Discourse & Reflection Blog

Seed Life

Awareness for creative sustainability.

Kanjuro Shibata, Japanese calligraphy artist

Audrey Yoshiko Seo, author of 'Enso: Zen Circles of Enlightenment'

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1590306082?ie=UTF8&tag=garrreynoldsc 20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=1590306082

Enso Art, Japan: Zen circles of enlightenment which may be described as mandalas are a direct expression of the ineffable; art and spirituality as one. Transcending technique, the arts integrated into a culture of zen became a tool to communicate the truth and enabled the individual to better understand a nature of reality.

April 2014


by Delphine Saira Gomez

Life is by design, design makes the world go round and the cosmos at large is one great spectacular design; we live by design in our everyday lives through developments in culture, art, technology, science, medicine, innovations as well as spiritual development and healing through Zen principles, yoga, Reki, Enso Art. Contrary to the ‘world of stuff’ as DH Pink echoes Victor Papanek, the root of design is learning to bring disparate things together to a solution, which improves our way of life. We are all designers to a certain degree from the simple task of organising our desk to planning our day to changing the world. The question therefore is not whether design can effect change rather how do we redesign our lives for creative sustainability, which will require us to transform our attitude and behaviour, both individually and collectively.

The challenge lies in creating real sustainability for a flourishing and thriving world. With this end in mind we can begin to redefine sustainability as an objective to achieve the goal. As designers we can never solve the complexities of problems people face, which affect the world at large. However we can be a source of inspiration provided that our ‘cultural’ objectives are aligned with the right goal. Redefining the role of design as a creative ‘vehicle’ (process/tool/model), rather than a creative solution has helped me shift my focus from ‘solving problems’ to ‘creating inspiration’. For example, providing sustainable products we continue to feed consumerism. However design, which makes a deep impression and effects empowerment for change, is creative inspiration. In context to creating sustainability, effective design equals effective results, which help individuals develop ‘specialised skills’ for real solutions. Ezio Manzini, Italian Design strategist has observed the notion of ‘capabilities’ by Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winning economist, “It’s the idea of empowering the capabilities of people. In some way when you design, you search for problems to solve. If you take the capability approach, you search for capabilities to support.”

Infographics Report 2013


Infographics illustrate a comparative study which features the positive and negative impacts between sustainable and non-sustainable practices. A creative stance helps to get scientific data and a message across effectively with color codes and diagrams.

April 2014


by Delphine Saira Gomez

'Biodiversity has declined globally by around 30 percent between 1970 and 2008 and by 60% in the tropics. Demand for natural resources has doubled since 1966 and we are currently using the equivalent of 1.5 planets to support our planet.'  WWF Report 2012.

Design in context to sustainability described as ‘broadening of scope in theory and practice', follows a transition in a series of waves from green to eco to sustainable as designers gain environmental awareness, knowledge and efficiency for viable solutions indicating a shift from products to strategic design of systems. According to research the first wave led to the emergence of environmental action groups as a result of a growing awareness of environmental problems. The second wave followed a rise in consumer demand for eco-friendly products due to the environmental crises. The third wave reflects the increasing awareness and realisation that our actions so far are insufficient to ‘halt the impending crises of global warming and climate change’. Despite a milestone of events marking a turning point towards greater sustainable development such as the Energy crisis 1973 and 1979, Agenda 21, Kyoto Protocol in 1997, Second World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002, etc and although the Kyoto report has helped define issues to address such as ‘quality of life, efficient use of natural resources, protecting the global commons, managing human settlements, the use of chemicals and the management of human and industrial waste, and fostering sustainable economic growth on a global scale’, current ‘sustainable’ practices are not creating effective results as impoverishment of people and declining ecosystems continue. Therefore designers should aim to downscale consumption models and to ‘change popular aesthetics’ to support sustainable social agendas.

