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Visualizing the invisible, from service design to sustainability.

Design Challenge: The Game of Sustainability

The Game of Sustainability - Design solution by Jake Zukowski, Abdullah Shaikh, and Jeff Glasser

Until the end of the year, I'll be sharing design challenges from my book Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills, which was just released by HOW Design Press. The book consists of 80 creative challenges that will help you achieve a breadth of stronger design solutions, in various media, within any set time period. Each exercise includes compelling visual solutions from other designers and background stories to help you increase your capacity to innovate. Here's the fifth one in this series, "The Game of Sustainability."

Paper or plastic? Glass or aluminum? Eat local or buy foreign? When we are asked to make these kinds of decisions, the consequences of our actions are difficult to apprehend.

Take purchasing asparagus, for instance. You may be buying locally grown asparagus that was raised using hydroponics—which consumes power and water from your local utilities and watershed. Upon maturity, those vegetables were then driven one hundred miles to your farmer’s market in a gasoline-powered truck and sold for a premium. Meanwhile, the delicious asparagus tips at your supermarket—flown to you from South America on a carbon-offset flight—were sun-grown, watered from a local river, certified organic by a third-party, and processed in a wind-powered factory equipped with a fleet of biodiesel vehicles.

From these descriptions, any person would be hard-pressed to decide which asparagus was more or less sustainable. When it comes to issues of sustainability, there are few easy choices.

Now, imagine trying to describe the complexities of sustainability to a child. How could they even begin to comprehend the impact of their actions on the world? In the following challenge, you’ll need to determine a way to help children understand the issue of sustainability.

In two hours, create a simple game that teaches young children how to think about the natural resources that they use as they go throughout their day. Consider the rules of play, whether the game would be a solo or group activity, and what design choices you would need to make in order to best engage your audience. And one last constraint: the game has to demonstrate the principles of sustainability itself—by being eaten, recycled, composted, or otherwise returned to the earth in the process of being played.

Over a lunchtime, my co-workers at frog design tried this challenge. One of the solutions, by Jake Zukowski, Abdullah Shaikh, and Jeff Glasser, was a board game with waste pinned to particular spaces. If you land on those spaces, you have to pick up the waste and dispose of it.

Want more? The first 24 pages of Creative Workshop are available free on Scribd.

David Sherwin is an interaction design director at frog. He has built his reputation as a design leader, interaction designer, and researcher with 17 years of experience in generating compelling solutions for systemic business problems. David is the author of Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills and Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers. You can follow David on Twitter @changeorder.