As my new eco-crush Nathan Shedroff ended Compostmodern on a serious but pragmatic note Saturday night (have you done your homework?), I had a dizzying moment of clarity---and not just because I'd been chained to my keyboard since 8am. For the first time, maybe ever, I realized that true sustainability really is three-fold. Not just environmental, but social, and also, that horrible word that is no longer our friend: financial. Financial! After last year's Compostmodern all we had on our plates were the world's environmental and social problems. Now, designers are responsible for solving the world's economic woes, too? As I walked out of the building I already knew the answer: Yes.
Later, when it seemed like all 100,000 designers who have ratified the Designers Accord stuffed into the sweaty Sugar Lounge for post-conference libations, the conversations buzzed with a kind of heightened awareness I did not see at last year's conference. All I could think about was a term we heard a lot from a certain someone during 2008: "the fierce urgency of now." At this conference, we not only got the design world's version of fierce urgency, we got a deadline: Moderator Joel Makower opened the conference by saying, by his calculations, we only have about 5000 days left to figure this out.There were a lot of numbers tossed out to us at Compostmodern this year. Maybe that's something only a liveblogger would notice, as I attempted to process the figures while putting decimal points and commas in the right places. But as Eames Demetrios reminded us, numbers aren't inherently evil. They are just a tool, just a way for us to look at the magnitude of a problem and create a solution on an appropriate scale. Allan Chochinov had a number, too: 10, the number of steps he uses to crack an impossible design problem, in this case, building a better prosthetic arm with his MFA Design class. (Allan, we're assigning you extra homework: Put up all these projects, quick!). The facts and figures flying out of Saul Griffith's mouth and fingers scared the bejeezus out of us. He even called us some very non-PG names, but in a way that I, for one, really needed to hear. He's putting the "fierce" in fierce urgency.
There was another trend towards what I'd call the "fierce diversity of now." Cooler's Michel Gelobter warmed the room with his rhythmic prose (now that I think about it, I think some of it actually did rhyme), talking about the need for inclusiveness in this movement. Autodesk's Dawn Danby and John Bielenberg and Pam Dorr helped to remind us that most of the time, when we're trying to talk about this kind of stuff to people who don't look like us or live in the same places as us, we might as well be talking about unicorns. But that doesn't mean we can't learn to inspire and include those people in new and appropriate ways.
And if for some reason any of this might have left you depressed or feeling helpless, you just need to look at Emily Pilloton, a young, rising social design superstar just beginning her ascent to greatness, which should make us all feel very good that the world will be left in her hands.
Or, you can meditate on the closing statement from Makower, the best moderator I've ever seen at one of these things, and not just because I appreciate his punny one-liners probably more than anyone in the audience. He said this: No one's talking about what the world will look like if things go right. Design is a very storytelling-oriented medium and visualizing that future and learning from it could be something designers own. In our own lifetimes, we used to all think that it was okay to throw things away. We used to not think twice about it. And look as us now, we've already come so far.
Meanwhile, we've got about 4998 days to go. Like I said before: Have you done your homework?
Thanks to everyone at Compostmodern, one of the best-curated conferences around, everyone at AIGA SF, and to Mohawk Fine Papers for sponsoring the webcast, which you can still see online for the next 88 days or so (see, the clock is ticking every which way you look). The photo above was taken by Mark Adams.
How We Already Know This Compostmodern Conference Is Different
Compostmodern 09: Why We're Here
Compostmodern 09: Eames Demetrios and the Power of Scale
Compostmodern 09: Allan Chochinov's 10-Step Program
Compostmodern 09: Michel Gelobter Is the Coolest
Compostmodern 09: Saul Griffith Runs the Numbers
Compostmodern 09: John Bielenberg and Pam Dorr Think Wrong To Do Right
Compostmodern 09: Emily Pilloton's Very Good Year
Compostmodern 09: Dawn Danby Is Throwing a Sustainability Party and Everyone's Invited
Compostmodern 09: Nathan Shedroff Has Monday's Homework Assignment