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Posts Tagged ‘Alex Steffen’

Post-Compostmodern: Now What?

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We’d be lying to you, dear readers, if we didn’t admit that before this weekend’s Compostmodern conference, we were in a very bad place.

Maybe it’s just the typical occupational hazard that comes with being a blogger. But when you’re bombarded, every day, with designers touting the eco-sensibility of their newest utterly useless product you should buy for only $499.99, architects who want to be praised for using some non-toxic paint on their latest 500,000 square foot monstrosity, and creative people using up valuable resources to launch misdirected movements about using up valuable resources, it’s enough to make us want to reach our hands through internet until we can wrangle the mouse from their smug little hands and whack them over the head with it until they get it.

So when spoken word artist Dawn Maxey stood up and read her little poem on eco-hype yesterday (read the full text), we wanted to run up on stage and kiss her. Oh, how we feel you, sister.

Valerie Casey addressed that eco-fatigue we’ve all been feeling. But she coupled it with a very interesting point about movements in general–they spike, then dip, then slowly gain more solid acceptance over time. So don’t despair, we’re all just feeling that spike. The dip has yet to come.

Except now, this movement belongs clearly to designers. Activism didn’t work, said Adam Werbach. We are in need of better stories, said Alex Steffen. We need to stop making stuff, said everybody. And Casey made a great argument for why designers by nature are perfect to spearhead change. But when Casey showed the slide above, which was sent to her by, in her words, a “very prominent and well-known designer,” it really got us fired up. Because every single company we heard represented at this conference–Mark Galbraith and Nau, Jane Savage and Nike, General Electric and VSA Partners, yes, even Werbach and Wal-Mart–has realized the importance of not just being designer-centric, but being designer-dependent in order to make big changes. People: There. Is. No. One. Else.

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VSA’s Jeff Walker Uses His Ecomagination

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So all this talk about sustainability here at Compostmodern is great, but what about those evil gigantor corporations that Alex Steffen showed slides of in his presentation? You know, like, say, um…General Electric? VSA Partners’ Jeff Walker (who we are not related to, but did share a cab with last night) was charged with greening GE using a program called Ecomagination. Don’t roll your eyes quite yet.

Walker says that VSA has actually been working for GE for a long time (along with lots of other big brands) and the difference between GE’s strides and their other clients are that GE sees green as a business proposition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. GE’s decision to greenify came after the corporate disasters like Enron and after the company’s leadership shifted from Jack Welch to Jeff Immelt. It was also part of their moving towards a more creative core mission (and we say, a design-centric one) that went all the way back GE’s founder, Thomas Edison: invention, innovation, and imagination.

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Joel Makower and Alex Steffen: How Good Is Good Enough?

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Sustainability is like teenage sex, says Joel Makower, the fantastic Compostmodern moderator (Compostmoderator?). “Everybody says they’re doing it but no one really is. And those who are doing it aren’t doing it very well.”

In all seriousness, says Makower, who has been greenblogging at GreenBiz before it was called ‘green’ or ‘blogging,’ we don’t have an answer for a simple question: How good is good enough? Is what we’re doing really making a difference? Is this the best it can be? We have no way of knowing any of that. And this is the question we should try to find an answer to today.

Alex Steffen of Worldchanging, gave a few suggestions (and might we mention we met the delightful Sarah Rich last night, who edited the Worldchanging book). Steffen switched up his presentation a little bit from the last time we saw him in Denver. After a nice set up about the horrific consumer behavior of Americans (and once again, yes, we really are the problem, since we are the most bloated consumer culture on the planet), he revealed that the real problem is that Americans are just trained to want this luxurious upper middle class lifestyle. And not just a private jet, says Steffen, but a plasma-screened entertainment center with cushy ergonomic chairs on that private jet.

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What we really need to aspire to a different kind of upper middle class lifestyle that cuts our impact by 80%. Heck, why not try for 90%? The two best things you can do? Don’t go so many places in a car to get things (or don’t have a car, or share one), and know the stories about how your things get to you (or share those things, too). You might really have to do some research but the answer is as simple as making a better map of your neighborhood, or finding the story behind your cafe-bought coffee cup. But those actions will ultimately make you infinitely more happy than dreaming of your flying home theater.

Marc Alt Introduces the Center for Sustainable Design

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Last year, AIGA officially launched the Center for Sustainable Design, of which Marc Alt is a co-chair (along with the Academy of Art’s Phil Hamlett). Today at Cause/Effect, Alt gave a tour of a new site the group has produced that has lots of original content, and a long list of resources created for designers.

But perhaps most exciting is that Compostmodern, an impressive San Francisco-based AIGA conference, is now the official Center for Sustainable Design conference. Next year’s event will be on January 19, and already some favorites like Alex Steffen, today’s crowdpleaser Scott Stowell, Valerie Casey from IDEO and Mark Galbraith of Nau are on the roster. Register here.

