Words are powerful.
Graphic designers have an amazing ability to elevate words to communicate objectives, which can promote the greater good. We can move people, evoke desire in them and make a difference, all because we have persuaded them through our artfully designed and branded campaigns. Naturally, we as humans are attracted to beauty.
Saul Bass, a famously quoted graphic designer, once said, “I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares, as opposed to ugly things. That’s my intent.” What I believe Bass means by that is design, design, design, so long as it’s beautiful just do it, even if nobody cares, but the intent is a call to action; to encourage others to notice the beautifully designed ephemera. As a graphic designer, I strive to use my skills to effectively communicate ideas.
Last fall, during my senior year of college at Thomas Jefferson University (formerly Philadelphia University), my classmates and I had an opportunity to work with the Philadelphia chapter of the Climate & Urban Systems Partnership (Philly CUSP) to assist them to effectively communicate through graphics. Philly CUSP came to us because they wanted an external designers’ perspective on their civic initiatives to educate communities about climate change. Rather than the typical doom and gloom approach, Philly CUSP approaches the topic of climate change through local, relevant, solutions-focused initiatives, which has proven to be more effective.
To find a seemingly unattainable solution, our design process included heavy research, which showed there are an estimated 40,000 vacant lots across Philadelphia. The Eastwick neighborhood alone has 61 vacant lots. The information we gathered led us back to one simple phrase that Philly CUSP had told us in our initial meeting:
“Philadelphia is going to be getting hotter and wetter due to climate change.”
Stop, Drop and Grow Initiative
To prepare for climate change in Philadelphia, we created the Stop, Drop and Grow Initiative—a name we chose as it is a play on the familiar “stop, drop and roll” used to teach fire safety. Our solutions-focused approach was to create cooler, absorbent environments for the “hotter and wetter” climate. We found that green spaces, which are rich in plant life, provide natural shade and cooling effects. Plant roots naturally collect run-off water to hydrate themselves, which also prevents flooding. In addition to flood-prevention, trees protect us against harsh UV rays, which are more prevalent in cities, due to the lack of green spaces and increased number of reflective surfaces.
The Stop, Drop and Grow Initiative is centered around wildflower seed bombs (also called seed balls or green grenades), an inexpensive, effective solution requiring relatively low maintenance. With a multitude of varieties, seed bombs are used in community engagement as a simple educational approach to open a positive discussion focused on climate change solutions. Easy to make and a great hands-on activity for all ages, we chose to use classic clay seed bombs—a mixture of clay soil, compost and seeds. These seed bombs in combination with guerilla gardening, a non-site-specific approach to gardening, can be dispersed across city landscapes at any scale within a short amount of time.
Philly CUSP thoroughly enjoyed our solution and implemented it at the 2017 Science Festival. Projects like these keep me engaged in my profession. They are exciting because they further prove that design can do so much more than just look beautiful. Businesses are recognizing the potential of design and are integrating it the same way they did marketing years prior. As a result, creative jobs are becoming even more essential to business than ever before. Creative professionals today need to maintain our integrity and “place” in the market. To do so, we must stay connected and concerned with societal issues to communicate clearly and to contribute solutions to the global community.