The world is ending
and I work
in graphic design
Interviews and texts on environmental sustainability
in visual communication in form of a low-impact website
I have done my best to translate this website into English, but as I am not a trained translator, I cannot guarantee the accuracy of the statements in the interviews. Therefore, this site is for applications only. You can find the German version here.
About design

"Commercial work has always paid the bills, but many graphic designers have now let it become, in large measure, what graphic designers do. This, in turn, is how the world perceives design. […] Many of us have grown increasingly uncomfortable with this view of design. To some extent we [designers] are all helping draft a reductive and immeasurably harmful code of public discourse. There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills. Unprecedented environmental, social and cultural crises demand our attention."

First things first manifesto (2000)

The world is ending and I work in graphic design. That is, a little exaggeratedly, the starting point of this project. By no means do I want to say that visual communication is not important. On the contrary. I see this thesis as a search for the capacity of visual communication to contribute to a change in the world. And because "change in the world" is very broad, I have put a focus on environmental sustainability.

Ecological sustainability is a complex, systemic problem. Therefore, I do not want to and cannot provide a final solution, but merely promote discourse and show an awareness of different aspects of sustainability in design and their relevance. Even though I have placed the focus on ecological sustainability, I always want to think about the intersectional connections that this area involves. This means that the topic is strongly connected to different forms of oppression and discrimination.

Design theorist Ramia Mazé spoke about design reflection in an interview with the online magazine Speculative and says that it is not just about having theoretical discussions about design, but rather about engaging with different aspects of a design practice, such as thinking about the effects outside of design that our creating activity causes. For me, dealing with the backgrounds and consequences of our creative work is as much a part of a practice as designing itself. This work is a first approach to such a practice-oriented design reflection from the perspective of ecological sustainability.

Joycelyn Longdon, founder of the online platform Climate in Color, points out at a panel discussion on ecology and design at the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Design Conference in 2020 that sustainability can be approached in many different ways. Visual communication is not the sector that will solve the problem, but rather one of many sectors that can contribute to change. But how exactly can we actually contribute to change?

First of all, we need to realise that as visual communicators we often work on projects that are viewed by a lot of people. This gives us a wide reach and therefore a potential for action. However, when it comes to sustainability in design, the discussion is often limited to resource efficient approaches. In an interview with Eye on Design AIGA, graphic designer Benedetta Crippa 2020 shared her model on layers of action. On the one hand, she is of the opinion that sustainability must be treated visually in terms of content and with resource-saving approaches. On the other hand, she adds that sustainability in visual communication is also about questioning fundamental structures.

One such fundamental structure is our consumer culture. Graphic design is often very closely associated with the encouragement of consumption. But precisely this should also be questioned. The dream of limitless growth is very difficult to align with demands for ecological sustainability, because unfortunately it has become clear in recent decades that the resources of our planet are limited. I am aware that not all visual communicators can work outside of the commercial sector, because we also depend on money to live as part of this society. Therefore, it was important to me not only to read theoretical texts and manifestos, but to find out how these can be implemented in practice and where difficulties occur in their practical application.

For this reason, interviews form a central part of this project. The structure is designed so that this work can be supplemented by more interviews. To enable visitors of this website to explore individual topics in greater depth, the answers are first arranged thematically and can in a next part be read as a whole interview. For reasons of length and comprehensibility, the interviews were shortened and edited. On the one hand, I was keen to include the views of people outside the graphic design field — because sometimes an outside perspective helps. On the other hand, I wanted to establish a connection to practice and thus also ask graphic designers with an internal view. What does ecological sustainability in design look like from a scientific, political or entrepreneurial point of view? What can an educational institution contribute to the topic? What other areas are there in visual communication outside of commerce? The links are endless. Therefore, I do not understand this work as a completed project, but rather as the beginning of an exploration. Among other things, I wanted to find areas through this thesis that I myself would like to support with visual communication. In addition, the aim was to be able to share the collected knowledge with others.

Thanks to Amelie Ritscher, Andrin Hodel, Bernhard Nick, Isabel Seiffert, Julia König, Nina Paim, Nina Zeh and Yannick Gauch for the exciting interviews! Due to limited time and extent of the work, not all interviews are (yet) part of this platform.

Many thanks to Eliot Gisel, Max Frischknecht and Yannick Gauch for mentoring this work and to Lukas Popp for helping with technical questions. It was fun working with you all!

Thank you Benedetta Crippa, Paulina Zybinska and Ted Davis for discussing the project with me.

About digital

"We were told that the Internet would 'dematerialise' society and decrease energy use. Contrary to this projection, it has become a large and rapidly growing consumer of energy itself."

Kris De Decker, "How to Build a Low-tech Website"

"There is no small irony in the fact that a company sharing a name with the largest tropical rainforest in the world is significantly contributing to environmental destruction. […] Empirical findings have shown that digital technologies contribute to 4% of overall greenhouse gas emissions, a number expected to double by 2025." (Published: 2019)

Elettra Bietti & Roxana Vatanparast, "Data Waste"

When it comes to resources, we often forget about digital media. The resource impact of a printed poster is clear to many people and, moreover, is largely completed after printing and hanging. In digital media, on the other hand, resource consumption is very abstract and mostly invisible. Thus, the effects of digital media are hardly ever discussed.

To have a better understanding of the whole thing: On the website of the Digitale Gesellschaft Schweiz (Digital Society Switzerland), an association that fights for sustainability and freedom in the digitally networked world, it is written on the topic of sustainability that digitalisation causes approximately the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as air travel. They refer to statistics published in 2019. However, the amount of data on the internet is becoming larger and larger. This means that the consumption of resources is also increasing constantly and on a large scale. When considering that a large part of humanity never sees the inside of an airplane and that access to the internet (let alone internet designed for data-intensive use) is not granted, these numbers are all the more alarming.

We are used to having access to data twenty-four hours a day via internet. It is also a matter of course for us that this content remains available. So the hardware and power consumption of the servers during the time we are not visiting a website must also be considered. Ville-Matias Heikkilä, a programmer working on low-tech approaches, writes in the article "Permacomputing" that a computer culture without limitless growth is hardly imaginable. But he also thinks that digital media that consume a lot of energy are not necessarily bad per se. It depends a lot on where the energy comes from, how the hardware is produced and how often it is replaced with new parts.

With a website, most of the resource consumption starts when it goes online. Another characteristic of this medium is that part of the energy consumption happens on the viewer's side. In the article "How to Build a Low-tech Website?", published in the Low-tech Magazine in 2018, its founder and author Kris De Decker says that it is not enough to address growing electricity consumption with renewable energy alone, as the internet already consumes three times more energy than is produced by wind and solar power worldwide.

In web design, there are many different approaches to make the design more sustainable. One important approach is to reduce the amount of data on the website. Energy consumption can also be reduced both on the server side and on client side by minimising computing power and data exchange. Various ways to reduce resource consumption in web design can be found, for example, in "The intro guide to digital eco-design" by Designers Ethiques or in the previously mentioned article by Low-tech Magazine. With this thesis, I do not want to give further instructions on how to design a website, because there are often conflicts of interest between different aspects. For example, if we design a website and choose a font for it, it would be most energy-saving to use a system font, because no extra file has to be transferred. But if we also attach importance to the representation of women or non-binary people in type design, we are already quite limited (Arial, for example, was at least co-designed by Patricia Saunders). If we choose a black background to reduce screen power, we have quite limited guidelines on how a website should look. In most cases, of course, the most sustainable approach would be not to make anything at all. Graphic designer Benedetta Crippa, who teaches a module on visual sustainability at Konstfack in Stockholm, argues in her essay "The Colour of Green" that sustainability is more than restraint, which ends in a uniform design that is as reduced as possible. This would reproduce the already existing power structures, which would not lead to sustainable change.

So for me it's not about mere restraint, but about consciously weighing up different aspects.

