For the final project, I thought that this project that I worked on in my Collaborative Print class was a perfect way to examine the design as social activism topic of Design for this Century. For this project, we were tasked with the challenge of fostering awareness of an environmental issue and somehow disseminating information in order to modify people’s behavior relating to that issue.

The topic that we addressed was the obscene amount of plastic bags that we go through every year worldwide (one TRILLION), and especially in New York (2.9 billion in New York City alone). We wanted to use design as a way of catching the user’s attention while also giving them a take-away that would inform them about ways in which they can help.

The end-result was an installation similar to a newspaper distribution box that we placed in the lobby of 2 West 13th for several hours, which contained 30 small tote bags with the phrase “Plastic is for Losers” letterpressed to the front. Each bag also included an informational card about ways that they can help by going to bag-making workshops or taking courses in sustainable design here at Parsons, and the users had the option of signing up for additional email updates on the topic. The bags were also somewhat comically small, adding an interesting element to the design—these were not simply another throwaway tote bag that you get everywhere, they offerred a fresh take on the situation. If you wanted to actually use the bag, it was actually perfectly sized to stick in your pocket when you run out to grab a snack at Valentino’s. But as this was really the only practical use of the bag, it added a conversational element to the piece as well. By being a somewhat peculiar size, it emphasized that we were trying to start a thought process, not just give out another bag. The bags would also be more visually attention-grabbing if the users do find use for them, allowing the message to be spread further.

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The feedback we got from users was actually great, many were excited about the bags and really appreciate the message we were trying to get out there. the bags were gone in a little over an hour, and we actually got a handful of email addresses as well.

The use of plastic bags is an important issue in my opinion, and I enjoyed getting to translate the ethical and activism-based topics we studied in Design for this Century into a project that would help shed light on this problem. If we were able to scale this type of experiment up to a larger city-wide scale (and made the bags more eye-catching in order to make the user want to both keep and USE the bags), I think that we could make strides in discouraging the use of plastic bags in the city. As we stated on the informational cards, if every student at the New School used just one less plastic bag each day, we would save over 3.5 million bags each year! How’s that for scalability.

Category : Collaborative Print / Design for this Century / Fall 2010