Friday, April 15, 2011

Sustainable Design is Good Design

by Scott Moulton

I had the pleasure of attending the second professional advisor meeting for the OMSI’s sustainability project last week. The meeting was a chance to see what they had been up to for the last year and review prototypes of 6 exhibits, 2 cell phone stories and the green exhibit checklist. Over the course 2 days of meetings with these dedicated, engaging and insightful people a few key points stuck out for me.

The 3 pillars is can lead to a transformative approach
OMSI has chosen define sustainability using the 3 pillars (economy, environment and equality). This is a common approach to sustainable development but design typically focuses on environmental impact and specifically on material choices. Economy is not commonly recognized as a key part of sustainable design but it is absolutely vital and I hope that it becomes a more valued measure. Equality is a challenging value that at first seem a tough fit in thinking about exhibit development and design. Ben Fleskes, Director of Production, consistently pulls in this social dimension by providing good working conditions as well pulling people from the community to work on the design and production of the exhibits. The goal of this approach is to engage the community, provide job training and skills and make the museum a more interesting place.

Sustainable Design is Good Design

We were asked to come up with what would be best practices for sustainable development and design and I am happy to report that they look a lot like what I call good design. The overriding principles included: Be process focused, set clear goals, make sure things are going as planned, include your community, design for the capacity of your client or institution, think about what you are designing from multiple perspectives, the perfect is the enemy of the good, check yourself and celebrate success. Sustainability can be a powerful framework to help make decisions that lead to good development and design.

The Power of the Prototype
There is no better way to have the necessary insights and find your blind spots than to stand in front of a prototype. Our own Maria Mortati has written on this and even organized an exhibit on it here. You may say this is just good design and it is, but prototyping will result in fewer exhibits that miss the mark, require remediation or end up worthless and that has a greater impact than using any green material.

1 comment:

Stewart said...

Great point about prototyping as a "green" strategy. This is often overlooked as a way to avoid waste resulting from things that don't work as intended or even that are perhaps over-built. Exhibit designers are constantly called on to do things that have no direct precedent, we do our best to get it right, but a prototype is always a wise precaution.