Everyday Grey – Introduction

‘Everyday Grey’ is a response to my university brief set by the London College of Communication entitled, ‘The Language of Colour’, which asks us to explore our given colour, (mine was clearly the colour grey) and to change our audience’s natural assumptions about the colour; we thus had to alter their perception in some way. Other classmates on my Graphic and Media Design course were assigned different colours, such as red, blue and yellow, and their secondary research appeared to come far more easily than my own, as they did not appear to struggle when looking for books or cultural references of their assigned colour. However, I soon noted that I could find very few books solely about the colour grey, and published material was altogether lacking.

As part of my research, I did discover the 1998 film Pleasantville, directed by Gary Ross. In this film, grey was portrayed as a negative colour, representative of ignorance, naivety and discrimination. Although the film certainly inspired me visually, I did not like grey’s negative portrayal, and felt that overall, people’s perception of the colour is indeed generally negative. People find it dull, monotonous, irrelevant and disengaging, and I really wished to challenge these views. To me, grey is ambiguous, hard to pin down, mysterious and represents a blurring of black and white, a moral code that isn’t distinctively lacking, but is simply not so clear cut.

The book itself has been created as I wished to highlight the dozens of varying characteristics and faces that grey possesses, and to bring to the surface it’s complexity beyond it’s stereotypical dialect with audiences. It’s format is slightly satirical. As a graphic design student, it is most probably assumed that my outcome will be visually impressive and engaging to a graphic design audience. However, I felt that representing grey in such a forced and visual way may be doing an injustice to the colour, and attempting to meet an expected outcome, rather than exploring the colour in the way in which I have truly been asked. I am also very interested in the types of design that we don’t often explore on my course. When we are asked to create a piece of ‘editorial design’, us students typically assume that they want us to create a nice magazine type of spread, yet I have always been interested in exploring other types of editorial design further. Previously, I have designed a newspaper, which I enjoyed greatly, and alongside this, I purposefully designed a magazine that reflected low-end ‘trashy’ design, as I wished to explore why and how designers may come in to that role further. This project allowed me to explore another region of editorial design; book design. I have noticed when reading that actually the design of books and novels, although fairly simply, is often also fairly elegant and nicely laid out on a simple grid. Much like the colour grey, book design appears most often largely unseen, allowing the reader to seamlessly read the text and engage with the information, rather than observe the design itself. Thus, it felt appropriate to tie the two similar formats together, as they share many of the same characteristics; the design approach and the colour itself form a natural pairing.

The format of the book itself follows a journey I took in order to research the book, as I walked from Stratford to Central London, documenting everything I encountered that featured the colour grey. Whether large or small, detailed or simple, it is all documented here, allowing us to comment on the full spectrum of known and unknown traits associated with the colour. My documentation is aimed to inspire you to take more notice of your surroundings as you go about your day-to-day lives, and in particular, to note the objects which are grey.

Everyday Grey thus approaches changing your perception of the colour in an ironic way. The objects explored here are done so in great detail, but are represented in the monotonous way that the text of a novel is. I would like to think that the piece I have composed here does have a strange sense of engagement to it, and is bizarrely interesting to read. Thus, I have chosen this format to reflect that, although grey is clearly interesting when observed and reflected upon, a user must make that first commitment in order to come to this realisation. They must be willing to explore their surroundings, to investigate objects, to pick up a book. For I have discovered throughout my journey with the colour that grey certainly does deserve our respect and intrigue, but it is far too dignified to beg for it. This book stands as a champion for the colour, allowing you to know it’s mysteries and meanings, but it will not command you to do so. Loving grey is a path you must choose, and I stand to convince you why you should.

What role does Design have to play in making Sustainability a Global Priority?

‘We conquered the planet, only to realise that we may be our own worst enemy’ (Fiksel, 2012)

In this essay I wish to explore the true value of design in relation to sustainability, and whether or not it really plays a substantial role in promoting it as a global priority. I shall also analyse the roles of the commercial industries in the fight for sustainability, and to examine their efforts in including green design in their products, alongside their motivations for doing so, through their use of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. However, I also wish to question why this green design only appears most prevalently within these sectors, and to probe why government bodies and policy makers have not made as visible a move on climate change and sustainability. Are CSR programmes using green design really the saviour of sustainability, and if they are, is that design truly pushing sustainability up the agenda to become a global priority?