Resources

In this collection I would like to share some useful and interesting links for me, in case people want to get further information on the topics. Some of the links may lead to websites in German.

Sustainability in design

First Things First Manifesto (2000) — Graphic Design Manifesto Critical of Consumption, Revision of the First Things First Manifesto from 1964

Benedetta Crippa in Eye on Design AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts), "What is Visual Sustainability" — On the layers of action of design and how power structures can be questioned through form

Benedetta Crippa, "The Colour of Green" — A critique of sustainability as a restriction of creativity. How pure renunciation and reduction reproduce the already dominating structures.

"AIGA's Living Principles: A Living Reference for Responsible Design" — Mainly gives a good overview of texts on visions, principles, frameworks and tools.

Eye on Design AIGA "5 Takeaways fom EoDs Ecology + Design Panel Discussion" — different topics and approaches are discussed

Lance Hosey in Places Journal, "The Shape of Green: Aesthetic Imperatives" — About design, technology and ecology

Dazed "A Future World — What does graphic design has to do with the end of the world?" — Interview with Joycelyn Longdon (founder of Climate in Color, dealing with AI and oppression), Clive Russell (one of the founding members of the Extinction Rebellion art group) and Seetal Solanki (material designer).

Sustainability in digital media

Low-tech Magazine — Many articles on low-tech and low-impact approaches. A solar-powered version of the website.

The Digitale Gesellschaft Schweiz (Digital Society Switzerland) on Sustainability — The Digitale Gesellschaft is an association that campaigns for justice, sustainability and democracy in a digitally networked world. The article on sustainability explains the relevance of sustainability in digital media, describes possibilities for action and gives some exciting numbers and statistics. Good for an introduction to the topic.

Viznut a.k.a. Ville-Matias Heikkilä about "Permacomputing" — An exciting overview of different projects and groupings on low-tech and low-impact approaches

Revolutionized "Digital Waste: How Data Storage May Be Harming the Environment" — About the resource consumption of digitally stored data

Branch Magazine — Digitally accessible magazine from The Green Web Foundation on sustainability and justice on the internet.

Hundred Rabbits — Two people who work on programming, games, comics, art, music and much more, living on a sailing ship and documenting their journey and resource-saving approaches

Designers Ethiques "The intro guide to digital eco-design" — Guide for sustainability in Digital Media

The Shift Project "'Lean ICT: Towards Digital Sobriety': Our New Report on the Environmental Impact of ICT"

Solar Protocol — The website has servers in several locations around the world and is always hosted from the region that has the most sunshine at the time.

Sustainability
Definition
What is sustainability to you?
Amelie Ritscher studied environmental sciences at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) and then worked for the FOEN (Federal Office for the Environment) and the UN (United Nations Organisation), among others. She now works for a management consultancy because she feels that her impact can be even greater if she gets companies to actually commit to sustainability.

For me, this is very much related to planetary boundaries. That is, that you don't consume more than can be regenerated to a reasonably reasonable extent. We will always have an impact and you won't be able to live on earth as a human being without leaving traces. For me, the definition of sustainability is that you only consume so much that everyone after you can have at least as much as you. We are far, far above that at the moment.

Nina Paim studied graphic design in Brazil and the Netherlands, but did not work as a graphic designer for long. She is co-founder and co-director of Futuress, a platform that is situated at the intersection of feminism, design and politics and publishes texts on these topics.

I don’t even know if I would use the word sustainability. What is the word sustainability? I don’t know. I’m sure there are plenty of definitions, but I don’t operate with definitions. I think it’s more interesting to ask a question than to define something and to stabilize a meaning. A question about sustainability is going to be a different question depending on the context that is being asked. It’s a different thing for me to ask the question than for another person to ask the question just because we come from different perspectives, and we are in different positions. That’s what I personally committed to doing: destabilizing things. Showing that it’s more about how we are looking, what we are trying to do, than to stabilize and say: "Okay, this is solved, we have solved sustainability because now we know what it is." Because we don’t.

What are your approaches to sustainability?
Amelie Ritscher studied environmental sciences at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) and then worked for the FOEN (Federal Office for the Environment) and the UN (United Nations Organisation), among others. She now works for a management consultancy because she feels that her impact can be even greater if she gets companies to actually commit to sustainability.

Basically, there are three starting points for me and they are very much interrelated. On the one hand, there are the companies, the economy, which produces and thus generates a large part of the impact. How do you produce in your factory, what do you produce and what impact does that have in the life cycle of the product? At the moment, there are companies that see value in taking proactive steps because they assume that at some point there will come regulations or that better sustainability performance will give them a competitive advantage — that people will be more likely to buy their products.

The next level of influence is personal consumption — what do I buy, how do I eat, how much do I heat my house, how much do I fly, how much do I use the services that the economy produces.

The third level is regulation, the political, governmental level. Without that, nothing works. The political process in the end is society saying, "Hey, this is a common good and we agree together that we're going to consume that much of it." That's something you can't do alone. You can hardly isolate the different areas, it all has to work together.

Nina Paim studied graphic design in Brazil and the Netherlands, but did not work as a graphic designer for long. She is co-founder and co-director of Futuress, a platform that is situated at the intersection of feminism, design and politics and publishes texts on these topics.

I don’t remember the quote, I think it was Angela Davis who said something: "You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time." I don’t think we can choose between different approaches. I don’t think we can afford to choose. I also don’t think we should be too busy thinking that we should reach consensus. That’s probably a tricky one. Of course, in certain spheres and certain contexts like maybe the UNO (United Nations Organisation) and the COP26 (26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties) consensus is good. But I don’t think that as a society we need to first agree on how we are going to tackle climate change. "Okay, let’s agree that we’re all going to be vegan." — "Okay, let’s agree that we’re all going to stop flying." I don’t think so. I think that we can all do something, and we can all do different things. Not even as designers but as humans. We can do different things because we’re different people and we’re in different contexts. I’m a non-conformist, so it’s really hard for me to operate in those generalizations. I’m interested in having a conversation about what I, Nina, can do with my own resources, in my own household and with my practice. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to share learning outcomes that I have from past projects.

Positions
What is your personal motivation for your work?
Amelie Ritscher studied environmental sciences at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) and then worked for the FOEN (Federal Office for the Environment) and the UN (United Nations Organisation), among others. She now works for a management consultancy because she feels that her impact can be even greater if she gets companies to actually commit to sustainability.

I have a very strong sense of fairness. I find it quite difficult to deal with selfishness. The kind of: "I live beyond the limits of what I am actually entitled to." has an injustice to me that makes me quite angry. That someone thinks, "I'm entitled to this car." I think, "No, you're not entitled to a car at all. You can afford a car because you live in the northern hemisphere where you were born, out of pure luck, and 100 years ago someone invented the internal combustion engine and now you are blowing fossil resources into the air. Two hundred years after you, no one can do that any more. But nice you feel like you're entitled to a car." My motivation comes strongly from this conflict, that I actually find it unfair when people live beyond their means.

Would you call yourself an activist?
Amelie Ritscher studied environmental sciences at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) and then worked for the FOEN (Federal Office for the Environment) and the UN (United Nations Organisation), among others. She now works for a management consultancy because she feels that her impact can be even greater if she gets companies to actually commit to sustainability.

It depends very much on the context. In the company where I started, I would call myself an activist. Compared to someone who is involved in Extinction Rebellion, I would say, "Okay, I'm sitting on the sofa way too much." I'm not someone who is ultra engaged and organises sit-ins or anything like that. I'm an activist in the sense that, for example, I very consciously don't buy a car and have to start an argument with my whole family every time because they think, "Ah, why don't you have a car?" and I think, "Why DO you have a car?" If that's activism, then that's what I do. If I had to place myself on the spectrum from activist to non-activist, I wouldn't place myself on not-activist at all, but more in the non-activist half. I sometimes feel a bit ashamed of that, but I just can't do any better.

