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Ideas and insights from creatives who are doing their bit to make for a safer, sustainable planet and making Green an integral part of their personal and professional lives.
Willoughby Design Group KANSAS CITY MO
At Willoughby Design Group, we believe that business innovation grounded in design thinking is one of the best ways to generate potent new ideas for products and services that people covet. From packaging to retail environments, we design brand experiences that touch the heart as well as the intellect… delightful experiences that satisfy the human need for beauty, purpose and meaning.
When and why did your firm become interested in environmentally friendly graphic design? At Willoughby, you could say that sustainability is ingrained. Being rooted in the Midwest gives us an interesting perspective: By and large, we come from more traditional upbringings that have always valued conservationism and ethical behavior. Working hard to do the right thing comes naturally to us. Of course, movements like what we're seeing today are always catalyzing. Take Ann Willoughby: Ann's perspective was inspired first by her self-sustaining rural upbringing in Mississippi, followed later in life by the environmental movement of the 1970s, followed then by discovering McDonough and Braungart's Hannover Principles in the 1990s, followed by todays "new environmentalism"—which offers a more optimistic and opportunity-laden view of ecological and social responsibility than ever.
Sustainable design is a way of thinking about design as interdependent systems and eco-lifecycles. It's a lifestyle. We work to insert this thinking into everything we do, from collaborating to design entrepreneurial business strategies for impoverished cultures to sourcing FSC-certified paper for a collateral piece.
Are the thrust of your efforts internal — i.e., changing your own office practices and policies — or external — i.e., developing 'green' design solutions for client projects? Both. Internally, we work daily on covering the basics — recycled office supplies, waste recycling, nontoxic cleaning products — and we are working on taking our building off the grid with renewable energy, with a system for monitoring our energy use. It's a process and it feels like we learn about something new every day.
Externally, we were among the first firms to join the Designers Accord. We are working to educate clients in green solutions and alternatives, and we are talking and lecturing on sustainable design to fellow designers, universities and businesses, through our firm and through AIGA. Overtime, it is our goal to work only with "green" clients. Like internal sustainability, it is a process.
Can you tell us in a little more detail about the internal or external changes? In particular, can you give us an example of a 'green' project you have done for a client? We recently worked on a branding and packaging job with Organicare, a line of USDA organic certified skincare products launching in upscale department stores this fall. Organicare firmly believes that consumers should never have to sacrifice product performance for purity. At Willoughby, we believe that no one should have to sacrifice style for sustainability when you can have both. It was a perfect fit.
To compete on the cosmetics counters at Barneys and Nordstrom, Organicare packaging had to be sophisticated, fashionable and serious in addition to telling its unique organic story. Just because it's "green," it doesn't have to literally be green but, at the same time, the design needed to support the product philosophy: "I care about our future. My skin. My body. Our world."
For this brand, just like every brand we work on, we used our innovation lab to formulate the brand strategy and quickly prototype a large range of visual concepts. The design refinement encompassed the brand, the package, messaging and clear communication of the seals and certifications. We worked hand in hand with the client and the printers/fabricators to achieve the highest level of finish on the most responsible materials possible. All the packaging used by Organicare is made using hydropower or wind power and produced in a completely carbon neutral facility. Packaging is FSC certified and all paperboard comes from responsibly managed forests through replanting and careful harvesting. The most ironic part of this case study is that the client came to us because she fell in love with our design portfolio but it was our mutual passion and dedication to contributing to an environmentally friendly world that made the project a success.
Can being 'green' help you in your marketing and sales to gain new projects or clients? It has. Simply put, thanks to our on-going dedication to taking on "green" projects whenever we could over the past years, we are now attracting clients who are like-minded and interested in sustainability. It has been an intentional internal initiative and it is really exciting to see it starting to pay off. One more benefit: having this sensibility does not hurt our marketing efforts—if anything, it has inspired us to digitize them, which is more efficient on many levels.
As a practical matter, does the economic slowdown effect make it harder to be 'green.'? Quite contrary, it helps. Businesses are realizing more now than ever that "green" solutions can make for more profit and attract more customers. It is the Age of Green and everyone is hopping on the bandwagon, and that is okay. It is common sense to be "green" no matter what state the economy is in.
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