NY NOW®: A (New) Market for Sustainable-Oriented Design

As the US economy rebounds and companies around the nation slowly expand their budgets, many design studios are looking for new clients so they can rebuild their businesses. But where are these clients and what kind of work are they looking for? Finding new business can be challenging for smaller studios lacking the proper resources, but this part of the job cannot be ignored. Many sources will list networking events, job boards, and online tools like LinkedIn for cultivating clients. But, as old-fashioned as they may seem, trade fairs are still viable sources of new leads. Trade fairs bring buyers, manufacturers, and distributors together to drive business. They are found in many cities throughout the world and can exist for any conceivable market in any conceivable sector. It is common to see a single event space host hundreds of trade fairs each year.

Right now, the semiannual ‘NY NOW®’ trade fair (formerly known as the ‘New York International Gift Fair’ [NYIGF]) is on its second-to-last day at the Jacobs Javits Center in Manhattan. NY NOW® hosts over 2,800 exhibitors, supporting big and small businesses alike. 98% of the 35,000 attendees will place orders for products they see at this show.[1]

At the show, there are a lot of prototypes and market-ready work on display. There is also a good chance that designers engaged in packaging or branding will see their work in use. Even some designers themselves are becoming exhibitors, bringing their own creations to market.[1]

The volume of product may be troubling for sustainability-focused designers. The sheer quantity of items, how they are produced, who gets to use them, and their disposal are very important factors.(PE.01) So where does a designer start if they are looking to change this scenario?

Attendees will certainly have varying answers to this question and many aren’t even interested in sustainability. However, this is often because of economic or aesthetic factors. NY NOW® encourages sustainable product development through their initiative: SustainAbility: design for a better world®. What started as an exhibit and educational series, has expanded to market and lifestyle industry criteria for new sustainable products.[2] For graphic designers, the SustainAbility participant list can harbor a lot of potential clients. Some of these exhibitors have already carried their sustainability strategies over to graphic design, packaging, and promotion, but many are currently focused on product development and have many yet untapped opportunities.[2]

A company with a comprehensive sustainability strategy is PlanToys®, of Trang, Thailand.(EN.02) Regularly in attendance at NY NOW®, they were first present on the SustainAbility list in 2013. PlanToys® produces reclaimed rubber wood toys for the infant to kindergarten range, always striving to meet or exceed eco and health safety standards globally.[3]

But it goes farther. Using only formaldehyde-free glues and non-toxic/lead-free dyes, they also only use salvaged wood, rescued from the waste stream of the local rubber industry.[3] Their latest product is PlanWood®, the byproduct of their own post-production reclamation system. The company is very socially active in Trang with locals employed in all facets of the company. PlanToys® also funds eco-education in numerous Trang schools and reforestation/coral reef protection efforts throughout Thailand.[3]


Jay Chanthalangsy, the Marketing Coordinator for PlanToys® in the US, says that its all integrated into their system.[4]

“Everything revolves around it.” He adds, “you can follow the path of toy production and even see how we figured out a way to increase rubber production from the same trees and use our wood waste to create our PlanWood®.”

The system is so robust that the PlanToys® founder has no problem showing their latest work to their competitor.”(EC.04)[4] Much of their sustainability strategy and LCA information is also found on their packaging and in their print/online literature, illustrated by their graphic design team. It can serve as a good example for companies new to sustainability to learn from. It can also give designers insight into the kind of storytelling that successful sustainability-focused brands require.

On the other end of the spectrum is ENI Puzzles®. A NY NOW® attendee for the last 4 years, they have yet to be included on the SustainAbility participant list.[5] Their lead product is Kim’s Column, a handheld puzzle, popular with museums and game stores across the US.

While working on the latest edition of the puzzle, the company put significant energy into refining their entire production process.[5] Everything from packaging to manufacturing facilities were evaluated (EN.02), which led to the drafting of a lifecycle analysis for Kim’s Column.[5]


ENI President and “Fearless Leader,” Thomas Sebazco, is a supporter of sustainable-focused design. He claims that the current economics of the puzzle tie him to a business-as-usual model. Still, that hasn’t stopped him from planning for the future.