How would you define activism?
Amelie Ritscher studied environmental sciences at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) and then worked for the FOEN (Federal Office for the Environment) and the UN (United Nations Organisation), among others. She now works for a management consultancy because she feels that her impact can be even greater if she gets companies to actually commit to sustainability.

That's a difficult question. I have never really thought about it. It has a lot to do with being committed to something and sometimes entering a conflict to do so. For me, activism is always associated with conflict. Being willing to stand up for your beliefs and say, "This is my belief and these are my values." Most of the time, you don't even need more for a conflict. That's actually a very mild form of activism.

In a second part, for me, real activism has a public awareness component. That's something I don't do at all. That you don't just engage in privately, but also in social dialogue. That's a component I avoid.

Intersectionality
You have also talked a lot about other issues (feminism, human rights, racism, capitalism). How does this relate to environmental sustainability?
Nina Paim studied graphic design in Brazil and the Netherlands, but did not work as a graphic designer for long. She is co-founder and co-director of Futuress, a platform that is situated at the intersection of feminism, design and politics and publishes texts on these topics.

I don’t think it’s possible to separate any of these things, I think that’s what is the most daunting. Any struggle for justice is completely intersectional. You cannot talk about environmental justice if you don’t talk about spacial justice or social justice. At Futuress we are a feminist platform for design politics. That’s how we temporarily at least found a way to introduce ourselves. That in itself means for us that we’re acutely aware of all those entanglements. A conversation about feminism is a conversation about sustainability, they’re not two different kinds of conversations. I think that’s very hard for people to accept. The way how we are brought up, we are so much trained to separate things and to seek simplicity, find models that are simplified to make sense of the chaos. It’s never resolving anything, it’s never closing anything, it’s always staying with a mess.

Amelie Ritscher studied environmental sciences at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) and then worked for the FOEN (Federal Office for the Environment) and the UN (United Nations Organisation), among others. She now works for a management consultancy because she feels that her impact can be even greater if she gets companies to actually commit to sustainability.

That is a very interesting question. I have not been dealing with the intersectionality of this problem for so long. It's a very new dimension for me and I still have a lot to learn about it. I come from the field of environmental sustainability, where it's more about things like oil and CO2 that is blown into the air and at some point there are no more coral reefs and so on. This is a very classical perspective that I learned at university and was actually taught at Gymnasium. I have only started to consciously deal with intersectionality in the last 1-2 years and I am still not far enough along to really implement it in my everyday life and my work. I am still very much in a learning process there.

Sustainability in design
Agency
Where do you see the agency of visual communication to address and promote sustainability?
Isabel Seiffert works as a graphic designer at Offshore in Zurich, which she co-founded with Christoph Miler. Self-initiated projects, teaching and commissioned work occupy about equal amounts of time. One of their first projects was "Migrant", a series of publications on migration in the broadest sense.

We do not claim to promote or address sustainability. Our approach is perhaps subtle. The issues we deal with outside of the graphic arts feed into our work, as do our lifestyles and our views. Launching an activist campaign would not suit us. We deal with issues, ask questions and contextualise them. In doing so, we value multi-dimensionality and hope that questions will be raised. Ideally, we can make different perspectives visible without being didactic or dogmatic.

Amelie Ritscher studied environmental sciences at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) and then worked for the FOEN (Federal Office for the Environment) and the UN (United Nations Organisation), among others. She now works for a management consultancy because she feels that her impact can be even greater if she gets companies to actually commit to sustainability.

The topic of sustainability and what has how much impact is incredibly complex. On a scientific level, it has a complexity that is impossible to grasp. What visual communication, or someone who communicates visually, can usually do is see the important parts and make them much easier to grasp. Picking out the essentials and communicating them without having to read four pages of text. Good visual communication often manages to skip the intellectual level, that it becomes emotionally tangible. I think that's the only thing that brings about a change in behaviour. Very often 100 things happen at the same time. Then something like a climate strike happens. It goes *snap* and there are 35,000 people on the streets. That has a crazy avalanche effect. It's in all the newspapers and all the politicians suddenly think: "Oh, shit. There are people." Even people who don't necessarily deal with the topic suddenly think: "Ah, right, shit" and six months later they think: "Okay, now I'll vote for the Greens or renovate my heating system." Civil society movements can generate accountability — an accountability to politics and to industry, to business. I think visual communication is one of the keys to unite civil society forces and mobilise them in one direction.

One problem is often when you come as a researcher to a visual communicator, it takes quite a long time before you have a common understanding of the matter. I've been through this process a few times. You come and find, "I have this fact now and please make me a nice infographic about it," and then something comes back and you find, "Uh, no. You can't put it that way." " On the other hand, I'm a complete dumbass when it comes to communicating something in a useful way. I always think: "You need 700 more details" and those in visual communication think: "Nobody reads more than three bullet points anyway." It's not only the technical knowledge, but also how someone approaches such questions. Creating a mutual understanding there would be a very exciting field. I see a lot of potential there.

Can you give me an example of how you include sustainability in your practice?
Nina Paim studied graphic design in Brazil and the Netherlands, but did not work as a graphic designer for long. She is co-founder and co-director of Futuress, a platform that is situated at the intersection of feminism, design and politics and publishes texts on these topics.

Not long ago I was part of this project called Srijan-Abartan. It started because we were approached by the Dhaka Art Summit which is a huge art event in Bangladesh in Dhaka that lasts around 10 days and has a huge visitation. They have a lot of artists from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, it really connects that whole region there in a very interesting way. Bangladesh is considered ground zero for global warming because it’s a country that is nested in this network of rivers. The ice caps of the Himalayas have been melting so the waters have been rising because of global warming. Then there is this huge art event and a lot of the artists of the region are talking about climate change because that’s their reality. They are making works about migration connected to climate change and many other related topics. How can the exhibition itself be reflective of this?

We created a workshop where we thought about strategies for exhibition-making and unmaking. With this workshop, we generated guidelines for a public building that is located in the centre of Dhaka. For example one of the guidelines was like: "Everything you do to the building, think about a long-lasting contribution because this is a public building." If you make a temporary exhibition it’s not temporary, it’s permanent because you generate a shitload of trash. What do you do with this trash that you don’t see, that ends up somewhere? One of the things we did was to calculate the CO2 emissions of the previous summit. Then we knew what things are the most CO2 emitting: particle boards, to create white cubes. We also realized that the idea of making an exhibition is a western one. Then somehow it ends up that Bangladesh is making white cubes but to make white cubes they are producing these crazy rooms with particle boards. They also have to be climate isolated because this art needs to be in air conditioning (AC). You need to have AC in four white walls for it to be called art. Part of the work that we did was to think about what the most CO2 emissions are but then it means that we need to redefine our own idea about what an exhibition should be. "Do we need walls?" — "No." — "Do we need AC?" — "No." — "What happens if we don’t have windows?" The amount of effort that the design team had to do to convince the patrons not to have AC even included getting all the data for the last 10 years of rains in Dhaka to prove that the chances for raining would be very low, therefore you could have the windows open and the air would circulate. That was a huge piece of research just to convince people to say: "Let’s not build walls." The act of not designing, not making, not building was so much effort. We are so much trained to solve things by making. But not making is also a way of making.

What role does sustainability play for you?
Yannick Gauch is president of the SP (Social Democratic Party of Switzerland) in the city of Lucerne and a member of the city council. He works as a graphic designer at Büro Zwoi, which he co-founded. Through their private commitment, many of their commissions come from a cultural or political field.

We basically try to make our customers aware of sustainability. The whole means of production are certainly an important point in our industry. For example, we make sure to use paper with a blue angel label or similar labels. We have also turned down orders from customers who wanted to print and produce abroad. If that is the condition, then we cannot stand behind it. On the one hand, it is ecological nonsense to work that way and on the other hand, we want to be able to do the colour matching on a printing press. If we know the producer, then we know that the end product will also meet our quality standards.

