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A Culture of Green


Lara McCormick


Lara McCormick is a designer in New York City as well as a teacher. She offers Citizen Designer, a continuing education course at the School of Visual Arts, because: “As a designer, I have reached a point where I’m able to selectively work on projects I believe in. I wanted to base a course on this idea, where students work on assignments that have to do with things they care about. Borrowing the title from Steven Heller’s book ‘Citizen Designer’ (with his approval), the course focuses on the importance of being a responsible designer.”

For the final project in McCormick’s course, students applied for an ‘Ideas that Matter’ grant from Sappi. Team “CitizenD” consisted of Viviana Briseño, Liu Chiawei and Libby Clarke.
On the first day of the course, the students all wrote a list of things that are important to them. Something that everyone agreed on was green design. Libby Clarke was familiar with Build It Green! NYC, a non-profit retail outlet for salvaged and surplus building materials, and made the introduction. BIG! NYC’s mission is to keep materials out of the landfill, while offering deep discounts on their resale. All proceeds support environmental education programs, lectures and arts events throughout the year. Thus, the client understood the importance of sustainable design. The design team discussed what type of materials could be used to print on so that items like signage could last and have multiple uses. The signs they created were silkscreened onto wood and, while posted in the warehouse, could also be easily transported for use at expos and green markets. Canvas bags were also designed to carry the BIG!NYC logo; they used bags that had been misprinted, salvaged and turned inside-out. Concludes McCormick: “The client did not have the manpower to give us consistent feedback. We had to be proactive and decisive. At the end of the project, we sent the client PDF’s of all our design explorations, and a basic style guide. We made ourselves available as consultants for now and the future. The client recognized the need to have a graphics person inhouse and got the budget to do this.”
What did the students take away from the projects?
Liu Chiawei: “I learned how to apply for a grant, pitch ideas to non-designers and exchange ideas with non-profits. This project demystified the process of grant application. If this Sappi grant exists, there are others out there for non-profits that I can apply for.”
Viviana Briseño: “At first I thought, “Let’s make some sexy design, it’s free for them.” I thought it would be a vanity project. It ended up being very practical, in-the-trenches reality. It’s not about producing an extravagant portfolio piece but about being of service.”
Libby Clark: “I feel more empowered to reach out to local resources for printing versus going to larger suppliers. Working with a local silkscreener and printer, there was a more personal level of involvement.”

“Green design is more than just recycled paper. It’s about maximizing the design of things using as minimal resources as possible. I think we’re at a stage where every design solution should be sustainable. We can’t afford to not work this way.”

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