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Know your audience: The key to sustainable design

   /   Jun 3rd, 2010Design, News


Last week, on behalf of the New York Women Social Entrepreneurs, I moderated a panel on innovations in sustainable design. Panelists’ expertise ran the gamut—architecture, fashion, education, and industrial design—but the one theme that united all of their responses was the importance of knowing your audience.  A few key examples:

  • Research your audience. Rita Saikali, Director of Outreach and Advocacy for Architecture for Humanity New York (AFNY), spoke about designing transitional apartments for clients at the Park Slope Women’s Shelter in Brooklyn, New York.  By interviewing shelter constituents and observing their behavior in domestic spaces, Saikali and her colleagues learned something unexpected: rather than spreading their things out across the apartment, the women wanted to keep their possessions close at all times.  With this in mind, AFHNY designed apartments that were compact enough to make the women feel safe, but with enough space for them to adjust as they relearned how to engage with private spaces.
  • Be aware of the repercussions of your actions. Debera Johnson, Academic Director of Sustainability and Director of the Center for Sustainable Design Studies and Research at Pratt University teamed up with a Ugandan nutritional program to create instructional drawings on how to eat a healthy diet.  They originally designed separate guides for men, pregnant women, and children, but Johnson and her team were advised that this might backfire. Ugandan men, who tend to oversee family finances, might only purchase the food from which they would benefit.  Johnson’s team reworked its approach and created one guide to ensure that everyone was helped.
  • Know how your audience listens. Sheena Matheiken, Founder and Creative Director of The Uniform Project, wanted to raise awareness about wastefulness in the fashion industry, but she knew that the fashion-obsessed dislike being lectured. So rather than preaching about the sins of disposable fashion, she led by example, wearing the same dress every day for a year.  She kept the dress chic with an assortment of accessories and posted daily photos and updates to her blog. Matheiken also used the stunt to fundraise over $95,000 for the Akanksha Foundation, an educational initiative in India. Check out all 365 versions of Matheiken’s outfit in her five-minute video.

Photo: Steve Aoki

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