is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
It’s been a long time since I’ve worked in print, so I don’t often think about the wonderful world of paper. As a print designer working in a design studio, you tend to think a lot about the stuff; what paper to run a job on, what it costs, who stocks it, where it comes from, etc. To be honest, it bored the living heck out of me; there were few things that I found more tiresome than rifling through an endless and disorderly stack of paper samples, each one obtusely named in a vain attempt to differentiate white from, um, really white.
I almost never think about paper companies, either. Until I got heavily involved with AIGA again, I had almost forgotten about their enormous influence in the design community. And their deep, deep pockets. In spite of the portents of doom for printed matter, paper companies continue to spend freely to promote their wares, or at least that’s my outsider’s impression.
Don’t Worry, Chopping Down These Trees Is Environmentally Friendly
Which made this paper promotion that I received in the mail today seem all the more absurd. It’s from the “integrated forest products” company StoraEnso, and it features three really beautifully designed posters by Marian Bantjes, Christoph Niemann and Paula Scher, all impeccably ‘curated’ by Bill Drenttell and Jessica Helfand at Winterhouse. The ostensible subject of the promotion is the concept of sustainability in paper goods — all three posters are in fact illustrations of the word ‘sustainability’ — but its real purpose is to explain to its audience why this particular company’s paper goods are environmentally responsible.
I recognize StoraEnso’s right as a company to try and reassure customers that they’re thinking about green matters; in fact, I applaud the sentiment. But I find the whole promotion a little off-putting. There’s something ironic — and perhaps, not altogether serious — about going through the expense and waste of printing a promotion in order to get the word out on this particular subject. I’m not altogether unsympathetic to the paper industry here, either; they’re in a position where the responsible message would be to discourage using their products, which is not exactly a sensical business proposition. Still, I feel like it would have been a damn sight greener and more sustainable if they’d just sent me an email instead.
Mail Order Pride
On a related note, here’s my favorite way of doing my little part to improve our environmental situation: for the past year or so, I’ve been faithfully canceling the multitude of useless, wasteful mail order catalogs that get sent to me.
I had never really thought that there was something one could do about receiving all this paper waste in the mail every week. But a friend advised me that the toll-free numbers that most mail order companies provide in their catalogs also happen to be hotlines to operators who will help you cancel your subscriptions immediately. Just dial the number, politely ask to be removed from the mailing list and when asked give the operator the customer code printed near the mailing label (usually on the back page) and the catalogs will stop coming. It’s immensely satisfying, especially when, in a month or two, you start to see a dramatic decrease in junk mail arriving in your postal box.
They should have printed that advice on a poster, really.+