Sustainable Graphic Design – Part 1 & 2

a conversation

Held at Antenna, Nottingham, UK

Part 1

Fifteen designers and industry experts attended a conversation in sustainable design held at Antenna on 15 December. The afternoon event was led by Future Factory project manager Phil Harfield and Rob Coke, Creative Director of Studio Output. Rob has been working with Finola Gaynor of Nottingham Trent University to kick start the sustainability agenda for local design studios. Finola has a passion for the subject and as principal lecturer in Visual Communication was the right person to move the initiative ahead. Unfortunately Finola was unable to attend this first event but played a big role during the design and development stage.

What followed was a lively debate about alternative resources, designing out waste, liability and consumer knowledge. Several participants shared their own ideas and actions which have resulted in significant cost and waste reductions.

Contributions regarding current printing and paper choices and their implications came from representatives from GF Smith, Plan Four Print and Howard Smith Paper Company. This included descriptions of the process of FSC certification and carbon-balanced paper. These are fairly complex systems of which commissioners, designers and members of the public should all be aware.

Although no conclusion was reached about the role of graphic designers in promoting sustainability it was recognised that they do have a unique position with the ability to inform clients in this area and pass on information to end-users.

On the whole members of the group felt that they were not sufficiently knowledgeable about the range of issues to be educating clients and account managers. There appears to be a dearth of information about the subject although some useful online resources were exchanged and these will contribute to an ongoing project to provide information to the industry in the East Midlands. The basis of the project is to develop a web-based resource which gives practical and reliable information about environmental impact and cost implications for a range of different design scenarios including paper finishes, which size paper will produce the least waste or allow for reuse. The printers present felt that they could be more active in guiding designers to make these choices and encouraged greater communication.

There is a worry however that focusing on strict environmental criteria will ultimately eliminate the element of design. This, however, is not the aim of sustainable design. As one participant pointed out sustainability needs to be thought through from the beginning of a project. Products should not be termed sustainable just because they have been printed on FSC-certified paper.

Feedback from the event has been very positive and one studio has reported that they have already taken practical steps to improve their environmental impact. These include recycling more, switching off machinery when not in use and changing from solvent inks to water-based inks which is great news.


the symposium

Held at NTU in the White Room, Nottingham Trent University

Part 2

(c) Finola Gaynor

Christine Fent presenting guidance for sustainable graphic design

Christine Fent, Beam Design

Christine Fent studied typography and design in Mainz, Germany. After
completing her diploma she headed straight to London, where she worked for
Roundel Design amongst other design companies. After a spell as freelance
designer with contracts at Landor in Hamburg and Salter Baxter in London she
set-up Composite Projects. After successful collaboration on several
projects she joined forces with Dominic Latham-Koenig to form Beam in 2008.
Beam are a multi-discipline design consultancy in London.

(c) Finola Gaynor

Lei Cox presenting 'The Dark Room'

Prof Lei Cox
Lei Cox works with video installation, video art and photography; and has shown worldwide since 1985. He is also a free-lance film and video maker and has worked with BBC Scotland , BBC 2, Channel 4, Republik Films and Sky TV. His major Solo Shows have been shown in the Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow, Laing Gallery, Newcastle and Gallery Rene Coelho, Amsterdam. Group shows include Tel Aviv Museum of Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Skopje, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tate Gallery Liverpool, European Media Art Festival, Osnabruk. His Single screen work has been shown in at least 70 international festivals and he has just completed an interactive camera obscurae public art work “ The Dark Room : Mountain to Sea – Beyond Site” which is situated on Cairngorm Mountain in Scotland. This work started in 2005 and was made in collaboration with Mel Woods (producer) Fergus Purdie (architect) and George Keen (lens designer). At present Lei is working towards his October 2011 inaugural exhibition and lecture, which will consist of past historical works as well as six new installations and projections; three are national premiers and three completely new works.


Finola Gaynor, Chair
A Graphic Designer with over 18 years experience in the creative industries of Graphic Design, Advertising, Technology nd Publishing.

Finola led the BA (Hons) Graphic Design at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication for 5 years with research relating to ‘Extended Studio, learning and teaching within a virtual space.’ Finola has held the position of Committee Member of the Typocircle and has also been an advisor to the HEA, National Teaching Fellowhsip Scheme. As Principal Lecturer in Graphic Design Finola has designed and led undergraduate courses in graphic design within the UK, Malaysia  and JAPAN, culminating in seminars, lecture series and research contributions within the areas of branding, typography, usability, and information design. Finola also supervises MA and PHD students specialising in Information and User-centric design.


It seems that sustainable design, goes beyond that of the object, the printed substrate or the digital screen.

Sustainability is not only a British Standard, an ISO but a sense of self, a frame of mind an ethic and more importantly I guess a harmonious balance between offsets.

During conversations and the from the workshops it became apparent that the driver comes from the client, thedesigner the artist and the users/readers of our designs or pieces of art.

Happily there is a need to educate, not only our graduating designers, commercial designers and our clients, which as a group of people with a vested interest should foster the concept and practice of sustainability with our geographically local SMEs.

Without being too profound. This balance is a requirement and is necessary to ensure integrity to maintain and develop creativity. And of course we would all agree that creativity enables a better society. This is my hunch.

“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.”
— Frank Capra

Finola Gaynor, Chair, Future Factory Design Symposium

These events were made possible by the Future Factory and Megan Mcfarlene