Less, Better: Sustainability in Design

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how design, minimalism, and sustainability all work together. How can we take something like branding and make it sustainable? It’s just a collection of pixels on a screen, right? It’s not like it’s wasting paper or going to bad if you don’t eat it fast enough. But if we think in terms of our time, and our business success, it actually does correlate. If we take the time to really work through our designs, and put in the effort (and sometimes, yes, money), we, more often than not, end up with something that is better quality, more suited to the needs of our client, and therefore has a longer lifespan without needing updates or re-dos in the future.

Quality, Quantity

Take food for example.

There’s a huge push right now to buy organic, local fruits and vegetables, and rightly so. For one, without the use of chemicals and additives to make our produce larger and ripen faster, the organic things we buy taste better and are better for us. Also, supporting local farmers helps your local economy flourish, and you’re helping fellow small businesses.

Let’s look at it this way: If you’re hungry and in a hurry or don’t want to spend a lot of money, McDonald’s will fill your need. But it’s not going to make you write home to your friends, raving about how great it is, or satiate you long-term. And it might give you food poisoning, but hey, it worked at the time, right? Compare that to, say, a small, boutique restaurant that only serves the highest quality ingredients, has engaging service staff, and a chef in the kitchen that really knows what s/he’s doing. It might be more expensive than other restaurants, but you know you’re getting the best quality available. And that experience will stick with you for years to come, long after your appetite has been satisfied.

Look at the slow fashion movement.

Similarly, there is a huge movement right now away from fast fashion that, while inexpensive, is made from poor quality, synthetic materials, and more often than not produced in sweatshops with less than ideal working conditions and living wages. There was a time when, if you wanted sustainable fabric and high-quality sewing work from domestic companies, it was incredibly difficult to find options that weren’t, well, ugly. And let’s be honest, that’s a deal breaker for a lot of people, including myself.

Luckily, that movement has caught on like wildfire the last few years, and there are more and more fashionable clothing brands popping up with sustainable business models and high-quality fabrics. And again, if you’re like me and are lucky enough to live where you have some options locally, you’re not only supporting fellow small businesses but your local economy.

Now, let’s consider design.

You can hop onto a website like Upwork or Fiverr, pay someone a few bucks, get an okay design, slap it on your business, and go. Fast, easy, cheap. But, remember how we talked about McDonald’s? It might poison your business and cost you more in the long run.

Or, you can hire a professional designer. Yes, it will cost you more. Yes, it will take more time. But, if you really want a brand that will not only sustain your business but give you the vehicles to grow it, then isn’t it worth investing in? Nothing truly great is quick, or cheap.

Awareness, Priority.

I think in most cases, all of this really comes down to awareness first, and then priority. Pay attention, listen to others. Have fruitful conversations with friends, family, peers. Do your research. Don’t just take the status quo as fact. Question everything you see. Then, make a decision. You can decide to do nothing, or, you can look at your budget, and decide where to cut superfluous expenses in order to make room.

It might be a hard pill to swallow at first, but if you look at it like I look at clothing, it might help: think of cost per wear. If you purchase something that’s cheap and poor quality, odds are it will unravel and look disheveled within a few washes. Let’s say the shirt was $20 and you wore it twice, that’s $10 per wear. But if you invest in pieces that are made better and higher quality, and you (here’s the kicker) take care of them, they’ll last you so much longer. So while that first shirt was only $20, and this new dress is $320, your cost per wear might only be $2 because it’s lasted for so long. And when I mention taking care of something, it’s because usually, if you spend a little more on it, you’re more willing to take care of it. You worked hard to budget for it, and don’t want to throw your money away.

Design is no different.

You could make it a priority, do your research, and budget the money to have professional craft your design for you. You’ll end up with a stellar brand that attracts (and repels) the right clients, a brand that won’t be outdated in five years, a brand that doesn’t hold you back, and a brand that conveys the right message to your potential clients. Any designer worth their salt will be a resource for you, and will treat you wonderfully throughout the process. You’ll have someone in your back pocket, rooting for you, for life.

Or, you can save money up front by using either an inexperienced designer or a non-professional. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, it’s simply a gamble. Odds are, you’ll end up having to rebrand again and again because your brand wasn’t done correctly and is holding your business back, attracting the wrong customers, and making you look unprofessional, which in turn hurts your ability to run a profitable business. And in the end, you’ll have paid more trying to patch holes in a sinking ship, instead of just investing in one that’s less likely to spring a leak.

Less, Better

Not just sustainability, but minimalism as well, are incredibly close to my heart. If we pay attention to where our products are coming from, where our money is going, and make sure we spend our resources wisely, I think that little bit can go a long way. Overgrown gardens don’t make for healthy plants, pruning is essential. Why would you treat your business any different? Just make sure the parts you keep, you take care of.