“It’s important that I work toward sustainable goals for ENI, including domestic manufacturing, material reclamation, and resource efficiency. The growth of my company depends on it.”[5]

Tom knows that the sooner he embraces sustainable practices, the better his company’s chances of survival.(PE.05) Like a good businessman, he’s looking for the right opportunity.

There are many possible clients like these at NY NOW®. Most haven’t begun thinking about sustainability, but are looking for a competitive edge in their market.(PE03) Trade fairs can give the sustainability-oriented designer the opportunity to offer many businesses this edge at the same time.(CU04) To be clear, NY NOW® gives the designer over 2,800 opportunities … in one building.

“This is one of two shows that make up the bulk of my annual business,” noted Tom Sebazco, “It is really the spot to be if you want to get noticed by the greater industry.”[5]

In the age of email blasts and social-network driven marketing, trade fairs like NY NOW® provide the face-to-face interactions that ultimately get designers noticed. Will it get sustainability-oriented designers noticed?



[1] NY NOW® Website, 2014. Online.
Information about NY NOW® for all prospective attendees, updated to reflect new features in the latest event, as well as statistics from the most recent show.

[2] NY NOW® SustainAbility Webpage, 2014. Online.
Information about the sustainability efforts of NY NOW® since 2009. Includes past and present participant lists, as well as juried exhibitions and relevant seminars for show attendees.

[3] PlanToys® Website, 2014, Online.
Overview of PLANToys®, their history, and their social initiatives. Website also covers the organization’s charitable giving.

[4] Interview with Jay Chanthalangsy, US Marketing Coordinator for PlanToys®, January 14, 2014. Unpublished.

[5] Interview with Thomas Sebazco, President and ‘Fearless Leader’ of ENI Puzzles®, January 14, 2014. Unpublished.


The AIGA and The Living Principles: What’s in a Number?

If you’re regularly reading these posts, then you are by now used to seeing reference codes popping up in the bodies of several articles which look like this: (EN.01). These codes reference The American Institute of Graphic Arts’ (AIGA) Living Principles Scorecard.

Created in 2010, the Living Principles was created for the sole purpose of giving graphic designers a means of creating and measuring integrated sustainability-oriented design. The old business adage goes, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” and with the Living Principles framework, designers can now measure and therefore manage their sustainability-oriented work.

Why not just make a punch list or point people to specific vendors? The simplest reason is variety. There are many different places in the world with different climates, infrastructures, ruling parties, and access to resources. Each designer or design team has to be able to work with what they have on hand. This not only gives everyone a fighting chance, it also drives innovation.

The reference codes are straightforward. The two letters before the period (.) refer to one of four “streams.”

EN = Environment
PE = People
EC = Economy
CU = Culture

The two numbers after the period (.) specify a “principle” within each stream (principles for “Environment” stream shown).

EN.01 = Behaviors
EN.02 = Creation
EN.03 = Durability
EN.04 = Disassembly
EN.05 = Supply Chain
EN.06 = Waste

On the actual scorecard, each principle gets a 0 to 4 rating (4 being the highest). The designer filling out the scorecard then tallies the results of each stream, and the results are interpreted together. The system is simple enough to get on the first try, yet complex enough to allow for some advanced projects.

Despite promotion from the AIGA and funding from several sources, the Living Principles has not been widely adopted. In 2015, a large scale restructuring of the AIGA, left the Living Principles volunteer support group disbanded and the LP website taken down. At the time this post was written, the future of the Living Principles within the greater AIGA was “being assessed.”

For a comprehensive look at the Living Principles, go to the reference page on the AIGA site here. To see how the Living Principles work with a variety of projects, check out the AIGA’s bi-yearly (Re)Design Awards here.

If you want to download a copy of the Living Principles Framework, Roadmap and Scorecard, you can get it from us (LivingPrinciples_Framework). We have posted it without permission, but it is doubtful the AIGA will object. Everyone like good PR.

Line chefs in a restaurant kitchen. Copyright 2013: Ken Goodman Photography. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

The Design Studio as a Living System

The design studio has essentially remained unchanged for the last century. Seasoned designers, no matter how progressive, are oft quick to declare, “how it’s done” following a workflow and studio model they were trained to follow, without ever wondering why.

Most studios operate using a top-down management model similar to the one illustrated below. Orders are passed along, using strict levels of hierarchy. This is generally done while adhering to a traditional product assembly-line process.


