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.

Tales of the Cocktail: Securing Preferred Vendor Status

PreferredVendorToday is a special day for us here at Times Three. We are proud to announce that we have secured Preferred Vendor status with Tales of the Cocktail® in New Orleans, LA.

Founded in 2002, Tales of the Cocktail® is the world’s premier cocktail festival. Each year the international spirits industry conducts a week of seminars, tastings, networking events and much more. With 200+ annual events developed specifically for bartenders, distillers and other spirits professionals, Tales of the Cocktail® is the industry’s annual meeting place for the exchange of new ideas, products and techniques.

Tales of the Cocktail® is produced by the New Orleans Culinary & Cultural Preservation Society (NOCCPS), a non-profit organization committed to supporting, promoting and growing the cocktail industry in New Orleans and around the world.

Times Three has already been working with the esteemed group since March, developing new branded concepts, consulting for upcoming events and even creating custom centerpieces for the 2016 Spirited Awards. Our affiliation with Tales of the Cocktail® is a major milestone in the growth of Times Three. Go team!


The Nike Making App: Pushing the Fashion Industry Forward

Last month a new app quietly appeared on the Apple app store. Created by engineers and designers at Nike for apparel designers and driven by their cradle-to-gate Materials Sustainability Index (MSI),[1] The Making App represents a new development in sustainable design.[2] One that is designer-focused and user-friendly. Intended as an educational tool that works using comparisons between materials, version 1.0 has only 22 to choose from. These range from silk to grass and corn-fed leather to spandex, all materials currently used in today’s fashion industry.

The app looks wonderful and operates smoothly (some reviewers claim it crashes the iPhone 4). A designer will want to know (and will immediately see) how the materials stack up against each other within an impact category, but will have to go through several steps to reach an informative aggregate dashboard which shows how the material ranks across all impact categories and another panel showing its specific MSI totals.

Nike reminds the viewer of the Nike Materials Sustainability Index and in fact expects enlightened designers to visit the website [1] which houses it for further research. The MRI site actually shows a list of 46 materials, which allows toggling between impacts but lacks the organic and recycled category found in the app. The people at Nike have spent around 8 years researching their own materials library [1] and they have integrated about 75,000 entries into the Higgs Index, which is managed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)[3]. However, this is not reflected in this version of the app. The intention is that the user will be introduced to using comparative indexes through the app and will want to delve deeper.

At the very heart of this system are potential limitations. First, the MSI only covers cradle-to-gate data. In a full life cycle analysis, it may become apparent that certain materials with wonderful MSI scores may have terrible end-of-life data overriding any of the gains made in the early phases. It may even make certain material less suitable than materials with extremely low MSI rankings. For instance, some materials are almost certainly cradle-to-grave substances. On the other hand, some substances are endlessly recyclable and enjoy a high rate of reclamation. Other factors are chain-of-custody and transportation. Most designers understand that transportation has an impact on the sustainability of an item, but what people don’t necessarily understand are the processes performed in between the raw material processing and manufactured good. This is generally where things can get sticky and legal troubles can arise. An example being the claims around rayon viscose made from bamboo.[4]

While there is much to be improved, this is a wonderful project that creates a tangible way of connecting design ideas with real impact. Through awareness, traditional Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) information will become less daunting. Also, the people at Nike are open to user comments and criticisms in the quest to improve the system with each generation.[5]

As the lines of design continue to blur and designers from all disciplines continue to explore new methods and substrates with which to communicate, a tool like this would be valuable for any industry. Understandably, the task is daunting. But, what could the payoff be? In Gage’s Mitchell’s article, Where Graphic Design is Failing, he cites failures in education and a lax attitude in the industry.[6] Perhaps this is a way to “start making real change happen?”

Nike’s Materials Sustainability Index site. Explains the logic of the Index and how it integrates into the Higgs Index.

Apple’s iTunes store page for the Making App.

Cradle-to-Gate data resource for the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

Special micro site on action taken by the Federal Trade Commission in handling the use and misuse of bamboo in the textiles industry.

Homepage of the Nike Makers projects, from which the Making app developed.

Gage Mitchell’s recent article on graphic design’s continuing lack of broad enthusiasm for sustainable design.

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.

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.

The introduction to the Framework and Roadmap of The Living Principles.

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.

Different frameworks and theories in sustainable design, plus a handy dictionary of terms on the Living Principles site.