Inspiring Change: Design Assembly’s Final Autumn Conversations Session for 2024

1 month ago by

Hosted in the TSB Room at Christchurch’s Tūranga Central Library, Design Assembly’s final Design & Planet event for 2024, focused on planet-centered design, was a night of inspiration, exploration and provocation.

Playing to an audience of designers, students, and Design Assembly members, multi-disciplinary designer Raul Sarrot was pulling triple duty, MCing the event, as well as facilitating and presenting himself. 

And what a great night it was. 

Welma Sykes | Encouraging consumers to participate in waste minimisation

Following drinks and nibbles, Victoria University student and information graphic designer Welma Sykes was first up, with a talk discussing her work around consumer-focused strategies to promote waste minimisation.  

“Waste should be considered a design flaw” argues the Victoria University student and information graphic designer, and she’s right of course—Aotearoa generates a staggering 17.5 million tonnes of waste per annum, 70% of which ends up in landfill.

A self-identified Eco-Marxist, Sykes seeks to design with as little environmental impact as possible – and encourages other graphic designers to do the same. 

Her recent work is centred on creating modern, positive messaging around that issue, and, working in the medium of recycled cardboard, she’s designed a campaign that encourages consumers to consider the ramifications and necessity of their purchases, urging them to work towards greater waste minimisation practices.

Leveraging a printable laser-cut waste-free flower design and low-consumption flow-chart diagram for display at high-traffic public sites—along with a bespoke website—Sykes’ work seeks to guide the consumer through the purchase process to think about the consequences—and to fully consider the necessity—of the purchases they make. 

Sykes’ work has been displayed at schools, libraries and other high-traffic zones around Christchurch, including Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, which has recently announced it will be integrating Sykes’ latest project into its wider waste management systems.

The printable designs are available online and Sykes encourages customisation. Check them out here

Miranda Brown | The Benefits of Biophilic Design

Next up was Miranda Brown, environmentalist, fashion designer and creator of integrated art. 

A ‘biophilic designer’, Brown’s work is informed by natural shapes and botanical motifs, harmonising the natural with the creative act, and recognising the role our connection with the natural world plays in human wellbeing.

It’s a fascinating idea, and one with real research to back it up: Brown mentions Roger Ulrich’s famous study which found that patients recovering from surgery exhibited reduced anxiety levels, fewer adverse health effects and shorter hospital stays when exposed to natural images and landscapes—compared to those who convalesced in rooms with views of nothing but a brick wall.

And Brown’s point is this: given that we spend around 90% of our lives indoors—an extinction of experience so to speak—we are becoming further and further disconnected from these crucial natural and nature-based experiences. 

The point of biophilic design—the conscious process of integrating nature into the build environment—is to cure this estrangement. And when we’re conscious of our interconnected natural essence, we’re more inclined to look after it. 

Covering everything from 5000-year-old sacred sites in Ireland, to modern residential interiors, to Te Kura Whare (New Zealand’s first ‘living building’), Brown seeks to connect people to the beauty of nature, enhancing human well-being, and inspiring us to take better care of our natural world.

“Art is a tool,” she says. “A tool to tell stories. A tool to remember who we are.”

“We are nature. We are the elements. So how can you integrate nature into your design work for the wellbeing of people and the planet?”

Raul Sarrot | Life-Centred Design

It’s a night very much about inspiring change, and Argentinian-born designer and educator—and the person behind multidisciplinary boutique design studio FreshfishRaul Sarrot puts it in no uncertain terms: his talk tonight won’t be about his own work, it will be about the audience’s.

Sarrot is a man on a mission: to win the hearts and minds of the design community for greater purpose. 

“We are all changemakers,” he says. “So how might we, as designers, make a positive contribution to the environment?”

There’s a flaw in the traditional design thinking framework, he argues. Design thinking starts with human desire and considers viability and feasibility, he reminds us, and at the intersection of those three concerns, it’s generally understood, is ‘good’ design.

But isn’t something missing from this equation? he asks. 

“Is it sustainable?” 

Sarrot argues that industry’s current standards of ‘sustainability’ are, in fact, untenable, and there is an imperative to move beyond the sustainable model and into a new restoration and regenerative paradigm; unlearning the engrained behaviours that aren’t good for the natural world, and moving, collectively, from a degeneration-based existence into a regenerative one.

Encouraging purposeful innovation, and bringing a life-centred, sustainable lens to creative problem-solving is Sarrot’s goal. The first step, he says, is co-creating a community of designers working together.

“We need to join forces, in all our different professions, to really make a difference,” he argues.  

“It’s about finding meaning in what we do.” 

“So what can we contribute to help the world and provide for our communities to live in a better place?”

That’s a great question. And it’s a challenge that caps off an inspiring, thought-provoking night—and calls to action from three passionate and talented designers looking to effect meaningful change in our communities and the world at large.
It’s also the last of Design Assembly’s Autumn Conversation series, but the busy calendar continues with workshops and more throughout May and beyond – check out the full calendar here.

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