Firstly, it is important to define just exactly what sustainability means, and there are a variety of definitions. One definition states that it is a form of resource management and protection, where some natural resources must be moved in to a natural capital account (Russ, 2010). In this sense, sustainability becomes a very economic based process. Yet another definition ties it in with many other concepts, in line with the principles of sustainable development, such as ‘environmental, health and safety, social, economic and ethical aspects’ (Fiksel, 2012). However, what they both appear to agree on is sustainability must achieve a degree of protection, and that there is a fine line being using, and harming, and this line must be respected.

Finding ways to respect this line is thus key. Design and creativity is crucial to the process of finding ways to cut waste and increase productivity (Esty and Winston, 2006), whilst also essential to lessen the impacts of our behaviours within our current system (Russ, 2010). Particularly in the retail sector, corporations from Ikea to Nike have jumped on board, integrating various green design strategies into their businesses (Huffington Post, 2009) and it’s a growing and popular trend. Hellmann’s, the mayonnaise company owned by the conglomerate Unilever, ‘has a longstanding commitment to sustainability’, and boasts an arsenal of eco-friendly policies to be achieved by 2020 (Hellmann’s, 2015). Indeed, Joseph Fiksel, author of ‘Design for Environment’, states; ‘Companies will need to push the boundaries of their DFE efforts beyond the individual enterprise, working with customers, suppliers, competitors, and other interested parties’ (Fiksel, 2012). Indeed, it is thus his view that it is the business and corporation sector which will lead the march against climate change, and many businesses are pushing this agenda through sustainable product design.

However, how far can these corporate green policies be trusted, and how useful actually are the plethora of companies’ CSR schemes? In 2008 Volkswagen launched their new Clean Diesel cars, which were presented as being capable of cutting their car’s emissions and harmful effects on the planet, in order to fall within new legal guidelines (VolksWagen 2008). Their achievement was also reinforced by a large marketing campaign (BBC, 2015), heralding their new cars as a more sustainable form of transport. However, in 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered that Volkswagen had been using internal software within their vehicles in order to effectively ‘cheat’ safety and environmental tests (BBC, 2015). This meant that although the vehicles appeared very eco-friendly during testing, when on the road they were in fact just as harmful as any of their previous vehicles. Overall, it was revealed that eleven million vehicles were fitted with the ‘cheat devices’ worldwide, with engines emitting nitrogen oxide pollutants up to 40 times the allowed amount in the US (BBC, 2015). Thus, what appeared to be a company with great use of sustainable design, both in terms of the product itself, and the slick marketing campaign that ran alongside it, was in fact a law breaking scheme, merely appearing environmentally friendly in order to lure in potential buyers. This therefore calls in to question the reliability of the many CSR programmes claiming to imbed sustainability within their ethos; if one can manage to break the rules for so long, how many others can, and what danger does it pose to us and our planet when we accept these programmes to be truthful and successful? As author and environmentalist Paul Hawken eloquently puts it; ‘recycling aluminium cans in the company cafeteria and ceremonial tree plantings are as effective as bailing out the Titanic with teacups’ (Hawken, 1993). Ultimately, it is possible that the business sector is simply not adaptable or reliable enough to fight the battle for sustainability (Hawken, 1993).

Of course, one should not assume that all companies are merely looking to pull the wool over their customer’s eyes in order to make a profit. Ben and Jerry’s, the infamous ice cream company, has been a huge advocate for climate change and sustainability, using the attractive design of their product and website to educate it’s customers on the issues, and thus raise the profile of sustainability up in the global agenda (Ben and Jerry’s, 2015). Their website itself highlights the battle the planet faces, as they state that; ‘It is more urgent than ever that we take steps to dramatically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions’ (Ben and Jerry’s, 2015). The company are also not merely talk, citing that they have launched carbon offset programmes in some of their manufacturing facilities, ran their own global warming advocacy campaign (Ben and Jerry’s, 2015) and even implemented their own internal carbon tax (The Guardian, 2015). However, ultimately, how much of an impact is Ben and Jerry’s having on the the fight against climate change and the promotion of sustainability? The company themselves goes on to state on their website; ‘We know that voluntary corporate action won’t deliver the large-scale systems change that is required to keep warming below 2 degrees celsius.’ (Ben and Jerry’s, 2015). Therefore, even a company that exercises good, transparent CSR admits that voluntary corporate action (where we see the most amount of design being used towards the promotion of sustainability) is not enough in putting it up the world’s agenda and making it a global priority.

