Incorporating Sustainability Criteria Into the Design Process

The design process which allows for better incorporation of social and ecological needs is, in many ways, only a variation on the traditional process.

Before beginning, the designer should stop to consider all current events, ideological movements, and public trends that may be ongoing, particularly as they relate to the design topic. His or her personal beliefs in regards to the project should also be noted, as they will inherently influence the project goals.

Finally, to be able to recognize the innovation or contribution the project may pose, all prior knowledge should be established so as to later differentiate it from what is gained over the process.

The design process begins with the “pre-design” stage, in which the opportunity is identified and project goals are derived from it. A team is then created with a range of specialists capable of executing different parts of the project while also collaboratively imagining within a group identity. The “facts” of the project, or the indisputable, measurable, and tangible project features are established, and in many cases a pre-planning application meeting is held to discuss project possibilities with administrative or financial officers.

Following project approval, the “design” stage begins. The design plan is crafted to include all available skills, both from specialists as well as the team as a whole, and a decision- making process is held to determine necessary compromises in regards to finances or viability. Within this decision-making process, sustainability decisions are included and trade-offs are made either in sacrifice or in protection of different features. When the team is in agreement, initial prototypes are developed and these options are tested.

After reviewing each design option, the potential for redesign can be identified. The design plan should be redrafted in consideration of
new improvements, and with it new trade-off discussions will be held. Once improved design options are developed, they are formally tested. When the team is able to conclude on a final design, the production timeline — including construction, management, and maintenance — is drawn. To ensure sustainability is maintained after the product release, a monitoring strategy should be created. The timetable for completion is finalized, and the design team can seek funding.

When presenting to stakeholders, it is important to inform each on the clear benefits they will derive from this work. Doing so will demonstrate the project’s relevance and will encourage approval. An agenda for sustainability is presented while discussing performance predictions; sustainability and performance are at that point interconnected and investors cannot sacrifice one without the other. When project development is initiated, the design team can return to consider alternatives and the methods with which they will follow up on the project — particularly as it relates to sustainability monitoring.

This design process, while limited in this basic format to the traditional design team, can be adjusted for co-design, stakeholder integration, and other new modes of designing for sustainability. The key point in each of these steps is reassessment to ensure equality and sustainability are being included within the project. Fundamental though it may seem, those considerations are too often left out in commercial design practice.

Designer and writer integrating multimedia design with systemic change