What we also do more and more is to question whether a print product is the right medium at all. If, for example, clients suggest producing a flyer with a team photo on it, we get alert. The constellation within a team can change quickly and the print product ends up in the trash. In such a case, we would rather recommend a digital solution to the client.

We also try to tell our customers that they can market their sustainable company philosophy - without greenwashing, of course. On printed products, for example, we recommend labels such as "Printed in Switzerland" or CO2-compensated. We then tell the customers that they must also consider such an additional investment as an advertising measure for their company or organisation.

Role of design
What role does design play for you?
Isabel Seiffert works as a graphic designer at Offshore in Zurich, which she co-founded with Christoph Miler. Self-initiated projects, teaching and commissioned work occupy about equal amounts of time. One of their first projects was "Migrant", a series of publications on migration in the broadest sense.

I see design as an instrument of communication. At the same time, the formal part is extremely important to me. I value these two parts equally. I appreciate contemporary themes that also take place outside of commerce, but I don't want to get lost only in words and concepts. In the end, the content must also be communicated.

Yannick Gauch is president of the SP (Social Democratic Party of Switzerland) in the city of Lucerne and a member of the city council. He works as a graphic designer at Büro Zwoi, which he co-founded. Through their private commitment, many of their commissions come from a cultural or political field.

In the beginning I doubted whether I should become a graphic designer at all. At first I thought that graphic designers are actually one of the most perfidious parts of capitalism, because they are the people who sell stuff to people that don't need them, in order to generate profit for others. You're selling people shit with your advertising that is not needed, contributing to a bigger environmental crisis so that others can enrich themselves. At this moment you have to ask yourself what exactly it is you want to do. Our goal is not to do advertising for the UBS (a Swiss bank) or Amazone, but we try to use our visual services especially where we think we can help to change something.

Basically, I think it's important for designers to engage with society. I think it's part of graphic design and design in general that you go through life with an open mind and think about how society should develop and where you can contribute. If we want to achieve social change, communication is one of the most important things - in an ecological or economic sense. I think it should also be part of the education that young graphic designers are made aware of these issues.

If you look at the climate youth, for example, which uses a lot of digital communication channels, that is always a form of communication and has to be designed. If you get involved there and make your creative skills available, then that is certainly a good thing.

How could such networks or even a broader discourse be encouraged?
Yannick Gauch is president of the SP (Social Democratic Party of Switzerland) in the city of Lucerne and a member of the city council. He works as a graphic designer at Büro Zwoi, which he co-founded. Through their private commitment, many of their commissions come from a cultural or political field.

That is difficult. What, for example, could be an approach could be networking meetings. In Lucerne, for example, we have something called Show & Tell, which Erich Brechbühl started, where designers meet regularly for a beer and then briefly present the projects they are currently working on. It's an open, loose network. I think such networking meetings are interesting because you can also pick up people working in agencies there and in such places you could also start the discussions that we are having right now: "What is the social responsibility of designers?"

I think that kind of thing makes sense. Or also that other networks and associations try to raise awareness of these issues, e.g. the SGD (Swiss Graphic Designers) or the SGV (Swiss Graphic Designers Association). They could definitely make this a topic. This should not be a lecturing, but can be in the form of a discussion. Someone can also say: "I don't give a shit about all that, I just want to earn money with my job." I just think that discourse about our work is important.

How would you describe your role in your projects?
Nina Paim studied graphic design in Brazil and the Netherlands, but did not work as a graphic designer for long. She is co-founder and co-director of Futuress, a platform that is situated at the intersection of feminism, design and politics and publishes texts on these topics.

I think my role in all these projects that I’m talking about is that of a facilitator, a midwife somehow. I think the hardest part is to actually bring people into the room. Then to propose the topic. That is not even in itself enough for the conversation to happen. You can bring a stellar array of super interesting people together who are excited about making interesting work about sustainability but if they have to stand over 15 minutes in the cold, they are not going to exchange anything relevant. You need to design the room where the conversations are going to happen. When you do that, you think about who is entering the room? Who is not entering the room? How do you give access to people? How do you restrain? How do you make it a safer space? How will they talk? Are they just supposed to talk? Maybe there is some food. Maybe there is a film. You start thinking about how you engage people in the conversation. It’s always a work of hope. Perhaps it’s going to work out and maybe something interesting is going to happen. People are going to open up and share something and there is going to be a spark. Somebody is slightly going to change their perception or mindset or world view. But you don’t know.

Commerce
Designers are often dependent on money from commercial sectors. How is that for you and how do you find a balance?
Yannick Gauch is president of the SP (Social Democratic Party of Switzerland) in the city of Lucerne and a member of the city council. He works as a graphic designer at Büro Zwoi, which he co-founded. Through their private commitment, many of their commissions come from a cultural or political field.

We don't really have a balance. I would say that 80% of our work is politics and culture and maybe 20% is conventional business. The part of business that we have are often people who already know works of ours that were created in the cultural field, for example, and find that something similar also fits in with their SME. We surely have certain political principles that we can all stand behind. The majority of our work and our clients are politically in a left-wing environment. It is important for us to be able to work for projects that we ourselves can support.

But of course there's a difference between being set up like us and running a big advertising agency with 60 employees who spend all day advertising Amazon or something. They have a completely different approach. They function quite differently than us and probably also have different goals and a different ambition for their lifestyle.

In the end, everyone has to live from something. There are too many designers that no one works in such agencies. There is simply not enough money in the industry to keep hundreds of graphic designers fed with cultural commissions alone. Somewhere along the line, it's a luxury that we can afford to do what we love to do. We are in a very privileged situation and we are aware of that.

Isabel Seiffert works as a graphic designer at Offshore in Zurich, which she co-founded with Christoph Miler. Self-initiated projects, teaching and commissioned work occupy about equal amounts of time. One of their first projects was "Migrant", a series of publications on migration in the broadest sense.

That is part of the system. It's an individual decision, which I find very difficult. Our clients are mostly from cultural areas and are rarely classically commercial. We were once approached by a big fashion company. Christoph and I discussed whether we should accept this assignment and were ambivalent. Since we didn't have time, we declined the assignment. Compared to our peers, we might be a bit more hesitant about who we work with. Sometimes I question whether we are too extreme, but so far the question has rarely come up. Because of our self-initiated projects, most of the requests we get are from the cultural sector and fit us very well thematically.

However, I do not want to judge a classical commercial practice at all. When graphic designers only work outside of the economy, a parallel universe is created. That's why I think it's important that critical thinking has a place in education. Only in this way can graduates who later work in commercial contexts also question the aesthetic tools there. After the education, there is often not enough space for critical discussions in the profession. That's why I rarely teach the 1×1 of layout without making a thematic reference. This is usually very welcomed by the students.

I tell the graduates: "If you have a vision of how and where you would like to work, then start doing it yourself. Most of the time you will be asked for what is visible. That way you have some agency over what kind of commissions you can get. If you only show visual identities for restaurants in your portfolio, that will also make up the majority of the requests.

Personal approach
work-life balance
You invest a lot of time into your projects. What does your work-life balance look like?
Isabel Seiffert
works as a graphic designer at Offshore in Zurich, which she co-founded with Christoph Miler. Self-initiated projects, teaching and commissioned work occupy about equal amounts of time. One of their first projects was "Migrant", a series of publications on migration in the broadest sense.

Ooh, difficult topic. Those around me always say that they don't know any people who work as much as Christoph and me. For us it's a decision. Recently we discussed that the workload is too much at the moment. Last year we were at the same point in spring as we are now, where our projects were overflowing. In the summer we were burnt out. At the beginning of our work together, we never had weekends. We are very driven by our projects, that is part of our practice. But there were some critical moments when we were exhausted, so we already want to rethink our way of working to a certain extent. We have decided that we want to alternate between commissioned work, self-initiated projects and teaching in order to be able to focus more on the individual areas and not always have to master everything at the same time.

