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Sustainability Talk

By mehera o'brien on March 15, 2010

Categories: Events, Industrial Design / Products

Friday night I attended an AIGA New York event in which Chris Hacker, Chief Design Offer of Johnson & Johnson (and prior to that of Aveda), talked to the crowd about sustainable design. Through a few power point blunders, he charmingly worked his way through slide after slide of amazing results. For example, a simple change to a Splenda box, one barely noticeable unless he pointed it out specifically, has saved significant numbers of trees, CO2 emissions and production costs. 

But what I found most interesting in Chris' evening, which was co-hosted by several of his design colleagues, were a few of the key lessons that I think transcend the topic of sustainability. 

First, Chris noted a few challenges in the process of activating change in his organization. The two I found most relevant were (1) inertia is always easier than a new way of doing things and (2) there are often outright obstructionists. He said they can be quietly obstructive, or loudly so. They can be high up in the organization, or within the weeds. But they are there and they can destroy innovation. The way he handled it was perseverance. Making it clear he, and his vision, aren't going anywhere anytime soon. It wears the obstructionists down. 

Chris also said sustainability is a journey, not a a destination. And one of his team members talked us through a beautiful package design case that, from a sustainability standpoint, is considered an utter failure. But to recognize what works and what doesn't work is a brave step, and a point I found well made. 

Finally, the head of J&J's Convergence Lab talked about having "altitudes" of thinking. That is, being able to take a 50,000 ft view and a molecular view, of a particular problem or issue. She talked of inspiration and cultural themes. Of prototyping that includes not only physical models but also stories and scenarios, which of course made the ux designer in me happy. She concluded with an inspiring note about not only the future of our world, but the future of design. She challenged us to use our design DNA to imagine tomorrow. And to visualize it. 

Whether you are interested in sustainability, trying to build innovation into your organization, or just questioning your own job/role/company, I find these points well made. 

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