The role of the designer in society is continually changing. More than ever, we’re not only localized but global problem solvers, and we try to focus our time and talents on the communities and world around us in an effort to make a change. Design has become a tool to not only disseminate information—potentially speaking beyond politics and rhetoric—but to guide and encourage mass cultural movements. It has the power to persuade and to unite towards a common goal.
Using the observations of the Designers and Forests team as a starting point, we, a group of graphic design students at the State University of New York at Fredonia, investigated the growing issues of beetle kill and aspen die-off in Utah and the Intermountain West. As outsiders, we brought a degree of objectivity to our research of the factors contributing to the deaths of entire forests and the resulting impact on both the natural and economic environment of rural Utah. We learned how inter-related every aspect of Utah’s environment is, on both a physical and cultural level, and how those relationships are key to understanding, or possibly diagnosing, the problem. Through this research, we began to realize the potential that design has to connect people of multiple backgrounds, in multiple places, and in multiple disciplines toward a common goal. We became invested in the idea that our training in design offered, in some small way, the ability to create awareness and possibly to help solve a global problem. A burned-out bulb won’t get changed unless someone tries to turn it on. Our ultimate goal was to flip that switch, to make the problem known, so that changes could eventually be made to mend Utah’s forests. On a basic level, this project was an incredible experience in team-building and communication. However, it taught us much more about societal and environmental interconnection. We hope to continue not only this particular topic of discussion and research, but also this collaborative and inclusive approach to solving a problem; whether that problem is design-related or not.
Our work was printed and displayed in an exhibition along with work from our mentors, Jason Dilworth and Margaret Urban, as well as our Swedish collaborators, during the 2014 Design March in Reykjavik, Iceland.