Take five with Galway-born, Dublin-based Freelance Sustainability and Innovation Designer, Róisín Jordan, who is also a member of Design Declares and a graduate of Design Skillnet’s Design for Sustainability and Circular Economies Level 9 Certificate. In this interview, Róisín talks about her experience on the Programme, digital waste, the role designers can play in designing a more sustainable and circular future and her sustainability journey to date.
- How did your interest in sustainability and circular design come about?
I studied visual communications in college and in my third year we had a live project where I worked on a branding project for Iameco, an Irish computing company. They create modular computers, so you can replace the battery, the keyboard, every single part of them. They are super sustainable. That is where my interest in sustainability started.
- Can you tell us about your career to date and why you specialise in design for Sustainability?
In college, I would have worked in marketing and did internships in design and branding in advertising studios and agencies. From there I worked as part of a design team in an advertising and marketing agency for almost three years.
Working as a designer in those industries, your role is communication, and sometimes when you think about the lifecycle of products and campaigns, you are at the end of these processes, trying to package it up to communicate to the public. Having worked on the Iameco project and won an award for a sustainability design for Cannes Young Lions, I began to think I’d really like to get qualified in sustainability, which is what led me to the course.
- What other reasons did you have for wanting to certify in Design for Sustainability and Circular Economies?
When you talk about design in this economy and this climate disaster, people say, ‘Designers have a huge responsibility’. If you are making things, even as a communications designer, if you are making people aware of certain things, pushing certain campaigns, it’s important to feel confident that you are making a positive impact. I wasn’t feeling confident about the impact leading on from the work I was doing. I wasn’t confident it was all going into the right space and I wanted to be educated about it.
I wanted to speak to other designers and educators about opening up those conversations and thought the DfSCE would be a good place to start. If people are looking for education in this area, or just looking to see how it can fit within their own practice, the best thing is doing a course like this.
- What were the key takeaways you learned from the different leading designers in sustainable practice and circular design who lectured on the course?
There was a great and diverse selection of lecturers. Each week, there was a different topic from someone different, which kept the course really fresh. The highlight for me was Gwen Lettis, who is based in Limerick. She ran this amazing workshop on value frameworks. She took us through our own value frameworks, educating us on how to figure out where we stand as designers and what we value, and in turn, how to bring that into our practices.
Another highlight was listening to a brilliant packaging designer, Anastasiia Martynenko, from Ukraine. She focuses on circular economy design, items that are recyclable and reusable. She was really interesting, giving her perspective on how do we continue to focus on being passionate about the environment when there is political upheaval in the world.
- How did the course change your approach to design and what did you change in your day-to-day practice?
It changed a huge amount of what I do. It led me to, primarily, think deeper about every design I make and to bring those thought processes into my day-to-day experience. One of the main things was, in my role as a graphic designer/communications designer, I felt I wasn’t solving the problem, I was only communicating the problem and communication with impact is a really important part of design. It led me to want to be more involved in the strategic side of things, so I did a service design course after the DfSCE course. I began to look more at design strategy, at service design, and how designing services and thinking about the full lifecycle of products and the full life cycle of systems is important to be involved in and bring your perspective to.
- The project you worked on as part of the Certificate in Design for Sustainability and Circular Economies was focused on reducing digital waste and carbon footprint. Can you tell us more about the project?
As soon as I began looking into that area, I knew it was something I wanted to learn more about and I learned a lot, including how efficient web design is good for the environment and being as user-friendly as possible is the best thing you can do for your website.
Looking at the massive, massive, impact of digital services, it’s just not something people are aware of. Even if we are working on designing for the web, web developers would be more aware of this than visual designers. It’s a really impactful area and it was a great chance to reach out to my peers, hear about the projects they are working on and the impact they are having in the digital sustainability world.
- Digital vs Print. Digital is the greener alternative to a world of information on paper: Myth or reality?
Reducing our physical waste as much as possible is important to do. However, storing huge amounts of data on servers that are not green is not a better solution. When trying to measure the impact of digital versus physical, the important thing to do is to measure the difference between the two. Knowing how to quantify your digital impact is really important, especially when you are also working with physical objects as you can quantify those.
- Are there ways or services for designers to measure the environmental impact of their digital work?
You can get a Chrome extension, click on the webpage you are on, and it can tell you the amount of energy it is using. Wholegrain Digital are a UK agency focussing on digital waste. They can build websites and check your digital hygiene practices and they have great tools, including one where you can paste in your website URL and check if it is being hosted by a green host. Another tool measures the weight of your webpage, so that every time you refresh it, you know how much energy it takes to load. Say you have 1,000 people coming to your site every day. Every time they click it, it has to reload every time. Add up all that energy together and it has a much bigger impact than you would think. So, using those measuring tools is important, as is making sure you have these conversations with your web developer.
- Would you recommend the course and why?
I would definitely recommend it. The main highlight of the course is being able to connect with like-minded peers who are also interested in climate action and sustainability. Being able to have those conversations and staying connected afterward was invaluable. Getting all that education through the lectures and being exposed to a wide amount of disciplines, areas and international lecturers, was extremely beneficial in looking at design for sustainable and circular economies in Ireland and Europe.
- Since graduating you have become part of Design Declares Ireland and a design for sustainability advocate. Tell us more about DD and why designers should get involved.
From doing the DfSCE course, a lot of brilliant opportunities in the sustainability field have come to me, as it’s connected me to a lot of people. At the moment, one of the main places I’m working in, in that area, is with Design Declares, a community of some of the leading voices in design today, from different disciplines, that have declared a climate emergency or are conscious about the environment.
I’m supporting them in their journey by working on their communications and social media team to help make people aware of this and the resources we provide to designers in relation to sustainability.
- How does your work currently contribute to achieving a more sustainable world?
Design Declares brings designers together and it has four main fields: communication design, service design, digital design and industrial design. Once you sign up, you get access to this tool kit which, depending on your discipline, can help you within your day-to-day design practice. It shows you European and global examples of interesting work within the climate sphere, through design.
A lot of the time, in your day-to-day practice, you don’t have all the most up-to-date information and technology about how your work impacts the environment. With Design Declares, I’m hoping to be able to point people in this direction to educate themselves and also share that education with the community. We are only at the beginning, and I’m excited to see where it goes.
I think designers should get involved as it gives studios and freelance designers a sense of responsibility. The first step is putting your name to declaring a climate emergency, and that is a powerful first move. If your name is up there, you have a responsibility to incorporate that into your work.
That sense of responsibility and access to shared resources is really important. It can be really hard to know where to start when trying to introduce sustainable practices into your practice. Design Declares is that place to start. Together, we will be able to add more to the community, the toolkit and to holding everyone accountable towards a greener practice. That first step towards accountability is really important.
- What advice would you give to designers exploring sustainable practice for the first time?
Reach out to as many people as possible. Realistically – hopefully – designers should be exploring sustainable practices within their education. I was lucky as my college gave us a project that focussed on sustainability and that helped me to expand my horizons. At the Design Declares launch there was a huge amount of students there, which was brilliant, as they will bring that into their practice as they go into the workplace. I was chatting to some of them at the launch, giving them pointers of where to look. I don’t have all the answers, but if I can point them towards where to look, and that place can show them where else to look, that is the benefit of the community you get from the DfSCE course, so I would say reach out, talk to people, and find the next place to look.
Connect with and follow Róisín on LinkedIn.
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