Sustainability through a designer’s lens
PSU graphic design students envision how their knowledge can serve SoMa EcoDistrict—and the city
By Chris North and Jake Trudell
Eight student designers in my Waste Not seminar, part of ART 471, took on the challenge to make the sustainability assets of the SoMa EcoDistrict visible and engaging. This seminar focuses on sustainability through a designer’s lens. We seek to better understand how we all play a role in changing the ways products and ideas are resourced, made, and sold. Over the course of this five-week project, the students worked as investigators, designers, and social entrepreneurs to create an awareness campaign that would not only inform residents of the sustainable assets of the district, but also include the residents in the process.
Jake Trudell, one of the student designers, was invited to present the class’ proposals at a recent SoMa stakeholder meeting. I asked Jake to share his perspective of the project’s success and how he sees this campaign being used in other EcoDistricts throughout the city.
A SoMa EcoDistrict map designed by graphic design student JoeTrusell.
This project started with University Pointe as our main focus—a new privately owned student housing building aspiring to reach LEED Gold certification. But when we considered ways to engage residents with University Pointe’s sustainability features, we realized that University Pointe was just one feature of the larger SoMa EcoDistrict, and that many people on campus had no idea what that means. Our directive became “making the invisible visible,” improving the visibility, awareness, and engagement of the SoMa EcoDistrict’s important features, from the boundaries to its core.
A proposed interactive sustainability dashboard for University Pointe designed by student August Miller.
We began imagining ways to visually delineate the EcoDistrict as a unique territory. Boundaries could be identified with street-art gateways and a friendly, vibrant, community-oriented map. Moving inward, high-impact signage on campus could point out PSU’s many eco-assets that often blend into the environment and are easily passed by—like Montgomery Green Street, energy-efficient buildings, and eco-roofs.
Proposed EcoDistrict signage designed by student Jake Trudell.
With PSU’s motto “Let Knowledge Serve the City” in our minds, we maintained a benchmark of “Is this scalable and transferable?” We envisioned a ripple effect emanating from individuals living at a residence hall, outward through the campus, throughout the EcoDistrict, and into the city. For us, the only way a project would be considered successful and sustainable was if it could grow beyond its SoMa/PSU birthplace and be easily adopted by Portland’s four other developing EcoDistricts or in other communities around the city.
Proposed street-art gateway designed by student Ellen Spector.
What really excited me about the SoMa EcoDistrict project was that I had the chance to apply my talents as a designer in a real-world scenario that addressed attitudes and awareness about sustainability. At PSU, I’ve worked with real clients on branding or marketing challenges, but these are usually business-centric and don’t tend to focus on sustainability—which is something that PSU and Portland are increasingly known for. In the graphic design program, I really see the potential to carry the momentum forward into the numerous sustainability initiatives being developed every term right here on campus. I’d like to encourage more Portland State graphic designers—the critical thinkers, problem-solvers, innovators, and makers—to participate in these opportunities to make a difference. I truly believe that our future as professionals and humans increasingly revolves around solving our problems, from local to global, through the lens of sustainability.
Chris North is senior adjunct faculty of graphic design in the School of Fine and Performing Arts and assigned this project as part of her ART 471 curriculum titled Waste Not. Jake Trudell is a senior graphic design student with a minor in advertising management.