Where do you draw the line between political engagement and your creative work?
Yannick Gauch is president of the SP (Social Democratic Party of Switzerland) in the city of Lucerne and a member of the city council. He works as a graphic designer at Büro Zwoi, which he co-founded. Through their private commitment, many of their commissions come from a cultural or political field.

That's difficult because the two areas flow into each other for me. When I'm involved in the SP (Social Democratic Party of Switzerland), it's voluntary work. If I create something, for example for the SP, then I also demand something in return. It is a matter of principle to me. One is my work, and I have to be able to live off it and pay my rent and health insurance. The other is voluntary work. I try to separate the two as much as possible. When I design something, I don't do it on a voluntary basis.

Frustration
I often find it very frustrating to deal with these issues, especially when you realise how far-reaching these problems are. How do you deal with this?
Amelie Ritscher studied environmental sciences at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) and then worked for the FOEN (Federal Office for the Environment) and the UN (United Nations Organisation), among others. She now works for a management consultancy because she feels that her impact can be even greater if she gets companies to actually commit to sustainability.

Funny, you bring that up just now. I was discussing this with a good friend the other day. We had a very intensive process in our studies. We had about 35 hours of lectures a week and every time a professor would stand in front and say: "Yeah, well... This would be cool. At the moment it's shit. We would know how it should be done. We've known for 15 years. Nobody's doing anything." That was quite a frustration tolerance training. It was an ongoing process and, up to a certain point, a numbing one. At some point I started to break it down into spheres of influence. What can I influence and what is outside my sphere of influence? Every time the frustration gets too much, I say to myself: "This is beyond your control. It sucks that it is, but cut yourself some slack." That takes a lot of practice.

Also to confront your own fundamentalism and realise that you don't like to compromise in certain places. But somehow you have to find a middle ground where you don't despair. If you end up depressed and do nothing, then you're not doing anyone any good.

Nina Paim studied graphic design in Brazil and the Netherlands, but did not work as a graphic designer for long. She is co-founder and co-director of Futuress, a platform that is situated at the intersection of feminism, design and politics and publishes texts on these topics.

That’s a hard question. I think that having a community of people that can support you is really important. It is frustrating and can be very exhausting and emotionally taxing and triggering sometimes. There are a lot of difficulties that come, there is a lot of backlash and a lot of hate you get when you open up these discussions and you piss people off just by existing. So one of the things I’m trying to learn how to do better is to improve my self-care. I’m not really succeeding but I think I’m learning to. Mental health is really important, finding pleasure in the daily labours of the work and learning to say no. I think that’s super important.

Students and this generation — your generation — is what I find the most hopeful about everything because I feel that it’s so different from the times when I was a student. The kinds of questions that your generation is bringing to the classroom, the kind of criticality, the kind of being present and not taking shit. I also get the most inspiration from young people who are actually interested in opening up these discussions and who are interested in asking the questions, who are interested in not finding simplified answers and merging design and activism in interesting ways. That’s why I always say yes to students even though I am sick and tired because my day is already brighter just to know that you are there at the Bern Academy of the Arts. And it’s great that you’re there because we need to be everywhere.

Can you tell me something about your background?

I studied environmental sciences at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich), with a Master's degree in biogeochemistry and pollutant dynamics, i.e. where do chemical pollutants come from and where do they go? After that, I worked for a bit more than a year at the FOEN (Federal Office for the Environment) in the industrial chemicals section, where the main focus was on chemicals regulation and the regulation of pollutants in Switzerland. Then I went to a planning and environmental office, EBP. There I worked mainly in the area of environmental impact assessment of large infrastructure projects. The focus was much more on planning-related issues, keeping the impacts of large infrastructure projects as small as possible and making them compatible with Swiss law. After that I went to the UN ( United Nations Organisation) as a consultant and worked on a project on pollutants in building products, electrical devices and children's toys. Now I have been working for a management consulting firm since last week. After two years at UNO, I found that I was missing the aspect: "What do companies actually care about?" I want to learn how to do it better at a company level. I experienced the other extreme at the UN. You put your results out into the world and whether anyone is interested in them is open to question. I found that if I can get companies to actually do this, then the impact might be greater. I don't know yet if it will work, but I hope it will. I don't know yet, but that's the hope. That's why I became a management consultant, which I never wanted to be in the first place, but now I work in an office with a lot of people who wear a tie and a shirt.

What is sustainability to you?

For me, this is very much related to planetary boundaries. That means that you don't consume more than can be regenerated to a reasonable extent. We will always have an impact and you will not be able to live on earth as a human being without leaving a trace. For me, the definition of sustainability is that you only consume so much that everyone after you can have at least the same amount. At the moment, we are far, far above that.

Where would you start to tackle this?

Basically, there are three main approaches for me, and they are very much interrelated. On the one hand, there are the companies, the economy, which produces and thus generates a major part of the impact. How do you produce in your factory, what do you produce and what impact does it have in the life cycle of the product? At the moment, there are companies that see value in taking proactive steps because they assume that at some point they will be regulated or even that better sustainability performance will give them a competitive advantage - that people will be more likely to buy their products.

The next level of influence is personal consumption — what do I buy, how do I eat, how much do I heat my house, how much do I fly, how much do I use the outputs of the economy.

The third level is regulation, the political, governmental level. Without that, nothing works. The political process in the end is society saying, "Hey, this is a common good and we're agreeing that we're going to consume this much of it." That's something you can't do alone. You can hardly isolate the individual areas, it all has to work together.

What can visual communication contribute to sustainability?

The topic of sustainability and what has how much impact is incredibly complex. On a scientific level, it has a complexity that is impossible to grasp. What visual communication can usually accomplish is to see the important parts and make them much easier to grasp. Picking out the essentials and communicating without having to read four pages of text. Good visual communication often manages to skip the intellectual level and make it emotionally tangible. I believe that this is the only thing that brings about a change in behaviour. Very often 100 things happen at the same time. Then something like a climate strike happens. It goes *snap* and there are 35,000 people on the streets. That has a crazy avalanche effect. It's all over the newspapers and all the politicians suddenly think: "Oh, shit. There are a lot of people." Even people who don't necessarily deal with the topic suddenly think: "Ah, right, shit" and half a year later they think: "Okay, now I'll vote for the Greens or renovate my heating system. Civil society developments can generate accountability — an accountability to politics and to industry, to business. I think visual communication is one of the keys to bundle civil society forces and shift them in a certain direction.

One problem is often when you as a researcher approach someone who does visual communication, it takes quite a long time until you have a mutual understanding of the matter. I have played this process a few times. You come and find: "I have this fact now and please make me a nice infographic about it" and then something comes back and you find: "Uh, no. You can't say it like that." On the other hand, I'm a complete moron when it comes to communicating something in a useful way. I always think: "You need 700 more details" and those in visual communication find: "Nobody reads more than three bullet points anyway." It's not only the technical knowledge, but also how someone approaches such a question. Creating mutual understanding there would be a very exciting field. I see a lot of potential there.

What is your motivation for your work?

I have a very strong sense of fairness. I find it quite difficult to deal with selfishness. The kind of: "I live beyond the limits of what I am actually entitled to." has an injustice to me that makes me quite angry. That someone thinks, "I'm entitled to this car." I think, "No, you're not entitled to a car at all. You can afford a car because you live in the northern hemisphere where you were born, out of pure luck, and 100 years ago someone invented the internal combustion engine and now you are blowing fossil resources into the air. Two hundred years after you, no one can do that any more. But nice you feel like you're entitled to a car." My motivation comes strongly from this conflict, that I actually find it unfair when people live beyond their means.

That has a pretty strong connection to other topics. Especially when you talk about the northern hemisphere, it has a connection to colonial history, racism and capitalism. So you can also look at sustainability in a very intersectional way. Is that also part of what you do?

