True to say, leaving Uni was as big a learning curve as the three years I was there, but last week I decided to go back to my student ways and go to the AUB Humans – New Narratives symposium.

I had the chance to listen to a collection of speakers celebrating social, ethical and sustainable creative practice who are challenging how far design for good can go. After an inspiring and thought-provoking day, I thought I would share my thoughts on what I learnt and how I feel about these issues within my own practice (and how it was a welcome reminder of how unsustainable I am!).

Regenerative Design

Something new for me to start with, and one of the most interesting things I learnt from my first talk of the day, was about regenerative design. From Ruth Andrade, someone with one of the best job titles I’ve seen, Regenerative Impact, Earth Care and Giving from Lush, she was the emotional and passionate speaker behind this talk and was one of my favourites from out of the speakers I got to see.

I could write multiple blogs just from this one presentation, but my biggest take-away was the understanding of what regenerative design was and how companies are trying to use it within their work. A process in which its whole system is to restore, renew or revitalise its own sources of energy and materials. Something not enough people on the globe are trying to do. It was fascinating to see how Lush have tried to do this within their products, the most interesting being the cork pot, carbon positive packaging, which can remove over 33 times its weight in carbon dioxide for every pot.

She left us with lots of intriguing questions after the talk, one of the best that stuck with me was how can the planet be better because humans exist? Something to think about, seeing that definitely isn’t the case at the moment.

Lush Cork Pot Carbon Negative Packaging

System Thinking

Something I was more familiar with, but was a great refresh, was a presentation from Rebecca Ford from The RSA. Talking about system thinking, social innovation and complex challenges this was the most nostalgic learning similar to what I had done in University. A very uplifting and inspiring talk, it really reminded me of how we can use design to push ourselves to create things that benefit the many.

Learning to design for people you may not be able to associate yourself with can be extremely difficult, but Rebecca really helped reinstate the ways in which you can try and put yourself in the shoes of others. Thinking in different ways to get to the root of the problem, briefs can be one thing but are they actually going to help the person that you’re creating for? Has the root problem been found?

It also helped me reminisce on one of my favourite projects in Uni, my RSA project ‘Generate’. The challenge was to use new technology in ways it can help people that hasn’t been thought about before. My idea was to use fabric that could use kinetic energy when exercising to create electricity, and then thinking of ways it could benefit people around the globe, i.e. hurricane victims with no power.

It was a true reminder of how seeking out different perspectives will only make your design better and that we should be pushing to design with and not for.

Equity-Led Design

I’m going to start this one by saying this talk had my favourite quote of the day from Julian Thompson Service Design Lead at Citizens Advice and founder of Rooted by Design,

‘Diversity is being asked to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.’

This stuck with me because I think it is such a powerful way of thinking. For me, it made me think of ways we work within briefs sometimes, and that we know the audience and have done online research with a bunch of facts a website has told us, but have we actually spoke to them? Are we getting the correct information which is going to help us benefit every individual? A brief I feel we have done this well in recently was for RNLI. We had the chance to use a focus group, all individuals involved were those who the piece of work was aimed at. This helped us to receive feedback that not only helps us know we are on the right path but also get the right amends.

Another new way of thinking I learnt was equity-led design. The perfect image (below) helped to visualise the difference from equality and equity. Explaining this understanding of how you might think your designing for everyone and that it will benefit everyone equally, but this can cause just as many problems. Who are the people who might need more support than others, or who you might need to give a different approach to? As designers we are powerful. We need to remain humble to be able make the correct design choices for everyone.

Comparison of equity and equality unfairly laying out the differences with people of different height watching a ball game.
Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire

Problem Solving

The final talk of the day was from Rob Nicoll, someone who graduated only a year before me and Co-Founder of Chip[s] Board. From a project he began in his final year he has created an incredible bio-plastics and bio-plastic composites that perform the same as conventional plastics whilst being Biodegradable and recyclable post use. And how have they done this? With potatoes…

With a strong philosophy and the perfect suppliers (McCain) they have done an incredible job at creating a sustainable model. Their values are shaped for a circular economy, they have made a great material which they can now supply to create great products. Already working with big brands, they now have the fun part of finding new ways they can incorporate their plastics. He talked about how you shouldn’t be scared of sharing ideas but find people that have skills to help you grow.

It was a great reminder in how being a designer you don’t just have to create social banners or campaigns, but you have the skill set of the perfect problem solver and that we have the ability to push outside of our field to help others.

Chips Board Sustainable Sunglasses

A much-needed refresh

A great and beneficial day overall, it truly reminded me of how bad of a person I am! But more importantly it refreshed my thinking of how being a designer I really can make a positive change one potato at a time.

The talks were a great refresh for me since leaving university and asking myself question about how can I take these learnings into my own work within bbd and try to push to create design for good for our own clients? It’s easy to get caught up within the fast-paced agency world but nothing can be better than taking a step back and reflecting on what I am creating and how it benefits the people and even world around me. Thank you AUB for a great day and to everyone involved that made it happen.

Oliver Gear

Oliver Gear