Pushing Production to the Front of the Line

In today’s graphic design process, sustainability is born of the creative minds of the art directors and designers, early in the concept phase. But the top-down management model of today’s graphic design studio, branding firm, or ad agency is not always compatible with the demands of sustainable design. To change this without jeopardizing jobs, the first step to turning sustainable concepts into sustainable results is to ‘push production to the front of the line.’

The production team should be part of the creative process, from tip to tail, rather than brought in at the end. This is often proposed, but rarely implemented. It’s not a surprise because typical studios use a top-down model where orders are passed from one stage on to the next. This process resembles a traditional product assembly line and there is little incentive to disturb a workflow already in motion.

But, creatives make decisions often lacking the research required to insure sustainable solutions. Proper production techniques, material sourcing, and life cycle analysis are usually solely in the domain of the production department. Bringing them into the earliest stages opens the team to research and execute based on the goals of the project. This is every bit as important as beta-testing or client demographics and the results could be significant.

For example, by researching production options before a business card concept is designed, a design team could reduce their cardstock consumption by about half.[1] This is an easy way to address the Creation metric (EN.02) of the Living Principles scorecard.[2]

500 standard sized business cards printed on 130lb card stock can be printed on 63 sheets of letter-sized paper; that weighs about 2.95lbs. By eliminating bleeds the same number cards can be produced on 50 sheets, or 2.34lbs of cardstock. Bleeds are waste and by eliminating bleeds, paper use is already reduced 20% (metric EN.06).[2] Further, by changing to the standard 26” x 40” sheet size, only 4 sheets of paper (2.08lbs) would be needed. This 30% reduction in material use is already well above the “Material Value” requirements made by Walmart in their packaging scorecard.[3]

But, what is the need/use (PE.04)2 of a business card today? Does the size matter? Because taking the last 0.5” off the end of the business card would reduce the paper use to 3 sheets (1.56lbs). In three minor moves, the same 500 cards are produced using 52% of the paper. When expanded to an entire company’s workforce, this could significantly impact the budget for business cards (metric EC.03).[2]

Integrating production thinking early in the design process can bring some big changes, even on small projects. With production sitting in it’s usual spot in the process, it is usually too late to justify such changes creatively or economically. By inviting the production team in at the beginning, there is a far greater likelihood that concepts will be vetted and survive implementation.

But the results go deeper than creative solutions. Production teams are expected to be apathetic to a project and its outcome, only to engineer the final product. A production artist creatively invested in the design enables the Long View metric (PE.05) and its outcomes to flourish. When positively engaged, they will perform better, work passionately, and create a better environment for all.

According to the Living Principles site, A Production Artist is “an unsung hero” … “saddled with the logistical responsibilities of sustainable communication design.”[3] Imagine what could happen to sustainable projects, if their input was considered at the beginning.

Tweaking the traditional design process to bring production into the beginning of the process. Production artists have solutions for many of the design challenges sustainability brings. The earlier they are involved, the better.

[1] http://www.re-nourish.com/?l=tools_projectcalculator
The product calculator gives an estimate of how much paper it will take to produce a given print project and gives suggestions for minimizing waste. Re-nourish members can also catalog and reference their calculations for subsequent projects.

[2] http://livingprinciples.aiga.org/framework/roadmap/
The introduction to the Framework and Roadmap of The Living Principles.

[3] http://news.walmart.com/news-archive/2006/11/01/wal-mart-unveils-packaging-scorecard-to-suppliers
A press release from 2006, detailing the various metrics for Walmart’s sustainability initiative to reduce packaging across its global supply chain by 5 percent by 2013.

[4] http://livingprinciples.aiga.org/resources/words-to-know/
Different frameworks and theories in sustainable design, plus a handy dictionary of terms on the Living Principles site.