and in this case, “reshape our industry to tackle climate change”. They asked people in the industry last year, in 2020, whether they think their work should encourage people to behave more sustainably like during lockdown 93% agreed. 

Some 30% of the industry did however feel that they have been feeling increasingly hopeless about the impact that they can make through their work.

I hope I can help with that.

I spend my time trying to stay updated with paper technology, printing, design education, IT, and environmental matters, societal and ethical issues that relate to the profession, like accessibility and diversity. 

Because I think all of those tie in with Conscious Communication Design. 

And then I’m trying to come up with what that means in practice.

So I will give you bitesize mini-classes on options and factors that we can consider. 

For example, what is ethical business practice and how we can figure out what’s ethical to ourselves? You may have heard of the First things first manifesto. It was published in 1964 by Ken Garland and 20 other designers, photographers and students. Back then, they “proposed a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful, more lasting forms of communication.”

They hoped that the “call on our skills will be for worthwhile purposes”. So basically, they didn’t want to waste their skills on meaningless ads that scream “buy me” “buy me” anymore.

They had already recognised that design wasn’t just pretty pictures, but had a responsibility for what they communicated.

That manifesto was picked up again by another group of designers and revised in 2000 As the First Things First Manifesto 2000. They wrote “We propose a reversal of priorities in favour of more useful, lasting and democratic forms of communication – a mind-shift away from product marketing and toward the exploration and production of a new kind of meaning.“

So this picked up the same idea of ‘let’s not waste our talents to sell meaningless shit.’

 It caused a bit of a stir, people that opposed the manifesto said that design should be value-free, and many others welcomed the idea. 

This was in a time when advertising for cigarettes had just become illegal. -In Ireland that was the case in 2000 exactly. In 2005 the WHO actually put a framework convention in place that requires from all 168 signed countries to ban tobacco advertising. Unless, their constitution forbids it. Duh. I believe except for Zimbabwe, where you can even advertise for cigerattes on TV, most countries have at least quite strict regulations on how and where, if at all it’s allowed to advertise for tobacco products. Now a lot of countries have even adopted plain packaging for them. 

I’m mentioning this as it’s a simple example of how much our understanding of what is ethical and what isn’t can change over the course of time. If you watched Mad Men any time recently, you know what I’m talking about.  

And there’s modern adaptations of the manifesto as well, there even is a Sustainable Web manifesto.

There’s more practically adaptable things we can do as well though. I want to discuss all things paper. One of the reasons I wanted to do research on paper was, that I felt like, ok so I pick recycled paper now, is that it? 

And why won’t my printer not allow me to select a finishing option once I’ve selected the recycled paper? 

Short answer is, because it doesn’t make much sense, to pick a sensible option and then smother it with chemicals so it’s definitely not recyclable anymore. But, I think we always need to consider both: Where something comes from, and where it goes after it’s used. Is it recycled or/and is it recyclable? 

Most printed products don’t do well on recyclability anyways if they have too much ink on them, as it takes another load of chemicals to deink the fibres. 

But that’s something tangible we can do: consider how much ink we’re using!

And let’s learn which inks are used for which print process and which print process makes sense for which job. Because those lovely soy-based inks we hear about everywhere aren’t an option if you print small jobs that need to be printed digitally. 

Oh, and we can also have a look at how we can set up a project so that it reduces the amount of waste paper in production. So, ultimately, we’ll look at the whole life-cycle, and each step during the production, for different kinds of print products.

And – excitingly, we’ll talk about the digital side of things of course! 

Why am I so excited about this? Because there has been a bunch of amazing books that have come out on Sustainable Web Design in the last couple of years, and they have a range of tips in them that are oh so relevant for communication designers as well. In fact, I am dying to share that knowledge with you! But also, we need to all be aware that digitalisation is not the solution for tackling the climate crisis if all we do is transfer our wasteful behaviour into a digital world, where the waste isn’t visible as much.

So, there’s green web hosting of course, that we can recommend to our clients or use ourselves if we host websites. But that’s just the start, and it’s also not available everywhere in the world. I want to try and look at how digital products create a carbon footprint in the first place. It’s something to do with energy, but, where exactly is that energy being consumed? 

At the senders end, at the receivers end, where does the energy come from that brings data from A to B?

But of course we’ll discuss how we can reduce that carbon footprint. By making websites lighter and changing the way they’re built, but also:

how can we create visual communication that isn’t overloaded with pretty pictures and videos (because those are the biggest elephants in the room here). But we’ll also look at the energy consumption of different types of images, file types and colours (yes you heard right, did you know that blue colours take more energy to be displayed -it does depend on the technology of the screen though). Or by tidying up your vector graphic in Illustrator, you can reduce the overall file size of the .svg?

You may be thinking now, come on, that can hardly make a difference now, whether the image is 50 or 60 KB. But, think about it this way, that image may be a logo that you’re sending off to a client. And they are going to use that image as is for quite a while, and by loads of people. It may be integrated in presentations, it may go on a website an app, all employees email signatures. So it may be sent forth and back by end devices and servers thousands or millions of times a day. Now think about those 10KB again. The difference is suddenly quite substantial.

Now we’re not designing logos every day, but if it’s an image that acts as a header on a web page, or a social media graphic, the same applies: You design it once (hopefully that is), but each time someone accesses it, it is being sent from a server to an end-device, so your images or web content is making a hell of a lot of journeys, don’t overpack it!

Imagine you can just listen to this podcast, and bit by bit learn little ways in which you can make the impact you have, a positive one, and the products you create a little bit greener. 

Imagine all designers designed with the impact of what they design in mind. I mean the full impact, including that on the environment. We could be advocates for sustainability, and help reduce the amount of waste, in our bins and on our servers. 

I try to believe that most people actually want to do a good job and want to preserve our planet.  But it’s not that easy with our job. -To make it sustainable I mean. We don’t have any certifications like architects or can see the supply chain of what we produce like fashion designers.

We’re creating, well visual communication! It’s not straightforward, but there’s heaps of what we can do. And I’m here to tell you about it.

But I need your help! For now, I need you to help me spread the word about this podcast, so that we can have a discourse, and this doesn’t remain a one sided communication. You can get in touch with me through twitter or instagram, the handle is @ccdbylisa in both:

Please like, share and follow the podcast on whatever app you’re listening to it, and tell other designers about it. 

I’ll talk to you next week, where I’ll look at the impact of the industry and try to define what being conscious and sustainable means in more detail.

Until then, thank you for listening and take care!

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