If you have not familiarized yourself with permaculture ethics and principles, please do so here before reading on.
Closed-systems thinking is the idea that a system that minimizes external inputs and limits "waste" by recirculating output within the system is central to permaculture thinking. But few really delve into the details of what this means for them and even fewer actually apply it to real-world decisions and actions.
It takes discipline and practice to think this way, as we have all grown up in a linear world. We are encouraged to consume, then throw "away," then repurchase without ever questioning the fact that we have brought resources into our lives that were extracted from somewhere else, another system, and whose waste we will ship to yet another system (usually the landfill or the wider environment). The introduction of community-wide recycling projects and bins has done little more than assuage our feelings of guilt when we purchase a non-compostable, externally extracted item. Perhaps, these programs have even made the consumer culture more extreme. We have traded ethics for convenience.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Indeed, closed-systems thinking is not a new concept. We have adopted it from nature, where these interlocking systems are highly efficient and prove that they are worth their upstart effort.
The twelve principles developed by David Holmgren in conjunction with the work he and Bill Mollison did when they first developed the concept of permaculture, are a guide, a sort of worksheet or checklist we can utilize to create highly self-regulating, balanced, and efficient systems (aka designs).
These twelve principles help us plan, organize, implement, and correct any design process. These steps were developed with the production of food and the stewardship of land in mind. However, they can be applied to any decision-making process. All aspects of life function better as closed systems. And to prove it, I have put together the following guidelines for the application of permaculture thinking to graphic design.
Firstly, let's revisit the 3 basic ethics as they would be utilized by the designer, whether architect, gardener, farmer, business owner, or branding specialist.
Placing these ethics at the starting point of all decisions and designs allows the designer to prioritize strategies and ideas efficiently and ethically.
It follows that, using the 12 permaculture design principles to practice graphic design, we can:
1. Observe and Interact – developing an in-depth understanding of the client’s business objectives, obstacles, and culture is a respectful and vital part of a successful design process, engendering confidence in the client and producing more efficient campaigns.
2. Catch and Store Energy – identifying a client’s incoming energies and their ability or inability to capture and store that energy, whether that is a new customer base, a grant, or an ingenious and clever new employee, is paramount to how the client reacts to opportunities and crises.
3. Obtain a yield – providing a measurable way to track the design implementation gives the client a sense of control and the designer a bird’s eye view of the campaign.
4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – accepting critical feedback from the client and being willing to implement changes is a vital characteristic in the designer that validates the client’s insight and concerns.
5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – adopting this responsible attitude toward the resources the implementation our design activities use, models for the client a sustainable way to move toward the future.
6. Produce No Waste – investigating and planning for the waste that is produced by the implementation of a project, especially a print project, can allow the designer to help the client close the system, or transfer the excess waste to be productively used in other parts of their strategy or organization.
7. Design From Patterns to Details – acknowledging that nature is the perfect designer opens the designer’s eyes to possibilities that are not evident to others; modeling a campaign on natural patterns and closed systems helps the client to meet their goals in the most efficient manner possible.
8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate – establishing symbiotic relationships between the various components of a campaign can save time, energy, money, and confusion;
9. Use Small and Slow Solutions – factoring in incremental stages of implementation allows the designer and client to recognize and react to the feedback each stage creates.
10. Use and Value Diversity – recognizing that nature employs virtually unlimited diversity in every aspect of production, the designer is equipped to instruct the client on the immense value of diversifying every aspect of their strategy; from bringing on board a wide array of skills and personalities, to utilizing resources that can play multiple roles, to targeting a diverse range of customers.
11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal – whether it’s the fringe audience or the outdated methodology, understanding that the greatest effect is seen at the interchange between what’s going out and what’s coming in is pivotal to effective design management; new cell phone models sell when they are first released because customers inherently contrast the new with the old.
12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change – accepting that change is the status quo in nature, we can see value in transitions and help the client to capitalize on, not fear, the changes that they need to address and the changes that will inevitably be initiated by the campaign.
I encourage you to plug in responses to each of these principles for a design, decision or system you are planning to execute. You can use this worksheet to get started!
Please comment below with any epiphanies you may encounter, questions you have, clarifications you need, or even your own completed worksheet for all of us to admire!!