As a designer one of the biggest challenges is the need to consider everything. To consider every possible situation where our work will end up, be seen and be interacted with. Designers don’t just get to play the role of a designer, but also of a consumer, and we must do our best to put ourselves in the shoes of the people who our work is broadcasted to. Designers are problem solvers, anticipating each step of the process for the work we create in order to produce the best possible product. We want something that makes the client happy, but also something that we can be proud of. Something that I think falls by the wayside is material, for many reasons whether it be cost, timeline, or simply access.

Can we be proud of the papers and materials that our work is printed on, or the packaging materials for the brands we build?

I have recently been inspired by two companies:

Mohawk Paper released a line of sustainably made papers on Earth Day 2020 called Renewal. Mohawk dove into three renewable fibers (Hemp, Straw, and Recycled Cotton) to create their Renewal line which offers designers like me more options for a printing materials that have beautiful textures and vibrant color, but also that I can feel good about, knowing that it’s a responsible alternative to the norm. While the Renewal line may not be the answer for everything or the best fit for every project and client, I see it as a step in the right direction and a great opportunity for designers to incorporate something new into our process.

A new company called Sway is also breaking ground in the design and environmental communities. I am especially inspired by what Sway is doing to “make seaweed-based packaging that replenishes the social and ecological systems harmed by petroleum plastics.” Their CEO & Co-Founder, Julia Marsh, is a designer by trade who was at odds with the materials she was using and their relationship to the environment. She embraced the problem-solving role that we designers play, taking important steps to better the process of creating sustainable and responsible (and, of course, printable!) packaging materials and is working hard at Sway to bring other designers and consumers better options than single use plastics.

It’s this type of innovation from Mohawk and from Sway that encourages me as a designer to do more research on using responsible materials in my work, and to see other designers do the same would be an amazing step forward for our planet. When we ask ourselves the important design questions regarding who sees our work and how they interact with it, shouldn’t we also be asking how our materials interact with our audience, as well as our environment?

Mohawk has begun hosting Materials Matter events which illustrate the importance of considering your materials in the design process, and in one of their webinars, Julia Marsh is featured speaking about Sway and their mission, as well as some other great companies making strides with responsible materials. It’s a great watch, check it out.