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Compostmodern09 Reviews, 1 of 3

This past Saturday nine emissaries on behalf of Speak Up and their own will to learn attended Compostmodern09. These are the first three reviews.


Tim Belonax

Eight Lessons from Compostmodern 09 This year’s speakers weren’t short on sustainability mantras, top 10 lists, or big green buzzwords. Below are my eight main lessons from the day; one from each speaker.

Eames Demetrios Scale is the “new geography.” It is the tool to understand the world. Without it, we’ll be lost.

Allan Chochinov Designers think they’re in the artifact business — but we’re not. We are in the consequence business. Design accordingly.

Michel Gelobter Party like it’s 1899. (AKA: Live life like your great grandparents — when we weren’t addicted to fossil fuels.)

Saul Griffith Climate change is an aesthetic problem. Graphic designers: make energy use visible and it will become more comprehensible and malleable.

John Bielenberg & Pam Dorr Thinking wrong = breaking orthodoxy. Design has the power to create a socially sustainable culture, but you can’t solve it with default thought patterns.

Emily Pilloton Look at problems through the lens of design thinking (not the narrow viewpoint of your specific field).

Dawn Danby Learn different “languages” (political, financial, humanitarian, etc.) and invite others into the sustainability conversation.

Nathan Shedroff There are three spheres of sustainability: social, environmental, and financial. Only when all three are clearly addressed can progress in sustainability be made.

Extra credit From Emily Pilloton:
For any out-of-work designer or soon-to-be-graduate, she says, “Don’t work for a design firm. Go work for the government or a non-profit… Maybe your job title won’t be ‘Designer,’ but you are one, and they need one. These are the places where we can make the biggest difference.”

Three points of critique The Compostmodern website gives too much prominence to its branding and design partner. It was difficult to link the event with its main sponsor, the AIGA. I don’t mind pairing down the AIGA presence, but not to the point of obscurity or confusion.

The event was not sold out. This can be blamed on a poor economy or the inclusion of webcasting/live-blogging, but I’m still disappointed that in such an environmentally conscious community as the Bay Area, the event didn’t have more butts in the seats. Did we try hard enough to open the conversation to others outside of the design community?

Ms. Danby, I have a boatload of respect for you and for what you were trying to say in your talk. I agree that we as designers should be more versatile in our ability to communicate to a variety of individuals, whether they’re engineers, politicians, or CFOs. Unfortunately, I found your presentation style missing its mark with our audience: designers. It felt pretentious and overly dramatic. I hope you continue to speak and refine your presentation in the future because I believe in your message and its content, but not the manner in which it was delivered.

Tim Belonax is a designer at MINE™ and a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design.


Amy Martin

This graphic shows the key points of each speaker’s presentation. The speakers are grouped in two main categories, which reflect the structure of the conference: Those that provided ideas and information of “what to put in your head” and those that showed “how to then get it out of your head.”

Click on image to download PDF [1.1Mb].

Amy Martin

Amy Martin is a grad student in the MFA Design program at the California College of the Arts. Her hobbies include inducing plant comas and thinking about sharks.”


Emma Sherwood-Forbes

I’ve spent the days since Compostmodern09 with the words of its wildly intelligent, articulate, and achieved speakers running through in my mind. I am always interested in hearing about the passions of others, their good works and the places they find inspiration, but as a graphic designer I initially found little that could inform my work and direction.

After letting things settle, what I was left thinking is that the essential task for the sustainability movement in 2009 is not to figure out how to reduce or eliminate our waste, but rather to make people care. After listening to these speakers, I have confidence that we as a species are up to the task of figuring out how to live on this planet without destroying it — this challenge is more about time and money than the struggle to create the right technology. However, getting this time and money and getting others to adopt the technology we develop is another story.

Every person who spoke at Compostmodern09 touched on this point in some way. Whether it was Joel Makower calling the homogeneity (and thus limited size) of the largely wealthy, white and liberal sustainable design community the elephant in the “sustainable design living room,” or Dawn Danby expressing her dismay at the number of faces she recognized in the audience, the speakers all acknowledged that we must communicate to people who aren’t listening yet. Saul Griffith quoted, “Design won’t save the world. Go volunteer at a soup kitchen you pretentious fuck.” But I disagree. To you, Saul Griffith, I say this: design could save the world if we do it right, because design has the capability to convince people that there’s saving to be done.

But how does one go about doing this? Is it more compelling to use fear of death and destruction, to push moral responsibility, or to brand the issue and make it desirable for social reasons? How does one convince people from so many walks of life that they must all come together for this purpose when they have failed to do so for so many others? Do we need to move past the patchouli-scented “green” and show sustainability as a movement about progress and technology, or is right to take the all-natural approach? While I don’t have these answers, I can say that we have work to do. If the design community is to take on this task, we must find the voice behind sustainability and hand it a microphone.

Emma Sherwood-Forbes does graphic design for screen and paper, currently leading design at Zannel.com and taking on too many side projects.

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PUBLISHED ON Feb.25.2009 BY Armin
Pam Williams’s comment is:

I was at Compostmodern 09 on that bright, beautiful sunny day in San Francisco and reading these reviews today brings it all back. That's a good thing, because there's lots to think about. Tim and Amy: I really like the way you each summarized the points made by each of the speakers during the conference. Your succinct overviews, created with words and pictures, both resonate. Thank you. Emma: I left the conference feeling the same as you: that the essential task for the sustainability movement is to make people care. We are all communicators and together, we should be able to figure out how to make that happen. As one of the speakers said, we've got 5,000 days. Let's get going!

On Mar.02.2009 at 08:28 PM
Corbet Curfman’s comment is:

Tim, Amy and Emma. Thank you for the insight and great reminders from Compostmodern. I too left with a new strategy for what a designer can do to make an impact on sustainability: Communicate these great ideas and messages to a new audience. Michel Gelobter said it best "How can I make it plain?"

On Mar.03.2009 at 03:08 AM