What needs to happen is the realisation that big design ideas coming from corporations will not be there, or at least will not arrive in a timely enough manner, to save us from the impacts of not sustaining a global warming of below two degrees (Klein, 2014). These big ideas are often both in the hands of philanthropists and large corporations, who’s own motivations almost inevitably seem to go beyond the mere drive to save the planet. For example, Richard Branson pledged $3billion dollars to try and invent a low carbon fuel which could sustain his airlines (Klein, 2014) but of course did not simply consider reducing the amount of his planes in the sky, which is a large polluter globally. Another example is Apple’s new ‘spaceship’ campus, soon to be built in Silicon Valley. Although it promises to be a fully sustainable, energy-efficient piece of architecture, in reality it will still exist as a huge piece of construction, costing a full $5billion to complete (Los Angeles Times, 2016). Thus, can the project really be defined as sustainable, or are they just using the concept and associations of the word sustainability to improve their own public image? This striving for bigger and better projects and improved public image would suggest that these businesses cannot be reliably held accountable for climate change. It is thus crucial that the sustainability agenda is taken out of the hands of big business (who so often claim to be making use of green design) and put into solid legislation and global government policy that will force polluters to reduce their activities and thus save the planet.

But the current governmental system is also heavily flawed, allowing for businesses to pollute the planet, and on occasion, even encouraging them to do so. For example, some countries actually benefit from climate change, particularly in the Arctic regions, as the melting ice makes even more areas for excavation accessible (Helm and Hepburn, 2009). There is also currently more oil in reserve than the planet could simply bare to be burnt (Klein, 2014), but companies are legally obliged to do what is in the best interest of their shareholders (NYTimes, 2015), and so thus may continue to burn the oil despite the fact that it is harmful to the planet. Alongside this, both in Germany and the UK, companies are considering opening up new coal-fired power stations (Helm and Hepburn, 2009).

The problem is that the overall design of the way our very system itself works, is ineffective at fighting climate change. Short term goals and the pure impracticability of sustainability drive our global efforts down, and are causing us to fail our planet (Klein, 2014). There are of course many factors that also cross over the sustainability case. Helm and Hepburn point out in their book ‘The Economics and Politics of Climate Change’ , that ‘climate change sits alongside trade negotiations, nuclear weapons negotiations, and migration and human rights negotiations.’ (Helm and Hepburn, 2009), which hints at the fact that we need to change the entire design of our global society, in order to achieve any form of positive change. Focusing on the issue of sustainability itself is insufficient, as governments across the world will need to work together in order to achieve it, and this may be not be possible if, quite frankly, we can’t all get on with one another.

These factors may explain why strategies such as the Kyoto Protocol; an internationally binding reduction in emissions across it’s member parties (UNFCCC, 2014) appears to often fail it’s targets. Naomi Klein, critic of capitalism turned climate change activist, sums up these conflicting interests as she explains that the rise in freer trade and the World Trade Organisation ran parallel to the rise in global commitments to promote sustainability, but the two movements appeared directly opposed to each other in terms of policy (Klein, 2014). For example, products would now be shipped across vast spaces of land, with ships and planes directly negatively impacting the environment, whilst strict patent laws launched by the WTO would prevent developing countries from accessing the technology available to help reduce their carbon footprint (Klein, 2014).

