2°C – PearsonLloyd


21 September 2015

Could design play a constructive role in the climate change debate?

This was the question that Disegno posed for 2°C, a new project that spreads across our latest magazine Disegno No.9 and into a corresponding exhibition at The Aram Gallery in London.

For 2°C, Disegno set 10 leading designers and architects a challenge: could they redesign the public communication of climate change? The intention was not to provide finished public campaigns or definite answers, but rather to provocate and probe. How might a change in the way we conceive of and talk about climate change affect the climate change movement itself?

In a series of printed proposals in the magazine and objects displayed in the exhibition, the contributing designers – Marjan van Aubel, Sam Baron, Maria Blaisse, Ilona Gaynor, Ross Lovegrove, Neri & Hu, Parsons & Charlesworth, PearsonLloyd, Universal Design Studio and Dominic Wilcox – responded in hugely diverse ways.

Below, we are delighted to highlight industrial design studio PearsonLloyd's contribution, through an interview with studio co-founder Luke Pearson. PearsonLloyd adopted architect Mies van der Rohe’s dictum of “less is more” for a campaign focused on rehabilitating public perception of the concept of “less”. The studio proposes that climate change has been largely prompted by an economic system and widespread cultural mindset that are obsessed with growth and acquisition at all costs. PearsonLloyd’s message is designed to promote a better, richer way of life aimed at less acquisition, less waste and less expenditure of energy. By engaging and challenging people to live this simple principle, PearsonLloyd believes that we can protect our lives, humanity and life on earth.

Can you explain the thinking behind your contribution to 2°C?

It was a fantastic challenge, because for us it’s really the big question: how do we operate in our industry? How do we operate in our industry when effectively everything we do is about consumption and, as a result of that, the use of energy. Climate change is not primarily driven by pollutants. It’s primarily to do with carbon and the burning of fossil fuels, and obviously lots of things we do effect the consumption of those fossil fuels. If we drive somewhere when we could cycle, that’s a huge input; if we buy a new car, that’s a huge input. All the processes that we use, even growing food, use fossil fuels. From a designer’s perspective, we’re caught up in this rat race of consumption being good: let’s buy the next shirt from Zara, let’s buy the new car from Volkswagen, let’s buy four pairs of Nike shoes. We’ve all gotten used to the idea of having things very cheap, which cumulatively promotes consumption. And cumulatively, consumption promotes climate change.

Where did you go from there?

There were a couple of key issues for us, one of which was the idea that communication needs to be local, in the sense that everybody needs to get a grip on how climate change might relate to them. The other one, which is different depending on your context, is to do with the idea of scale. An individual feels a little bit helpless when they see icebergs melting. You wonder how you can affect that. That sense of scale is removed from your everyday sense of perspective. I’ve never seen an iceberg. I can Google it, YouTube it and I’ve seen nature programmes of course, but the rate of change doesn’t actually mean anything to anybody. Who can really imagine sea levels rising? None of this feels tangible.

So how do you try to change that?

We felt that approaching the issue from a major catastrophe, doom and gloom perspective was too difficult. Everybody is trying to promote major fear. Our feeling was that we’ve got to produce less, and we’ve got to consume less or do it less often. Ultimately there’s only one thing we’re really worried about, which is promoting and extending humanity’s life and the ecosystem on the earth. The Earth will keep spinning whether we’re here or not. That’s where the “more” in our proposal comes from. The Mies quote “Less is more” arrived out of an analytic approach. We want to promote less consumption, less production, less energy. Why do we want to do that: because we want more life. Quality of life isn’t, we feel, promoted by wealth, but by a sense of understanding and a sense of harmony. It’s not new thinking. In fact, it’s very old thinking that we seem to have forgotten. So many past cultures seem to have understood this sense of balance and the idea of not taking more than you need, but globally we seem to have forgotten that.

What do you mean?

Everything all about growth. We have an economic system that doesn’t understand the idea of stagnation or the idea of contraction, and which only seems to work if it’s about expansion. When we wrote out all this stuff, we felt it came down to less energy, less consumption. Conserve energy, conserve resources and conserve life. Suddenly this phrase “Less is more” popped up. It was about trying to promote real activity from an individual standpoint right up to a global attitude. So when we were working on the graphics, the “minus equals plus” was a very nice result. Can we make words out of symbols? Obviously if you showed someone a minus sign they’d think negatively, but we’re saying actually it’s positive.

How do you envisage that affecting people’s behaviour?

We want to give people a sense that they have an opportunity to make changes. Of course, we won’t all be able to make the same changes and we don’t have to. But if all of us can decide to make some changes, then that results in positive action and it becomes a positive dialogue. In our design work we’re quite reductive, so always think about how we can take things away to try and get to the heart of the matter and the root of it. On one level we were trying to use our design process to think about the project. The “Less is more” quote has been taken out of context many times. People think of minimalism, but it’s more than that. It’s about getting to the root of the idea, purity, getting to the core values in something.