Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Conversations on Green Design: Getting Started

Well, it seems that I've happily reached that point in my career where other designers are coming to me asking for advice. Although I get my fair share of the "do you have advice for a new designer looking to get work in this field" questions, the larger portion of questions/fan mail (yes, one person actually called it fan mail) I've received concern how to get into green design, and how they can work with their clients and printers to make their jobs more sustainable.

Recently, I got a comment on one of my blogs from Kerri McHale, a designer in California whose site just makes me think of running through a field picking dandelions when I was six. It makes me smile. Her work is quite lovely as well. Kerri and I have chatted briefly on a couple of design communities I frequent through this particular blog, and she popped over to ask me a few questions:

I've followed you over from the graphic design community, as you've always been so helpful with very well thought out answers, then I noticed on your website that you focus on sustainable and green design practices. You also seem to have developed a very successful business for yourself. I have a question about all that... if you don't mind taking the time to answer.

My whole career I've been working as a full time employee for businesses, and I will be for a while to come (read: Bay Area, CA mortgage squeeze-- no room for the beginning draught of a full time freelance business)... but I plan to begin developing a client base to start up a freelance business, eventually going full time once I move away from California. I'd like to not only implement sustainable design practices, but also, if I have a large enough client base to choose, focus on design and marketing from businesses in sustainable industries.

So my questions for you mostly pertain to when you were starting out:
Did you, from the very start, employ green practices?
Did you (and do you) only employ green practices, or do you also use standard practices depending on the client?
Did you focus only on a certain niche of clients when you first starting developing a client base?

This is my biggest conundrum when I think about a business model, because, starting out, I imagine that I'd lose a lot of valuable clients who don't want to pay more money for sustainability's sake. Then again, if I practice these standards on a case-by-case basis, there's no credibility there, is there?

Incidentally, have you found that practicing green/sustainable design is that much more expensive for the client?

Sheesh, I might as well be conducting an interview!
This is a lot to answer, so I'll understand if you take a pass! But thanks in advance nonetheless! ;-)

After some thought, I offered this:

hey there,

I'm glad you appreciate the work I've been doing—it's a great inspiration to keep going when I hear props coming from others in my line of work.

In response to your questions, I had always thought about green practices and done my best to employ them to my limited knowledge on every freelance project I did—with my "day jobs," it wasn't always an option. But I have long been a fan and avid supporter of recycled paper, and from the very first project I was fighting to use it in every job I had some control over the printing on. After I started my studio and started searching around for a focus, my thoughts turned to green design, and it just clicked. I got in touch with a woman I knew in Providence who had a design firm that employed green practices, and asked her for advice. She happily gave me a bunch of resources to check out, and I started doing the research.

To the best of my ability, I employ exclusively green practices. Occasionally you get the odd job—a business card here or there where the client already has a printer lined up and it's just a quick one-off job from someone you're helping out for a moment or two—and you end up not being able to have the control you need to be green; but it's been my experience that most clients will listen if you explain to them why, and that you can still have beautiful design that's sustainable and reasonably priced.

As for a niche, I don't know that I focus on one particular niche, although some would say I do. I talk about green design wherever I have the chance, online and off, and I've noticed that the clients who come to me lately genuinely care about green design and want to apply sustainable principles to their jobs. What it comes down to is that, as the designer, you have the control. If you make it clear that this is how you work, the client either respects that or doesn't. If they don't, you probably shouldn't be working with them.

As far as pricing goes, I've found the majority of pricing to be competitive on going green vs. not going green. The trick is doing the research and figuring out what's entailed. The basics (veggie ink and 100% postconsumer paper) isn't going to up your cost that much (although some would claim that it's expensive compared to places like Vistaprint, but frankly, that site doesn't even factor into the equation on the vast majority of my work), but ink-saving techniques like die-cutting and embossing can. It's really up to the specifics of the job, and where you want to go with a specific piece.

What I'd suggest is to do some research—start with Partners in Design's Eco Strategies and Celery Design's Eco Guide to Paper, and spend some time on Re-Nourish. Then start talking to your clients about it. Get price quotes on recycled vs. non-recycled. Most high-end papers have at least one recycled option, and it's usually similar in price to the other sheets in the line. Make them see that it will make barely a blip on their bottom line, and the good karma they get from going green on their materials will pay for it in spades and accolades. Then make the switch and start pitching yourself as green.

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