A closer look exposes flaws in this structure. Some ‘marginal’ roles are involved at every design phase, whereas some ‘centralized’ roles only once. Time commitments can also vary, but status and compensation stay glued to this system, which is becoming ineffective for today’s design landscape. It has been fine to follow “business-as-usual” over recent decades because, in most cases, technologies like the computer have aided the design process. But “business-as-usual” does work well for recent technological, economic, or sustainable developments. How can the studio be ready for what’s next? How do designers address the behaviors metric (EN.01)?

Start by changing perspective. A studio interpreted as a system can be reorganized in a myriad of ways. Systems theory is a means of organizing anything in the way life might. It’s also about re-evaluating how things are connected. Below is an illustration of the studio and process as a living system.


In this particular model, new business brings work in (inhaling); then it’s handled by strategy. Immediately, strategy moves into the center of the process where it mixes with latter steps (blood flow), moving around while being fed new research (oxygenation). Project management and the legal department function as skin for the system. Finally, comes the release (exhaling).

Seasoned directors generally agree that good project managers are invaluable. Junior designers will question this, wondering why time should be tracked or why project roles are needed when they have a title. But project managers are much more than glorified task managers.

In a living system, they can be viewed as protection. An example of a ‘marginal’ role that becomes important: Project managers filter client comments in positive ways, avoiding “scope creep,” and assure work moves smoothly through the process, freeing creatives up to do what they do best. ‘Centralized’ roles also become less isolated. Designers can work closely with strategists, production artists, and printers to create better products. This gives projects a greater impact (PE.01) on studios, clients, and customers. Likewise, connections between ‘unrelated’ roles can be recognized and strengthened, creating a stronger studio and stronger projects. It develops the long view (PE.05) opening projects to more stakeholders.

Unknowingly, restaurants have been structuring themselves like living systems for years. The restaurant has multiple organs of activity operating interdependently in a larger system. They interact in a nonlinear fashion, taking an array of inputs and channeling them into outputs, essentially “made to order.” When this “Kitchen Brigade” system was introduced by Escoffier, it reduced customers’ waiting time by two thirds while retaining meal quality and improving consistency [2]. An expertly run restaurant will have minimal items on the menu, which are organized into hundreds of dining options. These options are deployed quickly and accurately, bringing value both through service and the product (EC.06). If restaurants ran like design studios, guests might wait days to eat!

Sustainable innovation can gain a lot from this thinking. By turning the current studio model into an interdependent system, businesses can adapt to client’s needs while project roles operate cohesively and simultaneously (CU.03). This means better design and better feedback loops. Ultimately, it means better solutions for the client, and more possibilities for leveraging individual staff talents and strengths for the design firm.


The first “Making Sustainability Work” article focused on analyzing and then manipulating the current design process by adjusting where in the sequence production falls.

Meadows, Donatella H.: Thinking in Systems: a primer. White River, VT: Chelsea Green, 2008. Print.
As the title says, this book is a beginner’s overview of

James, Kenneth: Escoffier: The King of Chefs. London: Hambledon Continuum, 2006. Print.


Times Three: One Year In

It’s been one year since the formation of Times Three (we didn’t have our name yet). We really started working together long before then, coming together to tackle big jobs on an as needed basis. It was only after an amazing week at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, creating a Pisco tasting room for the Peruvian Trade Commission, that we all looked at each other and pondered the benefits of working together permanently.

Anyone who’s ever started their own business has a similar story. That moment when it seems like the best idea in the world to start a business. The challenge is understanding how running a business is different from working as a freelancer or managing a large-scale project. However, our design brains are up to the challenge. We look for innovative solutions to running Times Three while looking for innovative ways to meet our clients needs.

So, what has one year brought us? A bigger role at Tales! For the Peruvian Trade Commission, we completed another tasting room plus private dinner and produced an accompanying cocktail book. We were also awarded a project from the Tales of the Cocktail staff, developing event decor for their Spirited Awards gala. Its funny how things circle back around that way. For now, we are happy to have our first year under our belt and we look forward to expanding our current relationships while we create new ones.

Thanks to everybody who’s given us work or who’s taken the time to read this. Your support enables us to continue doing great things.