That is a very interesting question. I have not been dealing with the intersectionality of this problem for so long. It's a very new dimension for me and I still have a lot to learn about it. I come from the field of environmental sustainability, where it's more about things like oil and CO2 that is blown into the air and at some point there are no more coral reefs and so on. This is a very classical perspective that I learned at university and was actually taught at Gymnasium. I have only started to consciously deal with intersectionality in the last 1-2 years and I am still not far enough along to really implement it in my everyday life and my work. I am still very much in a learning process there.

Would you call yourself an activist?

It depends very much on the context. In the company where I started, I would call myself an activist. Compared to someone who is involved in Extinction Rebellion, I would say, "Okay, I'm sitting on the sofa way too much." I'm not someone who is ultra engaged and organises sit-ins or anything like that. I'm an activist in the sense that, for example, I very consciously don't buy a car and have to start an argument with my whole family every time because they think, "Ah, why don't you have a car?" and I think, "Why DO you have a car?" If that's activism, then that's what I do. If I had to place myself on the spectrum from activist to non-activist, I wouldn't place myself on not-activist at all, but more in the non-activist half. I sometimes feel a bit ashamed of that, but I just can't do any better.

How would you define activism?

That's a difficult question. I have never really thought about it. It has a lot to do with being committed to something and sometimes entering a conflict to do so. For me, activism is always associated with conflict. Being willing to stand up for your beliefs and say, "This is my belief and these are my values." Most of the time, you don't even need more for a conflict. That's actually a very mild form of activism.

In a second part, for me, real activism has a public awareness component. That's something I don't do at all. That you don't just engage in privately, but also in social dialogue. That's a component I avoid.

I often find it very frustrating to deal with these issues, especially when you realise how far-reaching these problems are. How do you deal with it?

Funny, you bring that up just now. I was discussing this with a good friend the other day. We had a very intensive process in our studies. We had about 35 hours of lectures a week and every time a professor would stand in front and say: "Yeah, well... This would be cool. At the moment it's shit. We would know how it should be done. We've known for 15 years. Nobody's doing anything." That was quite a frustration tolerance training. It was an ongoing process and, up to a certain point, a numbing one. At some point I started to break it down into spheres of influence. What can I influence and what is outside my sphere of influence? Every time the frustration gets too much, I say to myself: "This is beyond your control. It sucks that it is, but cut yourself some slack." That takes a lot of practice.

Also to confront your own fundamentalism and realise that you don't like to compromise in certain places. But somehow you have to find a middle ground where you don't despair. If you end up depressed and do nothing, then you're not doing anyone any good.

Can you tell me about your background?

After dabbling in various fields of study, I came to graphic design in 2007. I quickly realised that it was exactly the right thing for me and have been working in this field ever since. I did my Master's in Zurich, where I've been living ever since. That was never the plan, but I have found many friends and a home here.

I founded Offshore together with Christoph Miler in 2017. In our Master's degree, we both dealt with socio-political content. And after that, the question arose: "And now? Do we go to an agency and make logos?" Neither of us could imagine that happening at all. To keep it exciting, we started publishing works ourselves. After a small project, we started the publication series Migrant. It was about migration in the broadest sense. With the launch of the first issue, it was clear to both of us that we wanted to found a studio because the two of us work so well together. At the same time, new research questions and interests have emerged.

When Migrant was finished, we wanted to start a new research outside the studio commissions. That's why we were very happy to be able to do an artistic residency at the Jan van Eyck Academie in the Netherlands in 2020/21. During this time, we dealt with the wolf and its reappearance in a visual research project. In doing so, we addressed questions about the relationship between ecology, humans and technological surveillance. Through a wide variety of visual experiments and media, we visually presented the issue in a narrative way - a good example of how we like to work and an important part of our practice.

In the meantime, we have three main pillars: teaching, self-initiated projects and commissioned work. At the moment, these three areas occupy almost the same amount of time.

Where do you see the agency of visual communication to address and promote sustainability?

We do not claim to promote or address sustainability. Our approach is perhaps subtle. The issues we deal with outside of the graphic arts feed into our work, as do our lifestyles and our views. Launching an activist campaign would not suit us. We deal with issues, ask questions and contextualise them. In doing so, we value multi-dimensionality and hope that questions will be raised. Ideally, we can make different perspectives visible without being didactic or dogmatic.

There is a political position in almost everything, even if it is not always visible. When we, for example, get a commission from the Helmhaus for a poster series, the questioning is usually less socio-critical, although it is also possible within a framework. We sometimes have a tendency to get a bit headstrong and severe when we work for a long time on projects like Migrant or the Wolf Project. After that, it's good to design a poster or a typeface to get a change of pace from such critical projects. We are generally interested in political issues and want to deal with them visually and textually. But we wouldn't call ourselves activists.

I see design as an instrument of communication. At the same time, the formal part is extremely important to me. I value these two parts equally. I appreciate contemporary themes that also take place outside of commerce, but I don't want to get lost only in words and concepts. In the end, the content must also be communicated.

Many designers are dependent on money from the commercial sector. What is it like for you and how do you find a balance?

That is part of the system. It's an individual decision, which I find very difficult. Our clients are mostly from cultural areas and are rarely classically commercial. We were once approached by a big fashion company. Christoph and I discussed whether we should accept this assignment and were ambivalent. Since we didn't have time, we declined the assignment. Compared to our peers, we might be a bit more hesitant about who we work with. Sometimes I question whether we are too extreme, but so far the question has rarely come up. Because of our self-initiated projects, most of the requests we get are from the cultural sector and fit us very well thematically.

However, I do not want to judge a classical commercial practice at all. When graphic designers only work outside of the economy, a parallel universe is created. That's why I think it's important that critical thinking has a place in education. Only in this way can graduates who later work in commercial contexts also question the aesthetic tools there. After the education, there is often not enough space for critical discussions in the profession. That's why I rarely teach the 1×1 of layout without making a thematic reference. This is usually very welcomed by the students.

I tell the graduates: "If you have a vision of how and where you would like to work, then start doing it yourself. Most of the time you will be asked for what is visible. That way you have some agency over what kind of commissions you can get. If you only show visual identities for restaurants in your portfolio, that will also make up the majority of the requests.

You invest a lot of time in your projects. What does your work-life balance look like?

Ooh, difficult topic. Those around me always say that they don't know any people who work as much as Christoph and me. For us it's a decision. Recently we discussed that the workload is too much at the moment. Last year we were at the same point in spring as we are now, where our projects were overflowing. In the summer we were burnt out. At the beginning of our work together, we never had weekends. We are very driven by our projects, that is part of our practice. But there were some critical moments when we were exhausted, so we already want to rethink our way of working to a certain extent. We have decided that we want to alternate between commissioned work, self-initiated projects and teaching in order to be able to focus more on the individual areas and not always have to master everything at the same time.

Could you give me a short background of you and your work?

I am a trained graphic designer, I studied both in Brazil and the Netherlands. I graduated in the Netherlands from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in 2012, but I never really practised graphic design. I think that’s good to clarify: I’m not a graphic designer. I’m a trained graphic designer who went on in a different direction. I realized over the years that I’m much more interested in opening up discussions and sparking conversations. For me, the act of making is to make thinking. Thinking is making. My graduation project was an experimental design school, that I co-organized. Because of that project, I started getting slowly some curatorial design commissions. To make exhibitions, to teach or to organize workshops. I didn’t have any training, I didn’t study curating, design curating, design writing or design editing, none of those. I learned by doing.

Then I did a MA in design research in Bern between 2016-2017. They had this double path for design research. You could either go into academia or you could become an entrepreneur. I didn’t want either. At that time me and my former partner Eliot Gisel, we found ourselves in this limbo moment. We started this practice which we called common interest because it was in our common interest to just team up and not be alone for that time. Then we were able to say we want to do projects about social justice and environmental justice. We said that to the world: "We think design is political, we want to do projects about these things." To link back to your broad topic of ecology, this is a moment where we really need to think as a society. Rather than making more books, rather than bringing more stuff into the world, we should be thinking about who we are as a species.