Ultimately, design will play a vital role in the implementation of sustainability, but it is my view that it will certainly not be the driving force of it. As Tom Russ, author of ‘Sustainability and Design Ethics’ points out; ‘Green products and designs suggest that we can simply design our way to sustainability without any changes to ourselves, without any value shift.’ (Russ, 2010). This one dimensional, perhaps naive, approach to fighting climate change will not be enough, as highlighted in the many problems associated with the climate change movement and corporate responses detailed in the previous paragraphs. Relying on green design moves us away from establishing a robust, legally binding framework of governance that both encourages sustainable behaviour and minimises the positives of exploiting the environment; we will also need to accomplish a large behavioural shift if we are to progress on as a sustainable species (Fiksel, 2012). Although the role of design is inevitably important, it is worthy to note that it is rarely on the shoulders of the designers ethics to say no to a project, whether it be green or not, and it is even more unlikely that a designer will question the need for a product altogether (Fry, 2009). A poignant quotation comes from the book ‘Design for Sustainable Change’, which states; ‘designing still belongs to designers, design itself does not’ (Chick and Micklethwaite, 2011). Thus, designers and green design act more like a bullet in a gun, as opposed to the firing shot itself. Without government policy and societal change there to pull the trigger, we may be too late to sustain our planet.

 

Bibliography

Ben and Jerry’s (2015) Save Our Swirled. Available at: http://www.benjerry.co.uk/values/issues-we-care-about/climate-justice (Accessed: 8th of March).

BBC (2015) Volkswagen: The Scandal Explained. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34324772 (Accessed: 9th of March 2016).

Chick, A. and Micklethwaite, P. (2011) Design for Sustainable Change: How Design and Designers can Drive the Sustainability Agenda. Switzerland: AVA Publishing.

Esty, D. and Winston, A. (2006) Green to Gold – How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage. 2nd edn. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Fiksel, J. (2012) Design for Environment, A Guide to Sustainable Product Development. USA: McGraw-Hill.

Fry, T. (2009) Design Futuring – Sustainability, Ethics and New Practice. New York: Berg.

The Guardian (2015) Ben and Jerry’s puts a price on carbon; Available at: http://www.nexis.com.arts.idm.oclc.org/results/enhdocview.do?docLinkInd=true&ersKey=23_T23636287333&format=GNBFI&startDocNo=0&resultsUrlKey=0_T23636316503&backKey=20_T23636316504&csi=138620&docNo=9 (Accessed: 8th of March, 2016).

Hawken, P. (1993) The Ecology of Commerce – A Declaration of Sustainability. 3rd edn. New York: HarperCollins

Helm, D. (ed.) and Hepburn, C. (ed.) (2009) The Economics and Politics of Climate Change. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hellmann’s (2015) Sustainability: A Priority For Hellman’s. Available at: http://www.hellmanns.co.uk/article/detail/1046837/sustainability-a-priority-for-hellmanns (Accessed: 8th of March 2016).

The Huffington Post (2012) Meet The 12 Most Eco-Friendly Companies on the Planet. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/paul-smith/meet-the-12-most-ecofrien_b_1664038.html (Accessed: 10th of March).

Klein, N. (2014) This Changes Everything. 2nd edn. UK: Penguin.

Los Angeles Times (2016) Green building or Greenwashing?; 

Designing a skyscraper with a rooftop farm or garden isn’t enough to save the world. Available at: http://www.nexis.com.arts.idm.oclc.org/results/enhdocview.do?docLinkInd=true&ersKey=23_T23654097572&format=GNBFI&startDocNo=0&resultsUrlKey=0_T23654097579&backKey=20_T23654097580&csi=306910&docNo=4 (Accessed: 10th of March, 2016).

NYTimes (2015) Corporations Don’t Have to Maximize Profits. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/04/16/what-are-corporations-obligations-to-shareholders/corporations-dont-have-to-maximize-profits (Accessed: 10th of March 2016).

UNFCCC (2014) Kyoto Protocol. Available at http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php (Accessed:10th of March 2016).

Russ, T. (2010) Sustainability and Design Ethics.  New York: CRC Press.

VolksWagen (2008) The Passat. UK: Available at: http://www.volkswagen.co.uk/assets/common/pdf/brochures/old-brochure/Passat-Saloon/Passat-Saloon-August-2008.pdf (Accessed: 10th of March, 2016).