Reference: Pro-Quest, Knight, Alison (2009) Hidden Histories: the Story of Sustainable Design

Available at http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/design/review2.php  [Assessed: December-April 2014]

April 2014


by Delphine Saira Gomez

Historically most of eastern art in China and Japan for example drew inspiration and aesthetic values from spiritual philosophies of Taoism and Zen(5). As author, poet D.T. Suzuki wrote in his book ‘Zen and Japanese Culture’, “understand it right away without deliberation, without turning your head this way or that.”  Some of these ancient principles are still considered and implemented in contemporary design aesthetics. Like all great philosophers and enlightened beings, great artists and designers are able to express through observation and symbolic interpretation the intimate connection between humanity and its dependency upon nature for survival(2). Ideally, the work should become an extension of this knowledge from which people may draw inspiration and understanding. Design consciousness, the Tao of design or way of design according to ancient designer and philosopher Lao Tzu is about growing consciously aware of the world and the ‘art of living’ sustainably. Educator, philosopher, designer, social and environmental activist Victor Papanek states that the root of design is simply “the conscious and intuitive effort to impose meaningful order.”

Design, which goes beyond the act of producing and consumerism, and instead enacts change, is reactive to social-environmental issues such as environmental disasters, green space, social wellbeing, with projects that use design as a method and force to transform and strengthen communities(6). The question is how. An imbalance between high performance and value-driven design issues may be resolved and redressed using contemporary proactive models which are holistic and specifically designed for human (and indirectly non-human) development(3). Works such as Mark De Kay may be explored as his ideas for ‘Integral Sustainable Design: Transformative Perspectives’ incorporates integral thinking and theories for practice.


1.Academia.edu, 'Good Graphic Design'

Available at: https://www.academia.edu/4859201/Will_Designers_Save_The_World_Advantages_and_Limits_of_Sustainable_Design

2.Design Consciousness, 'Oullim and the Tao of Design'  Available at: http://designconsciousness.blogspot.com/2012/02/this-paper-was-presented-in-october.html

3. DeKay, Mark (2011) Sustainable Design: Transformative Perspectives, United Kingdom: Earthscan.

Available at: http://books.google.com.my/books

4. Dougherty, Brian (2008) Green Graphic Design, New York: Allworth Press.

5. Minick,Scott, Ping, Jiao (2010) 'Chinese Graphic Design: In the 20th century', London: Thames & Hudson

6. Mutual Art, 'Art for Change'  Available at: http://www.mutualart.com/OpenArticle/Art-For-Change--The-World-Needs-a-Blade-

April 2014



by Delphine Saira Gomez

How has ‘Democratisation of design’(4. 2006p74) and discernment increased the influence and power of design to shift the status quo toward sustainable solutions? Are people better attuned to differentiating ineffable qualities of design with positive or negative impacts to human development and the environment?

Appropriate design fosters better research, planning, use of elements and performance with positive impact in a social, cultural, environmental and economic context. Design that is interdisciplinary, collaborative and integrative is more likely to succeed in promoting sustainability; implemented through an understanding of the interaction between diverse elements to its environment, which are based on sustainable principles, and holistic tools. With holistic principles and practical integral theories already in place, opportunities to change the status quo are taking place(2).

According to designers making headway in sustainable design such as Brian Dougherty, the positive influence of graphic design is increasing for example design consultancies, Stone Yamashita Partners and Bruce Mao Design has expanded this industry from production issues to corporate management and strategies. Designers have created and continue to refine communication tools for sustainability. An assessment tool currently used for the creative industries known as ‘After These Messages’ involves a process for positive social and environmental impact; a tool used to develop a multidimensional or ‘integral lens’ to gain boarder social context. Creative sustainability by design that is gaining public support and effective results are as follows:

Social(3): Sustainability initiatives may be gained through a design process, which involves direct participation and collaboration of investors to better understand their own issues as well as others. According to research studies, Designers have the potential to act as tran-disciplinary integrators and facilitators (Wahl & Baxter, 2008). They are trained to facilitate collaboration between stakeholders and to be creative and could use these capabilities to achieve more than just incremental results created by traditional eco-design strategies (Sherwin, 2004). For so long design which has been part of the problem is now part of the solution through programs and corporate responsibility strategies, with a social aspect that grows out of shared ideas, community and place.