Official UnBeige AIGA NEXT Roundup

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Even though we still can’t get that Command X theme music out of our head (damn you all, Open, Agoraphone and The Plasticines!), we’ve finally had a few days to contemplate the AIGA NEXT conference in its entirety. Although we had a slight peek at the innerworkings while serving on the planning committee, in the end we were just sitting there in the audience watching, as surprised (and/or delighted) as you were. Here are the highs and lows:

Command-ing the lead: We admit, we had our doubts about a “Project Runway” for graphic design. But not only was Command X the highlight of the conference, it gave great insight into how design actually works–and how fast, funny and brilliant designers are. Winner Nichelle Narcisi‘s incredible finale also ended the conference on the perfect teary, triumphant note.

Talkin’ ’bout my generation: Maybe it was simply in line with the theme (“Next”), but we can’t applaud this conference enough for shifting attention to the youngsters. The brilliant Command X forged seven new young superstars and the 20 one-minute presentations that opened the first night were all by up-and-comers (and better than we ever remembered). It was great to see the older and wiser take a backseat to youth for once.

Someone get this guy an agent: Drew Carey should not have gotten Bob Barker‘s gig on “The Price is Right.” That job should have gone to a man who is long overdue for his big showbiz debut, Michael Bierut.

Everything in moderation: Golden-voiced Kurt Andersen was the best moderator we’ve ever seen at one of these things. Witty, efficient and blissfully deadpan, Andersen asked incredibly intelligent questions tempered with just enough cynicism to keep things real.

Three people we’re running away with: Janine Benyus, Marian Bantjes and Alex Steffen wowed us with solutions that proved great design is natural, personal and sustainable, and, in the end, always–always–beautiful.

You can’t win ‘em all: Of course, there were a few duds. Momus‘ mainstage presentation was probably brilliant but unfocused to the point of befuddlement. Wrapping a design conference with an awesome visual application that doesn’t work on Macs was a big mistake. And even though it made good diversity efforts, the lineup was incredibly New York-centric. One might even argue specifically SVA-centric.

Worst information graphics: Upon entering the Denver Art Museum for the closing party, guests were handed a map which hinted at treasure troves of food and drink stashed in various corners of the galleries. Never mind that the Denver Art Museum is a perplexing heap of angular ADD (Daniel Libeskind must design like he talks), the ambiguous map forced us to mount great expeditions in search of circulating lamb lollipops and the elusive chicken potstickers. Luckily, the martini bar was in plain view.

Best party: Duh.

Best overheard quote in design history: When another designer worried that a former employee may have been bipolar, Dana Arnett brought perspective to the situation: “Bipolar can work, though. They present one idea, then they present another totally different idea. It’s great for clients.”

Sure to see traffic spikes this week: Design Observer lead with the most overall impressions, mentioned in many affinity sessions, at least seven times on the mainstage, and in all the conference materials as a sponsor. Second place goes to Very Short List, which got two plugs on the mainstage (Andersen is a founder, ahem).

Okay, we get it, you’re Democrats: We stopped counting the anti-Bush attacks after we hit the number of years he’s been in office. We know that designers are traditionally left-leaning. But any Republicans in the audience would have been pretty darn uncomfortable, and we’re not sure that’s altogether appropriate.

On the other hand…: There was something to the fact that the same day Al Gore won the Nobel Prize, one of our own jetted up there to work closely with him on his Alliance for Climate Protection. Or maybe that because of AIGA, people across the country will be be voting on redesigned ballots next election. Or maybe it was just AIGA president Sean AdamsJFK-like good looks. Whatever it was, we swore we felt a huge shift happening in the world of design, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.

All UnBeige AIGA NEXT coverage.

Alex Steffen’s Changing Our World

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We met Alex Steffen last night and he seems like a pretty upbeat guy in light of all the bad news he must run into all day as editor of Worldchanging: “We have inherited a broken future.”

(We don’t think we need to go over all those problems right now and bum you out.)

But basically, we are Americans, living a five-planet lifestyle. We have to fix it because we caused the problem in the first place. Thank god we have moved environmentalism into the mainstream. But even the small changes–all those little steps–can’t solve these problems.

We can’t just swap out all the Hummers for Priuses, we have to think differently. Like Netflix, who has dematerialized the movie rental system. Or Ze Frank‘s Earth Sandwich project as a method of sustainability. If you know where you are and where things are you can relate to them better. Car sharing is another example of a brilliant dematerializing of resources. Power tools are another thing–we just don’t use them enough to own them. Shared tool libraries are the answer. Like a pillow on an airplane, once we use something, we don’t need to keep it, and we should give it back. More producer take-backs need to happen.

So. People want guilt free affluence, but we can’t just rely on the bombardment of information, we need to know the backstory of our decisions. For example, the speed at which people have decided they don’t want to eat crap, and know where their food has come from, has increased exponentially because it became trendy.

How companies tell their backstory is going to be the most critical job for designers of the next decade, and so here, designers, is the challenge. The rest of the world needs you to show us how to engage. and you need to show the rest of the world that you can be beautiful. We should build it to be better and build it to be more fun.

And let’s finish with this uplifting quote by Paul Hawken that we’re sure keeps Steffen going back to the office every day: “You are brilliant and the world is hiring.”

All AIGA NEXT coverage.