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Sustainable Design in Six Minutes or Less


Drew Beam plays Mr. Imagination in a series of sustainable design videos hosted by Dawn Danby and directed by Eric Smith.

“I have never met an engineer who willfully set out to damage ecosystems,” says Dawn Danby 00 ID, sustainable design program manager for the international software company Autodesk. “It’s sort of a bad way to make friends.” Instead, she finds that “any skepticism we’ve run into” when promoting sustainable practices through Autodesk – maker of AutoCAD and countless other tools for architects and engineers – “simply reflects an outmoded idea: that to address the environment, everything will cost a lot more and be a big hassle.”

In order to counter that mindset, Danby – who works out of the company’s San Francisco offices – got together with Eric Smith 94 GD, creative director at Free Range Studios, and illustrator Drew Beam 99 IL to create a series of short videos on the basic principles of sustainable design and engineering. The videos (available for free through the Autodesk Education Community website) are both entertaining and practical.

As often happens when creative teams are brought together by a third party, “We didn't know we were all RISD grads until the first day of the shoot,” Danby says. But the three suspect that may have had something to do with the fact that they quickly gelled into a tight working team, with Smith directing the videos, Beam providing the illustrations that accompany the narration and Danby providing creative direction while also overseeing the project.

In collaborating, they soon hit upon the formula of casting Beam as “Mr. Imagination” – an embodiment of the creative process, who sketches and deliberates behind the presenters (Danby and Jeremy Faludi, a sustainable design expert and lecturer at Stanford) as they discuss, say, ways to make products lighter without sacrificing performance, or designing objects for long-term utility and relevance. The simultaneous sketching makes the information supremely digestible by helping “the visual and verbal tracks of the brain… to work together,” Danby notes.

Topics covered so far in the Sustainability Workshop video series include Design for Lifetime, an introduction focused on durability, accommodating recycling and repair; Whole Systems Design, which looks at defining problems and assessing the environmental impact of products; and Lightweighting, covering practical tips such as corrugating, hollow tubing and reinforcing that can reduce the mass of an object.

“Our videos are like mini-lectures that introduce concepts,” Danby says, “so they don’t get into the technical details. But you learn how to create greener products by doing it” – a lot like at RISD. With almost two million users regularly taking advantage of the educational materials on the Autodesk site – and increasingly more college campuses beginning to incorporate the video series into their engineering and industrial design curricula – Danby and her partners are excited to be helping designers to take a giant (green) step forward.

Living Principles interview with Dawn Danby about the project
Autodesk Education Community Sustainability Workshop video series 




tags: alumni, interdisciplinary, Graphic Design, Illustration, Industrial Design, STEAM, sustainability

RISD has a long history of offering Saturday and after-school classes for children and teens, as this photo from c. 1910 confirms.