Cultural: Interdependence and direct impact that humans have on the condition of the environment and vice versa require principled and value-driven policies in place. Designers may shape and influence this inextricable relationship each time a project is designed and constructed. For example in a socio-environmental context design creates positive social impact by improving lives through social innovation. Leading sustainable design and innovation consultant, Chris Sherwin sites various examples, which are making real changes from sustainable products to organisational levels of design. The Water-cone project for the poor created a simple process of purifying drinking water within a day. IDEO is a non-profit design consultancy for various NGO’s, social businesses and foundations. Frog Design created a ‘Free Design toolkit’ for countless organisations where case studies account for the success rate of design for proactive and positive social impact. For example ‘Girl Power by Nike has improved community living of impoverished women in local communities of Africa through prototypes designed to build global network through limited mobile technologies.

Economic: In addition to direct cost savings, sustainability can provide indirect economic benefits to society. Sustainable design principles for more healthy, efficient and sustainable living can promote better health, comfort, wellbeing, and productivity which can reduce levels of absenteeism and increase productivity. Studies show that creative sustainable development may offer society as a whole economic benefits such as reduced costs from air pollution damage and lower infrastructure costs, for avoided landfills, wastewater treatment plants, power plants, and transmission/distribution lines. Case studies** demonstrate how innovative technologies reduce emissions and waste, save energy and are economically viable.


** (Please refer to Case Studies section: Case Study 2)

Environmental: Several sustainable design principles reduce waste, which in turn reduces the strain on landfills. In addition, using recycled materials encourages development of new industries that produce recycled products, further reducing waste disposal needs and the use of natural materials.


*** (Please refer to Case Studies section: Case Study 3)

Political: Design, beyond urban development is instead, an integral part of the motives driving that development. Design commissions and planning processes motivated through political pressure and political will have profound influence ensuring environmental protection, formation and development of policies and institutions with equity, efficiency and effectiveness.

Infrastructure, industry and policies: Design leads the way by example, which involves a process of collective and collaborative effort for research and implementation. In Communications Design for example designers tailor messages, which are personalised to audience interests. Design goes beyond ‘by’ and ‘for’ to ‘communicating ‘with’ audiences for the best possible outcome for response and effectiveness as the subject matter no longer lies in isolation, rather in context of a larger whole of interrelated systems. According to sustainable practitioners, collecting data, auditing actual performance, audience feedback and support are some of the important criteria for effective ecological design through to industry design collaborations like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. According to Chris Sherwin, thousands of designers are voluntarily signing the Designers Accord sustainability principles, “to celebrity designers like Philippe Starck, Wayne Hemingway and Yves Behar pinning their colours to the sustainability mast.”

Design consultancies like SDS created a toolkit to promote social co-responsibility called the Sustainability Innovation Lab aimed at improving regional and urban planning. SDS is involved in various projects funded by the European Commission and collaborations supported by UNEP, UN DESA, WWF One Planet Mobility program and currently working on programs for Agenda 21. They are also consultants for industries such as Lyonnaise des Eaux (new water services); Castorama (co-design with users); EDF Electricité de France (PSS energy saving). Case studies show SDS ‘s involvement in a wide array of sustainable practices and innovations. Social and ecological transformation for example involved collaborative effort to support the TESR process of public action for sustainable development in the region for the Nord Pas-de-Calais Region in the north of France. The annual ‘discursive and reflective’ forum that SDS helped organise was an opportunity for over 400 stakeholders focused on 9 ‘development operations’ of critical ecological and social issues such as energy, water, food, forestry, lodging, health, learning and culture. SDS created a short and simple animation film to communicate the conceptual background and methodological processes on which the TESR is based. 


Comparatively, McDonough’s Master Plan for the Huangbaiyo village was a failed model for ‘cradle to cradle’ innovations. According to reports, Huangbaiyo was too ambitious a project. Why did this project fail? Was it due to poor design, lack of integral principles or a cohesive tool? Or as anthropologist Shannon May says,

“Conflicts of interest, desire for rapid scale, personal aggrandizement, a persistently global perspective, technical inexperience, faulty materials, lack of oversight, and poor communication, amongst other things, ensured that the promise of a model ecological development in Huangbaiyu never came to pass.”

