Pencil Envy: Good Design is Sustainable Design

Posted on March 8, 2009


The designers have done it again – proving once again that computing has largely missed the boat on what it means to be a sustainable discipline (see earlier design accord and design manifesto).   

Here’s the opening line from the Queensland Design Strategy 2020:  Good design is sustainable design.


This definition comes from the British Design Council’s Good Design Plan.  Sir Michael Bichard  introduces the British document by saying that the establishment of design stems from problems:

Now in the 21st century the UK, alongside all other nations, faces even more thorny challenges. Solutions frequently seem elusive or at odds with each other. For example, addressing the business challenges of intensified global competition must be reconciled with pressure on natural resources and the threat of climate change. Equally, the universal provision of essential services, such as healthcare, must take account of an ageing population, rising levels of chronic disease and limited resources.

He recognises that design is more than products, “but in helping us conceive the systems behind them”.   The Good Design document goes on to present five objectives for the national strategy.   Crucially, they see sustainability as vital to the success of the design industry and Britain as a whole.   Sustainability is not seen as a isolated factor such as climate change, but seen holistically, and integrated with teamwork, adapting to change and community:

In particular, designers must develop new capabilities to meet the need for sustainable products and services, as well as new requirements for working in multi-disciplinary teams. To meet the needs of a fast-changing business environment, there will need to be stronger links between design education and professional practice, and more commitment to continuous professional development.

One of the objectives is to build on the successes of Dott07 (earlier posts). 

Drive the development of new solutions to UK social and economic challenges and involve communities in designing local services…. capitalise on Dott as a platform for community-led innovation and public engagement in matters such as healthcare provision, crime prevention and sustainability

The role of consumers as partners in sustainable design is recognised:

We aim to promote a step-change in the good design of products and services in the UK…The intention is to raise awareness of good design and change consumer behaviour in relation to sustainability.

The British document concludes with outcome measures for 2011: 

Increased awareness of the value of good design and its link with sustainability, and social and economic success.

Perceptions of design as important to business, public services and sustainability (in quantitative and qualitative audience research).

The Queensland document starts with a similar preface, this time from the Premier of Queensland Anna Bligh: 

Our Government is committed to fostering ideas, imagination, creativity and innovation in everything we do – these are the building blocks for a sustainable community.  

In Toward Q2: Tomorrow’s Queensland we have identified five ambitions: strong, green, smart, healthy and fair. 

A strong, robust design sector will help us to reach all of these ambitions. Not only is design fundamental to innovation, it is a wealth-producing industry sector in its own right. Good design is the key to making Queensland businesses internationally competitive. Good design supports and protects our environment and way of life, and contributes to better education and health outcomes and the fairness of our communities.

Again, design is seen wider than products, and positioned as crucial in responding to problems:

Design will play a critical role in realising this vision as we face unprecedented competitive pressure from globalisation, tackle climate change, find alternatives to non-renewable natural resources and strive to meet the varying needs of our growing population.

Design adds value to our community on many levels. It can shelter, inspire and humanise society. We use design to improve  products, processes and environments. It impacts on what we experience and how we experience it. Design can also improve everyday life for all sectors of society and give the world a sense of our cultural identity — how our history and place have shaped who we are and how we live.

Design provides innovative solutions to human problems — it’s a process that’s purposeful, systematic and creative. Designers take creative ideas and transform them into viable,  functional and marketable products, systems and communications.


Thus sustainable design is not seen as an after-thought, nor as greenwash.  It is integral to the business and the success of society.    

The Design Strategy should not be dismissed as a sector group having grandiose self belief.  The strategy is a “whole of government framework to lead industry, community and the public sector in adopting and valuing design”.  The focus is not on the design industry per se, but on what it can achieve:

The QDS will be guided by the following principles:

• good design is sustainable and responsible, and delivers positive economic, social and environmental outcomes

• good design engages, supports and is accessible to all sectors of our community 

• good design will be a priority for the Queensland Government and industry

• strong partnerships and a collaborative approach are needed for effective implementation.


Some of us in computing are trying (NACCQ policy, proposed ACM policy), but we’ve still got a long way to go.