A New Econography Era

  • Rob Bartlett

Geographically, gender and carbon-neutral icons, designed to inspire small behavioural changes simply through their use.

Back in April, I launched a new website designed to be as light on the Planet as possible. It proved (I hope) how achievable it is to slash our CO2 emissions and function as ecologically-minded designers. I am proud that it’s also inspired other creatives to make seismic changes to the way they in which they create. All of this is great! But we can do more than becoming carbon-neutral suppliers. I am interested in how Design can shift people’s thinking. And for me specifically, how tiny little icons can become part of something far larger. In October, I started work on what I believe to be the World’s first Econography set. A suite of crafted icons designed to inspire small behavioural changes, simply through their daily use. I’ve called the set CARBON and there are three types of ‘Eco’ I’ve focused on: Ecological There are certain basic functions we have come to expect from the digital interfaces we use. For example, the functionality to Print, Save and Delete. Of course, they all have an ecological cost. Something as end-users, we rarely take the time to acknowledge. But it got me thinking. What if the consequences of our actions were made more apparent? Never in a finger-waggy or distracting manner. But more in an ambient, day-to-day sort of way. For example, my Save icon has the label space to display a live carbon dioxide count*. Actively encouraging us to keep our file sizes down. My Print icon features the symbol of a tree. Nothing obstructive, just a tiny reminder of the resources being consumed. My Trash can champions recycling over landfill. Although technically, this is more of an endorsement of our offline choices. Ecosystemic I have always seen iconography as part of a broader visual system. The same communications system that we encounter in our transport networks, medical facilities and working environments. A pictographic language so omnipresent and familiar, it almost exists out of sight. Like all systems, however, checks must regularly be made to ensure that the things being represented remain relevant. Because in truth, everything dates. Ideas, behaviours and beliefs etc. To my mind, there are countless such symbols long overdue an update. The pinched-in waist and flared skirt being an obvious one for Women’s W.Cs I have spent a lot of time over the years persuading brands to think more inclusively about the shapes being created. Not always easy. However, designing these icons from scratch has allowed me to do exactly that. To examine every metaphor under my gender and geographically neutral lens. My hope is that over time, this rigour will filter back out into the wider world. And who knows, even inspire other pictographic designers to challenge the shapes they create? Personally, I see it as a moral obligation to try and shift biases via Design. Economic Iconography is a powerhouse of visual communication. But as with every Design discipline, knowledge and competence are key. The truth is, icon design requires a particular type of designer. Someone with a talent for taking things away. And an obsession for detail at the tiniest sizes. These icons represent twelve years spent designing icons for the World’s biggest brands. That’s well over 50,000 icons created to date. Not to mention the weeks in user-testing sessions, and the months spent crafting styles. But, without getting all misty-eyed and emotional, these icons are my best yet. They represent everything I am trying to achieve with Design. Socially progressive, representative, ecologically and ethically sensitive creative, which just so happens to be stunningly beautiful too.
It is often said, that the only successful icons are the ones that nobody sees. And to a certain extent, I agree. My counter-argument however, is that the best icons belong to the brands obsessed with progress. So, I see my efforts as shortcuts and a way of avoiding mistakes. You can enhance your interface with my expertise, by downloading CARBON for yourself: www.rob bartlett.design/iconpacks Or there’s my more universal, outlined-style called, NEUTRAL. Also available at the same place. Here’s to doing some #GoodWithDesign. *Please note, my icon sets do not include the functionality to dynamically count carbon dioxide. The visual above is merely intended to illustrate a concept.