In the case of mobility issues for Sustainable Penang(5), Malaysia, transforming transport from old to a ‘new mobility agenda’ involves an exchange of perspectives and ideas through discursive public and private forums for strategic designs, which targets specific groups as well as improves transport. Although key ideas have been discussed, good ideas will fizzle out due to poor planning, lack of collaboration and integral systems in place.

Healthcare(1): Traditionally design achieved a pathway to wholeness and sustainability with the use of ancient symbols such as Mandala’s used in ‘Art therapy’ and ‘Walking the labyrinth’ as a spiritual experience. Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung who believed that spiritual experience was essential to our well-being, used mandalas he referred to as an ‘archetype of wholeness’ for healing, central both to his personal development and to his work with his psychiatric patients. In the mandala, opposites are united, a sense of wholeness is achieved, and the result is aesthetic harmony. Jung was able to link or trace a progression between psychological recovery and the creation of mandalas as part of a healing process. Similarly, a Labyrinth described as a tool for walking meditation induces a centered and calm state of being.


1. Carl Jung Depth Psychology: Carl Jung, Cover of Time Magazine in 1955

Available at: http://carljungdepthpsychology.blogspot.com/2012/02/carl-jung-cover-of-time-magazine-in.html#.UjfKfhaire4 [Assessed: October 2013] 

2. Dougherty, Brian (2008) Green Graphic Design, New York: Allworth Press.

3. Martilla, Tatu (2011) 'Dematerialisation by Design: Sustainability in the consumer society'

Available at: https://www.academia.edu/1019095/Dematerialization_by_Design_-_Sustainability_in_the_consumer_society

4. Pink, Daniel H (2005, 2006) A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future, New York: Riverhead Books.

5. Sustainable Penang: Toward a New Mobility Agenda 

Available at: https://sustainablepenang.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/transforming-transport-the-earlier-the-better/#more-625

Port Dickson Beach in Malaysia, 2014 Photograph by Delphine Saira Gomez © 2014

According to studies the deterioration of coastal water quality is due to an increase in pollution from waste matter, oil and grease contamination. The destruction of our natural surroundings is evident from indiscreet dumping of rubbish, lack of civic consciousnes, poor education and strict monitoring and enforcement.

April 2014


by Delphine Saira Gomez

Studies show that sustainability needs redefinition as current sustainable development and design practices are producing negative results as WWF 2012 reports that the Living Planet Index shows continued decline in biodiversity health since 1970. How can designers fully grasp a difficult concept such as Sustainability and apply this to practice? Sustainable design practitioner, Chris Sherwin who questions what a creative toolbox for social good would look like states that design which shapes and orders our world also determines our impact on it. Sherwin observes that although design has advanced progressive development in some areas, human and financial resources must increase for further sustainable design research and development. In context of creative sustainability, scholar Tatu Martilla makes a critical point by saying that the most important challenge for a designer today is to shift the status quo from a consumerist society to that of sustainable and social wellbeing in harmony with nature. He questions the effectiveness of design strategies, as positive results have not been determined as yet. As real sustainable is still in its infancy can sustainability by design for example, reduce ‘production industries ecological impact’, enhance social capabilities, and create economic stability and growth? Clive Dilnot believes that our current global capitalist system, the driving force of consumerism needs to be dramatically reversed in order for sustainability to even begin. Barbara Predan on the other hand has highlighted prominent and highly influential contributors to design and architecture such as John Ruskin of the 19th century and Adolf Loos of the 20th century. As designer and television presenter Kevin McCloud points out, “So we are the problem, we are the patient and the victim, we are the potential solution.” Design expert Brian Dougherty states that roadblocks disappear when designers are able to collaborate with clients and change the context from cost to value. John Ehrenfeld proposes that ‘Industrial ecology’ is the answer consisting of guiding principles for sustainable living. A contemporised version of Lao Tzu’s ancient philosophy, ‘The Tao of Design’, Ehrenfeld describes Industrial Ecology as, “Principles derived from ecosystem properties and dynamics might be sustainable in the same sense that ecosystems are. Almost all materials in an ecosystem are recycled within the system; there is little waste. This recycling is possible because of the relationships between the organisms within the ecosystem; they live almost entirely in a symbiotic relationship.”