One of these projects that we started together was Futuress. At the time, it was just a small website collecting design books that are yet to be written, that don’t exist yet. It was something we conceived for an exhibition but then people started getting excited about it. When the pandemic hit we were thinking: "Okay, how can we transform this speculative library of imaginary books into something that is elevating those voices that we are dying to hear within design." It’s so important because whoever falls into the category of the minority — even though it’s not a minority — you’re always so alone in whatever institutional space you enter. You’re the only non-European person, you’re the only person of colour, you’re the only non-binary person, you’re the only person who does not conform and then it’s just so hard to be in that position of being the odd one out. We were invited to organize a workshop and we decided to focus on the history of feminist publishing. It was amazing because we were able to connect with a bunch of people. We thought: "Okay, so actually we’re not alone." There are actually so many others but in the beginning, we didn’t know these people. Mostly women and non-binary persons but from different parts of the world, interested in the stuff that we were interested in. It just felt so hopeful. That was like a light bulb moment. That could be some kind of model for publishing. We could bring people together, we could create networks, we could support people, we could create alliances and as a byproduct of that we can generate texts and those texts can be published. And this is it, this is what I do now.

Do you have a definition of sustainability?

I don’t even know if I would use the word sustainability. What is the word sustainability? I don’t know. I’m sure there are plenty of definitions but I don’t operate with definitions. I think it’s more interesting to ask a question than to define something and to stabilize a meaning. A question about sustainability is going to be a different question depending on the context that is being asked. It’s a different thing for me to ask the question than for another person to ask the question just because we come from different perspectives and we are in different positions. That’s what I personally committed to doing: destabilizing things. Showing that it’s more about how we are looking, what we are trying to do, than to stabilize and say: "Okay, this is solved, we have solved sustainability because now we know what it is." Because we don’t.

Gloria Anzaldúa was a feminist theorist, I think I’m quoting her correctly but maybe I’m wrong "I change myself, I change the world." I really believe in that. I believe that the work starts with ourselves. Patriarchy is within myself, white supremacy is within myself, ableism is within myself, it’s not outside of me, it’s part of me because I am a product of design. You can just think about these systems as designs that were enacted collectively, culturally, and historically but then they also produce who we are. What is to decolonize? It’s to confront ourselves bookshelves. Look at your bookshelf and look at the people you’ve been reading all your life and do something about it. That’s hard work. But it’s also a work where it’s so important that we do it with ourselves but we also do it together. Because we’re all limited, none of us is complete, none of us is perfect, none of us is final, we’re all in process. If you share a piece of text with me I learn something about Tim that I didn’t know and then I’m going to maybe share my opinion and I will say "As a Brazilian person, I read your text like this." I think then you get a glimpse, just for one second, of what it is to see the world through my eyes. Then you can just ever so slightly change. A little bit. That’s how we expand our field of vision.

You talked a lot about feminism and human rights. How does this connect to ecological sustainability?

I don’t think it’s possible to separate any of these things, I think that’s what is the most daunting. Any struggle for justice is completely intersectional. You cannot talk about environmental justice if you don’t talk about spacial justice or social justice. At Futuress we are a feminist platform for design politics. That’s how we temporarily at least found a way to introduce ourselves. That in itself means for us that we’re acutely aware of all those entanglements. A conversation about feminism is a conversation about sustainability, they’re not two different kinds of conversations. I think that’s very hard for people to accept. The way how we are brought up, we are so much trained to separate things and to seek simplicity, find models that are simplified to make sense of the chaos. It’s never resolving anything, it’s never closing anything, it’s always staying with a mess.

What approaches do you use for sustainability?

I don’t remember the quote, I think it was Angela Davis who said something: "You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time." I don’t think we can choose [between different approaches]. I don’t think we can afford to choose. I also don’t think we should be too busy thinking that we should reach consensus. That’s probably a tricky one. Of course in certain spheres and certain contexts like maybe the UNO (United Nations Organisation) and the COP26 (26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties) consensus is good. But I don’t think that as a society we need to first agree on how we are going to tackle climate change. "Okay, let’s agree that we’re all going to be vegan." — "Okay, let’s agree that we’re all going to stop flying." I don’t think so. I think that we can all do something and we can all do different things. Not even as designers but as humans. We can do different things because we’re different people and we’re in different contexts. I’m a non-conformist, so it’s really hard for me to operate in those generalizations. I’m interested in having a conversation about what I, Nina, can do with my own resources, in my own household and with my practice. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to share learning outcomes that I have from past projects.

Can you give me an example?

Not long ago I was part of this project called Srijan-Abartan.It started because we were approached by the Dhaka Art Summit which is a huge art event in Bangladesh in Dhaka that lasts around 10 days and has a huge visitation. They have a lot of artists from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, it really connects that whole region there in a very interesting way. Bangladesh is considered ground zero for global warming because it’s a country that is nested in this network of rivers. The ice caps of the Himalayas have been melting so the waters have been rising because of global warming. Then there is this huge art event and a lot of the artists of the region are talking about climate change because that’s their reality. They are making works about migration connected to climate change and many other related topics. How can the exhibition itself be reflective of this?

We created a workshop where we thought about strategies for exhibition-making and unmaking. With this workshop, we generated guidelines for a public building that is located in the centre of Dhaka. For example one of the guidelines was like: "Everything you do to the building, think about a long-lasting contribution because this is a public building." If you make a temporary exhibition it’s not temporary, it’s permanent because you generate a shitload of trash. What do you do with this trash that you don’t see, that ends up somewhere? One of the things we did was to calculate the CO2 emissions of the previous summit. Then we knew what things are the most CO2 emitting: particle boards, to create white cubes. We also realized that the idea of making an exhibition is a western one. Then somehow it ends up that Bangladesh is making white cubes but to make white cubes they are producing these crazy rooms with particle boards. They also have to be climate isolated because this art needs to be in air conditioning (AC). You need to have AC in four white walls for it to be called art. Part of the work that we did was to think about what the most CO2 emissions are but then it means that we need to redefine our own idea about what an exhibition should be. "Do we need walls?" — "No." — "Do we need AC?" — "No." — "What happens if we don’t have windows?" The amount of effort that the design team had to do to convince the patrons not to have AC even included getting all the data for the last 10 years of rains in Dhaka to prove that the chances for raining would be very low, therefore you could have the windows open and the air would circulate. That was a huge piece of research just to convince people to say: "Let’s not build walls." The act of not designing, not making, not building was so much effort. We are so much trained to solve things by making. But not making is also a way of making.

How do you see your role in all of this?

I think my role in all these projects that I’m talking about is that of a facilitator, a midwife somehow. I think the hardest part is to actually bring people into the room. Then to propose the topic. That is not even in itself enough for the conversation to happen. You can bring a stellar array of super interesting people together who are excited about making interesting work about sustainability but if they have to stand over 15 minutes in the cold they are not going to exchange anything relevant. You need to design the room where the conversations are going to happen. When you do that, you think about who is entering the room? Who is not entering the room? How do you give access to people? How do you restrain? How do you make it a safer space? How will they talk? Are they just supposed to talk? Maybe there is some food. Maybe there is a film. You start thinking about how you engage people in the conversation. It’s always a work of hope. Perhaps it’s going to work out and maybe something interesting is going to happen. People are going to open up and share something and there is going to be a spark. Somebody is slightly going to change their perception or mindset or world view. But you don’t know.

There are a lot of people that are working in commercial graphic design agencies that mostly support consumption. How do you reach those people and include them in the discussions?