 

Mcdonalds Case Study

In today’s lesson we looked at McDonalds, a brand that had seemingly saved itself from the edge of collapse after a tirade of media attacks against the healthiness of it’s food and it’s treatment of staff. The documentary ‘Supersize Me’ had a huge impact on the brand, as a man documented the impact of eating only McDonalds for 30 days on his body.

We compared McDonalds’ advertising campaigns and overall aesthetic from before the media storm and also afterwards. The adverts from the early 90s were almost scary by our standards today, featuring excessive consumption and a factory line, promoting solely the fact that the food was incredibly fast. Yet, after the shock to the company, the adverts used far more muted colours, had a much slower pace, and promoted family, friendships, and the idea of staying in the restaurant. There was also a shift towards much more healthy imagery, portraying farms and green crops. It was interesting to note that consistently the adverts did not directly advertise the food as healthy.

We were posed the question; ‘Is McDonalds a great example of a brand using design to effectively change customer perceptions?’. Immediately, everyone thought ‘yes’; it was hard to see how the campaign had not saved the business from the brink of destruction. It was very clear that had McDonalds not taken the steps it had, it most probably would not still be the staple of our high street that it still holds on to today. However, when we further analysed the term ‘customer perception’ our tutor noted that although the rebrand makes her feel more comfortable entering McDonalds, it did not make her trust them. We agreed, no body in the room thought that McDonalds food was healthy or good for you, or even that it was the best place to go to for a meal. Perhaps the rebrand had made it more sociable acceptable to eat there, but it had certainly not made us trust and love the brand itself.

Doritos – It Doesn’t Get Better

Today we were looking at big businesses that had taken on social responsibility campaigns, and analysed or not if they were successful. Doritos has decided to support the ‘It Gets Better’ charity group, which aims to tell LGBTQ youth that their situation will indeed get better. They supported them by creating doritos that matched the colours of the rainbow, as the rainbow is the symbol of the LGBTQ community. All well and good right?

I feel that this campaign was little more than Doritos trying to jump on the bandwagon of supporting LGBTQ rights and movements in order to look good. What service or support was Doritos actually giving the LGBTQ community directly? Very little it appears, as a coloured in Dorito many not be of much use to an LGBTQ child in the playground as four bullies are attacking them. The money spent on purchasing the Doritos would be passed on directly to It Gets Better, however I think this is an incredibly lazy way to support a movement, and suggests that their core goal here was not the benefit of others. I feel that if Doritos really wished to support the LGBTQ community, then they would have done something themselves which would have directly helped the community, and not merely handed the money over to a separate body.

We also looked at a Ben and Jerry’s commercial which showed their support for keeping global warming below a certain number of degrees. The advert featured melting ice cream representing the warming planet, and was solely communicating a message that we must all come together to help cool the earth. Many people in the class were cynical of the campaign, questioning why they had chosen to do it and whether or not it was their place to. However, when you compare Ben and Jerry’s campaign to Doritos, it is clear who had the most genuine message. Ben and Jerry’s ad did not push the purchasing of it’s ice cream at all, whereas any promotion of Doritos rainbow crisps heavily emphasised only the product itself, and the design of the packaging. In a television interview promoting Doritos campaign, not a single word was spent discussing LGBTQ rights, or the charity that the cause was donating to. So in what way were the crisps actually teaching people about the LGBTQ community? One journalist actually described the packaging as ‘fashionable’, further encouraging the stereotype that members of the gay community and particularly fashionable and trendy, something that is damaging to the LGBTQ. The final nail in the coffin for me was that they referred to the community as ‘LGBT’, missing out the ‘Q’. The Q stands for Queer/Questioning, and is sometimes criticised for only appearing out of political correctness. However, many people do fall under the ‘Q’ category, and i’m not sure how appreciative they would feel to have been left out of a campaign that is designed to reduce bullying across the spectrum of the community; isn’t exclusion a form of bullying in itself?