1.Martilla, Tatu (2011) 'Dematerialisation by Design: Sustainability in the consumer society'

Available at: https://www.academia.edu/1019095/Dematerialization_by_Design_-_Sustainability_in_the_consumer_society

2. 'Validation of the Interococci indicator for bacteriological quality of beaches in Malaysia,

Available at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1186%2F2193-1801-2-425

April 2014


by Delphine Saira Gomez

Ideally, the core purpose of sustainable design is transformation into an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and flourishing environment that improves the quality of life for all living species. In this context rethinking design is crucial to promote health, wellbeing, and other positive experiences such as engagement with place, work effectiveness, and sense of community. As early as 1972 In his book, Design for the Real World, Victor Papanek defines design as “the conscious and intuitive effort to impose meaningful order.” Design is gradually evolving from the ‘world of stuff’ as designers create, connect and communicate with positive impact on the world. At a whole new level design has the power to influence substantial value and inspire eco-innovation change which promotes positive human experience and outcomes.

The biggest challenge designers face today is a whole-minded approach to support and promote capabilities for environmental, cultural, social and economic well being, when applied correctly becomes a creative and a powerful force for positive change. Are there methods or tools to facilitate this process and bring us up to speed? Although research shows there are specific tools in place, studies have yet to reveal their effectiveness in producing the required results for creative sustainability. Design in context to sustainability is especially relevant in our world today but how do we effect real change for creative sustainability? The enquiry will explore how sustainability existed historically, is contemporary in my respective culture, and understood in the discipline of design practice. The aim is to examine a cohesive tool. Not exclusive to design practice, the proposed method that highlights a universal symbol for wholeness and the metaphorical journey of life, may very well be the most integrative tool for creative sustainability yet to be fully explored. This paper discourses and reflects on design as a vehicle for promoting positive human experience and sustainable outcomes.

The research explores design in context to ‘creating’ as opposed to ‘for’ sustainability and the scope of design expanding as an open-source for people to live, create and innovate sustainably. The intention is not to create solutions, rather to inspire and support, as real solutions lie with individuals who face a complexity of problems, which designers will never fully understand or solve. How do we engineer a process, which guides the user to create sustainably? What principles should be in place? The work proposes to:

• Re-define both the role of design, designer and create a ‘plan of action’ which seeks to expand the scope of design from its visual context to a potent force for creative sustainability.

• Question and study the role of design in terms of ‘design thinking’ and proceeds to illustrate how an integration of various elements becomes a cohesive design toolkit or proposed method for human development and sustainability.

• Describes each of these elements in philosophy, theory, a learning process and tool, and proceeds to incorporate key principles in the proposed method.

• Reflect on a process which guides the user to first establish goals and translate principles into action to achieve those goals.

• Discuss the scope of the work which may expand as an application or strategy for any purpose.

The Vetruvian Man by Learnado Da Vinci, 1490

The Vetruvian Man is a visual concept and diagram based on the ideas and theories of architect, Vitruvius. This drawing also signifies a complete balance between art and science of the Rennaissance.


June 2014


by Delphine Saira Gomez

Concerning a project for the discourse and reflection masters program, I would like to make clear what I meant by things like spirituality.

I was thinking about it a little more and one other way to explain it is that just like the Vetruvian Man, creation consists of 3 main dimensions- the earth, the universe, and the larger whole. Earth may be seen as the heart of the universe, the epicenter. As we are still in the process of ‘cooling down’, tectonic plate shifts, continental drift etc, according to reports may signify that the earths crust is shifting in a completely new direction. Almost like turning the Vetruvian man from bottom to upside.

The question is could it possibly mean than ‘man’ too is moving away from darkness to light?.. Enlightenment so to speak towards a new era. As designer, Matt Chase aptly puts it ‘The 9th Bus to Utopia’?