Our mission [at Futuress] is to democratize access to design education and to amplify marginalized voices. When we say marginalized voices, what do we mean? We mean women, LGBTQIA+ people, people of colour, black people, brown people, indigenous people, refugees, migrants, anyone who has been impacted negatively by the multiple systems of oppression that operate in our world. Those who — for whatever reasons — are not in that category, they are not our mission. The world is already working for them. This is a question that I also get quite often. "What about privileged, what about rich, white people? Shouldn’t you be talking to them because they rule the world?" — "No." Somebody else can do that. I’m not saying that this is not necessary. I also think it’s their responsibility to learn and grow. What we are trying to do is to create space for people who have not had space historically within design. That’s already a lot. That’s a huge mission. That’s already enough. It’s also not my responsibility as an immigrant woman of colour to educate or to explain to white people why they should care. That’s already so much of my work. That’s already been so much of my life. I think that’s my answer. Baam. That’s my answer.

A lot of those topics are also very frustrating to me and not always very hopeful. It can be overwhelming to have such huge topics and such little things you can do. How do you handle this frustration and how do you stay active?

That’s a hard question. I think that having a community of people that can support you is really important. It is frustrating and can be very exhausting and emotionally taxing and triggering sometimes. There are a lot of difficulties that come, there is a lot of backlash and a lot of hate you get when you open up these discussions and you piss people off just by existing. So one of the things I’m trying to learn how to do better is to improve my self-care. I’m not really succeeding but I think I’m learning to. Mental health is really important, finding pleasure in the daily labours of the work and learning to say no. I think that’s super important.

Students and this generation — your generation — is what I find the most hopeful about everything because I feel that it’s so different from the times when I was a student. The kinds of questions that your generation is bringing to the classroom, the kind of criticality, the kind of being present and not taking shit. I also get the most inspiration from young people who are actually interested in opening up these discussions and who are interested in asking the questions, who are interested in not finding simplified answers and merging design and activism in interesting ways. That’s why I always say yes to students even though I am sick and tired because my day is already brighter just to know that you are there at the Bern Academy of the Arts. And it’s great that you’re there because we need to be everywhere.

I think you have a very interesting design and political background. Can you tell me briefly what you do?

Sure. I do a combination between politics and graphics. I did my apprenticeship as a graphic designer when I was 16 and for six years now we have been self-employed as Büro Zwoi. We have an office in Lucerne, started as a team of two, now we are three people and usually one intern.

In my private life I am politically active. I am the president of the SP (Social Democratic Party of Switzerland) in the city of Lucerne and a member of the city council, the city parliament. I have been politically involved for over 10 years now, and for me, my creative and political activities often overlap. Often, politics also requires a bit of creativity. Above all, I find it an excellent counterbalance to graphic design to also do political work and thus to be able to combine my visual interest with social commitment. Especially when I observe how political communication in Switzerland has changed, I notice that in the last 15-20 years many graphic works in this field have become qualitatively weaker and clumsier. If you look at historical poster work, for example, you notice that there used to be a greater artistic and creative aspect to the work than nowadays. I firmly believe that political advertising doesn't just have to be blunt and simple, but that people can also be expected to deal with more challenging graphic works - also in a political context.

Interestingly, I met one of my current business partners at Berufsschule (vocational school) in 2011. The teacher once asked if we could imagine doing political advertising later on. He thought it was out of the question for him because you scare off many customers if you position yourself politically as a company. That happens automatically when you design for political clients. And I thought it was something I could well imagine. Then it happened that during my apprenticeship we did our first project together in our free time for the JUSO (Swiss Young Socialists) for the initiative for a ban on food speculation. Because of our different environments, it soon turned out that we got some commissions in the fields of culture and politics.

Where do you draw the line between political engagement and your creative work?

That's difficult because the two areas overlap for me. When I'm involved in the SP, it's voluntary work. If I create something, for example for the SP, then I also charge something for it. It is a matter of principle for me. One is my work and I have to live off it, pay my rent and health insurance. The other is voluntary work. I try to separate the two as much as possible. When I design something, I don't do it on a voluntary basis.

Do you see your work as activism?

In the area where we are active, it is certainly not an area where we do it mainly for the money. When we support a campaign for refugees, for example, it is usually 80% activism and 20% wage work. But we also try to cross subsidise it somehow with other projects. We deal with that openly. Better-paying clients know that we also work on projects that have a rather activist nature. That is our kind of activism as designers.

But of course there's a difference between being set up like us and running a big advertising agency with 60 employees who spend all day advertising Amazon or something. They have a completely different approach. They function quite differently than us and probably also have different goals and a different ambition for their lifestyle.

In the end, everyone has to live from something. There are too many designers that no one works in such agencies. There is simply not enough money in the industry to keep hundreds of graphic designers fed with cultural commissions alone. Somewhere along the line, it's a luxury that we can afford to do what we love to do. We are in a very privileged situation and we are aware of that.

You say on your website that you do work in the fields of business, culture and politics. How do you find a balance there? And do you have internal rules about what kind of assignments you accept and what kind you definitely refuse?

We don't really have a balance. I would say that 80% of our work is politics and culture and maybe 20% is conventional business. The part of business that we have are often people who already know works of ours that were created in the cultural field, for example, and find that something similar also fits in with their SME. We surely have certain political principles that we can all stand behind. The majority of our work and our clients are politically in a left-wing environment. It is important for us to be able to work for projects that we ourselves can support.

What role does sustainability play for you?

We basically try to make our customers aware of sustainability. The whole means of production are certainly an important point in our industry. For example, we make sure to use paper with a blue angel label or similar labels. We have also turned down orders from customers who wanted to print and produce abroad. If that is the condition, then we cannot stand behind it. On the one hand, it is ecological nonsense to work that way and on the other hand, we want to be able to do the colour matching on a printing press. If we know the producer, then we know that the end product will also meet our quality standards.

What we also do more and more is to question whether a print product is the right medium at all. If, for example, clients suggest producing a flyer with a team photo on it, we get alert. The constellation within a team can change quickly and the print product ends up in the trash. In such a case, we would rather recommend a digital solution to the client.

We also try to tell our customers that they can market their sustainable company philosophy - without greenwashing, of course. On printed products, for example, we recommend labels such as "Printed in Switzerland" or CO2-compensated. We then tell the customers that they must also consider such an additional investment as an advertising measure for their company or organisation.

What role do designers have for you in this?

In the beginning I doubted whether I should become a graphic designer at all. At first I thought that graphic designers are actually one of the most perfidious parts of capitalism, because they are the people who sell stuff to people that don't need them, in order to generate profit for others. You're selling people shit with your advertising that is not needed, contributing to a bigger environmental crisis so that others can enrich themselves. At this moment you have to ask yourself what exactly it is you want to do. Our goal is not to do advertising for the UBS (a Swiss bank) or Amazone, but we try to use our visual services especially where we think we can help to change something.

Basically, I think it's important for designers to engage with society. I think it's part of graphic design and design in general that you go through life with an open mind and think about how society should develop and where you can contribute. If we want to achieve social change, communication is one of the most important things — in an ecological or economic sense. I think it should also be part of the education that young graphic designers are made aware of these issues.

If you look at the climate youth, for example, which uses a lot of digital communication channels, that is always a form of communication and has to be designed. If you get involved there and make your creative skills available, then that is certainly a good thing.

How could such networks or even a broader discourse be encouraged?

That is difficult. What, for example, could be an approach could be networking meetings. In Lucerne, for example, we have something called Show & Tell, which Erich Brechbühl started, where designers meet regularly for a beer and then briefly present the projects they are currently working on. It's an open, loose network. I think such networking meetings are interesting because you can also pick up people working in agencies there and in such places you could also start the discussions that we are having right now: "What is the social responsibility of designers?"

I think that kind of thing makes sense. Or also that other networks and associations try to raise awareness of these issues, e.g. the SGD (Swiss Graphic Designers) or the SGV (Swiss Graphic Designers Association). They could definitely make this a topic. This should not be a lecturing, but can be in the form of a discussion. Someone can also say: "I don't give a shit about all that, I just want to earn money with my job." I just think that discourse about our work is important.