Can Graphic Design be a catalyst for Climate Change?


In the context of strong political changes, the importance of understanding and behaving ethically towards climate change is requiring vigorous intellectual and collective transformations. Responding to such a complex issue would require a holistic alteration in humanity (Naomi Klein, 2015). As a designer, I would like to evaluate graphic design’s efficiency in tackling the issue.

To begin with, it is essential to acknowledge graphic design’s powerful role in influencing people’s reading. By adopting a visual and verbal exaggeration, they can change the whole sense of words or images. Based on Barthes’ semiotics method (1957), they try to communicate ideas by transforming denotational meaning (what you see) into connotational implications (cited in Fine, 2016, p.12). In other words, graphic design is a subjective practice, able to control meanings and thereby to deliver messages. Harper’s (2008) illustration, for example, describes beautifully the dreadful situation of global warming in a simple metaphor.

Harper, 2008, WARMING WARNING 

Moreover, not only is graphic design’s content an influential medium, its form too can respond positively towards climate change. To reduce the amount of waste, an excellent understanding of the product’s usage and of its potential life-cycle is fundamental! Sustainable design is often related to recyclable material, but can also take other forms, such as Ryman Eco’s font (2018), which is saving 33% ink compared to standard fonts. In fact, manufacturing ink cartridges emit a significant amount of CO2 Greenhouse Gases.

Graphic design is also a powerful tool for translating neglected facts into meaningful and emotional interests. Data visualisation, in particular, has made the reading of information clearer by interpreting them into visual infographics. More specifically, as the amount of collected data is increasing every day, a visual illustration can help its understanding. Hawkins’ (2016) animated spiral, for instance, is a dynamic representation of the global temperatures change since 1850 – the pre-industrialisation. Not only is his graphic enhancing scientists’ research, it is also created to be accessible to a large audience, encouraging a global action.

global temperature .png
Hawkins, 2016, Global temperature change

However, it is worth mentioning, that graphic design has become a central component of marketing, and, more importantly, that consumption is a key trigger of climate change (Klein, 2015). In fact, graphic design’s activity has grown into a beneficial business tool supporting companies’ brand identities (Hollis, 2001,186). Advertising, in particular, has swayed people’s desires into needs and thereby fostered the process of consumption. As a result, communication design has become a dominant instrument of capitalist economies.

Moreover, due to its ephemerality, graphic design loses value over the time and therefore, is not the ideal medium to solve such a significant and long-term issue (Fine, 2016, p.5). Graphic design, in comparison to a painting, has less chance to find a place in the future. I do, however, believe that technical progress can change its longevity.

Another point worth stating is the ambiguity of the medium. Fine (2016), for example, wrote an excellent book titled ‘sustainable graphic design’, which explores the topic. Paradoxically, he has not put any effort or interest in his design choice. How can the content be valued if the form is denying its topic?

In conclusion, I would say, that graphic design, being strictly linked to consumption, will only be able to solve climate change, when a holistic shift in the system happens.



Reference list:

Fines, P. (2016) Sustainable Graphic Design. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Harper, C. (2008) Warming Warning. Available at: (Accessed: 06/02/2018).

Hawkins, E. (2016) Climate spirals. Available at: (Accessed: 03/02/2018).

Hollis, R. (2001) Graphic design: a concise history. London: Thames & Hudson.

Klein, N. (2015) ‘Introduction (excerpt)’, in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. London: Penguin.

Rambaud-Measson, C. (2018) Can Graphic Design be a catalyst for Climate Change?

Ryman Eco (no date) Behind the font. Available at: (Accessed: 03/02/2018).

WWF Singapore (2009) Tic Tac Toe Available at: (Accessed: 03/02/2018).


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