With reference to Carl Jung, Jung’s work on himself and his patients convinced him that life has a spiritual purpose beyond material goals. Our main task, he believed, is to discover and fulfill our deep innate potential. Based on his study of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Gnosticism, Taoism, and other traditions, Jung believed that this journey of transformation, which he called individuation, is at the mystical heart of all religions. It is a journey to meet the self and at the same time to meet the Divine. Unlike Sigmund Freud’s objectivist worldview, Jung’s pantheism may have led him to believe that spiritual experience was essential to our well-being, as he specifically identifies individual human life with the universe as a whole. Jung’s ideas on religion gave a counterbalance to the Freudian scepticism on religion. Jung’s idea of religion as a practical road to individuation has been quite popular, and is still treated in modern textbooks on the psychology of religion, though his ideas have also been criticized.

The mandala is an unconscious state in which all opposites come together and are united, where the polar aspects of the cosmos and the individual can become one. This union of opposites is the very process by which we achieve wholeness, and through which we find peace.

'Analytical psychology (or Jungian psychology) is a school of psychology that originated in the ideas of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Analytical psychology is fundamentally distinct from the psychoanalytic school of Sigmund Freud. Its aim is a meaningful life with particular focus on personality development during the second half of life and substantive contributions to society. This is achieved via a continuous cyclical process of self-awareness, transformation, and self-actualization. These are products of constructive re-conceptualization of conscious and unconscious conflicts in an individual’s life. The effort of examining the two opposing views yields a new view, new understanding, and a new helpful attitude. These new attitudes empower the individual for self-care; in turn, self-care enables an individual to contribute to a healthy society and also live a meaningful life. Jung travelled extensively and believed a theory must take into account the biological, cultural, and spiritual aspects of human identity. He also believed psychic self-care was essential to the well-being of humankind. Jung’s theory has served as the basis for new strands in psychology, including depth psychology and archetypal psychology, and has been advanced by his students, academics, and professionals who study and apply his methods.' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Jung, http://mandalazone.com/wordpress/archetype-of-wholeness-jung-and-the-mandala/

Mandala and Labyrinths, Crystalinks.com

The seven circuits of the classical Cretan Labyrinth pathway have also associated with the seven primary chakras of the body. Chakra is a Hindu word meaning ‘wheels of light.’ They are spiraling vortexes of energy that make up the energy field of our bodies. Yoga works with the chakra system as do various complimentary healing modalities.

Notice that you don’t walk these paths in order from one to eight. The sequence of the paths is 3-2-1-4 and 7-6-5-8. This is a pattern that repeats itself twice: 3-2-1-4 and then 7-6-5-8. Also, a labyrinth imprints a ‘royal groove’, a ceremonial pathway designed according to principles such as Harmonic Proportion and Alternance of Energy. For instance, the clockwise (sunwise) and counter-clockwise (moonwise) spins of the meanders map out a balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Mandala & labyrinths  crystalinks.com/labyrinths.html

I believe that some of the things which can help facilitate the process towards enlightenment are labyrinths, as a unicursal (one way in, one way out) path, a labyrinth is showing and teaching centeredness. A maze on the other hand has many confusing paths and dead-ends. Labyrinth-mandalas are ancient patterns found all over the world. As varied as their patterns, these ancient and universal symbols are still used today. Labyrinth-mandalas are described as teaching centredness, micrcosms of the universe and a metaphor for a life’s journey towards ultimate wholeness.

Tibet: Mandala- ‘house’ or ‘place’. The mandala represents a Buddha’s divine place of residence.

India: Labyrinth- symbolic pathway from death to life.

“According to Hindu lore, the universe is a sort of game, a lila that the God’s play. Therefore walking the labyrinth is following in the steps of Shiva Nataraja, the Divine transformer who is lord of the dance.” John Algeo

These symbols used as a sort of game and recreational activity reflected a mystical experience to achieving enlightenment. Founded on the universal principle that ‘All is one’ and ‘One exists in all’, it was up to the devotee to discover the truth from within oneself. A key word for such an activity is called 'RELAXATION'. As poet, WH Davies aptly recites in 'Leisure',

"What is this life full of care, that we have no time to stand and stare.."

Copyright © Delphine Saira Gomez.