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Category Archives: teaching resources

Can you ever have too many sustainable design tools?

The answer is…No! I’m sure you’ll agree that since the field is continually evolving, new tools capture the emerging thinking. Even though many of the basics stay the same, new tools keep it fresh and interesting.

This week we look at the Sustainable Design Compass introduced this week by my colleague Chris Sherwin at UK design firm Seymourpowell. He wrote about it over on Sustainable Brands with this article. The Compass report itself is available on Scribd and you need an account to look at and download it (note that it is more than 7MB in file size).


The Sustainable Design Compass by Chris Sherwin of Seymourpowell

As the image shows, the compass replaces North and South with “New” and “Existing” as two ends of the continuum on which designers work. Similarly, East and West are replaced by “Technology” and “Society,” indicating (broadly) the continuum of drivers for sustainability. The four resulting quadrants present a range of approaches that Sherwin covers. He writes of six approaches as follows:

1. SUSTAINABILITY IN ALL DESIGN: in which sustainability is integrated as a factor in all projects and briefs, simply becoming part of what constitutes good design.
2. CLEANTECH BY DESIGN: in which design is used to help humanise and commercialise new green and clean technologies, so that they succeed.
3. DESIGN FOR SUSTAINABLE BEHAVIOURS: where designers make sustainable behaviours and actions easier and more desirable for people.
4. SOCIAL INNOVATION: where design is driven by the ‘real’ needs of people and the planet. Two further themes cut-across our four quadrants, covering the ways in which the design process needs to change. These can work with each thematic quadrant or as a stand-alone, and are:
5. NEW DESIGN MODELS: in which design embraces the new skills and working practices required for sustainability.
6. CREATING DESIGN VISIONS: where designers create inspiring and imaginative future visions of how the world can be better through sustainability.

The document helpfully includes case studies to illustrate the points, for example a motorcycle, football, packaging and small appliance. I can envision class workshops where students experiment with trying the compass on various design challenges through thought and sketch exercises. I can also envision a range of research that attempts to improve, critique or compare this compass to what has come before.

All in all, a welcome addition to the cannon and perhaps some good Christmas reading? We owe Chris some thanks for this holiday gift…


As usual, share this post with others who may be interested. Subscribe in the right hand column to get the monthly summaries plus a bonus article. And this week over on Design, Consumerism and Activism we have a new post, Three Items on Sustainable Consumption.

I’ll be off for the next two weeks, and will begin again on Thursday January 9, 2014. Wishing you a peaceful season and new year.



Sustainable Design Intrapreneurs

As a lot of us know, there still aren’t that many design jobs around with “sustainability” in the job description. In that case designers have the option of taking “conventional” jobs and becoming “intrapreneurs” (changing things from the inside). I’ve written about this here, in terms of strategic ways to build the case for sustainableContinue Reading

guidance on education for sustainable development (& design)

This is an alert for all you folks in the UK involved in sustainable design in Higher Education—we need your input now. The UK’s higher education community is trying to formalize education for sustainable development (ESD), and a major milestone appeared this week in the form of Guidance from the Quality Assurance Agency on EducationContinue Reading



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