This example also hints at the wider issue of the commercialisation of the LGBTQ community in general. The Pride marches originally come from a place of rebellion and activism, and achieved genuine social change for the community. Now, it almost sounds like a joke that Starbucks and Barclays sponsor Pride, and that the event itself involved a lot of encouragement to spend. This commercialisation is deafening the communities’ once loud and active voice, by seducing it into a state of false calm and safety. This commercialisation is also taking away our genuine spaces, as big businesses move in to either gentrify our areas and turn them into solely money making machines. It is true that there were more varied and simply larger amounts of gay venues dating back even ten years ago than there are today. Doritos’ campaign is just another example of a business piggy backing off of the LGBTQ community in order to look good, whilst also, although perhaps inadvertently contributing to the destruction of our spirit and spaces.

Sustainability Should Not be a Choice

A theme that has been cropping up a lot over the weeks of the class has been the question of why it should be possible for our individual behaviours to negatively affect the planet in the first place. Some members of the class state that we should try harder to pick the option that is better for the planet, despite the fact that it might be more expensive. Yet, how has a product that has been proven to negatively impact the planet been allowed on our shelves? Of course, the answer is most likely that the company who produces it is very profitable, and thus imposing laws of them to stop their climate impacting behaviours would be both difficult and frowned upon. Naomi Klein, author of both No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, illustrates how we have moved in to a corporatist world, where the line between business and government becomes so blurred that sometimes it is very hard to pick apart the difference. Although this is increasingly becoming a fairly agreed on view point, nonetheless it makes it very hard to break it apart and challenge it, as, naturally, the corporations and governments have put themselves well above a lot of the actions we can achieve. In a way, the fact that we know this happens but can’t do a lot about it very easily just proves how deep the corruption is, if they can afford for us to know about it and still remain unchallenged.

Thus, the emphasis and responsibility is suddenly shifted to us. It is us that must stop climate change by collectively choosing to pick the right product. How do you know if the right product actually IS the right product, taking into account the large quantity of corporate social responsibility initiatives that are often in place simply to make the company look better, and do not do a great deal of good to a great many people? Why should it be on us to save the planet on our own accord when those that could make a real difference set up a vast web of barriers to insure that they won’t have to? I’m not saying we shouldn’t do our bit, but I think our bit would be better spent answering these questions, instead of humouring the current situation by changing our brand of toilet roll and recycling our milk cartons, without questioning why oil companies can tear up pieces of our planet right under our noses.

Presentation of Excess

In today’s class we had to work as a team to illustrate what we thought sustainability meant and the issues surrounding a topic. We quickly thought of ways that we could illustrate to and audience how their behaviour was unsustainable, even if they were unaware of it. The theme of Christmas emerged. Christmas of course is supposedly a religious time of year but has heavily undergone the commercialisation process and is now really a battle to buy enough, spend enough, work enough and become stressed over. We decided to base our presentation on the themes of contrast; showing people an ideal/typical Christmas and then countering each image with the cost of that behaviour to either other people or the planet.

On one slide for example, there is a family enjoying themselves in a warm home, on the next, there is a homeless man in the street. On another, there is a child unwrapping lots of presents, whereas the next slide shows a big dumpsite, full of the excesses of Christmas. The presentation was rough as we had a small amount of time to produce it, however, overall everyone was pleased with what we had managed to produce. The presentation acted as a foreshadowing to the many themes we may wish to explore over the coming weeks.

Can We Survive Without Electricity?

‘Can we survive without electricity?’ was a question I had to consider during week one of our Global Design and Sustainability class. Answering the question was tricky because the question was so apocalyptic, and it was easier to come up with other questions rather than directly answer it. Could we create a new form of electricity? Would there be an alternate power source? Would we have time to prepare? Would currently stored electricity continue to work, or would everything power off at once?

I felt that ultimately, the world would immediately be plunged in to chaos, as so many of us rely on electricity to communicate; how would we cope without anyone telling us what to do? We would be unable to flip the news on, call friends and family, and traffic lights would stop functioning and with everyone in a state on panic the roads may become chaotic. How would the government communicate or impose things on us when it’d be a struggle for them to find their bearings also?

However, I don’t see it being an end to the human race. Chaos doesn’t necessarily mean that we will all suddenly turn around and start murdering each other; well not everyone at least. And what about the societies that don’t rely on electricity at all? It may not end humanity, but it’d definitely turn the tables on a lot of it!