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Why Graphic Design Is Vital To Saving Our Planet

By Rachel Cifarelli, Creative Content Producer

When you think about climate change, what comes to mind? Maybe pictures of a polar bear stranded on an ice cap, or the earth either melting or literally on fire. These images are overused, overworked, and cliché, yes, but they’re trying to get you to care about climate change. The biggest threat to humanity right now is the warming of our planet; it’s been an issue in our world for years now, and we’re feeling the effects of it today. But what is climate change, and why is it so hard to effectively communicate about it?

These polar bears are stranded – a classic image when it comes to climate change

What are the issues at play here?

You’ve probably heard of the greenhouse effect. Greenhouse gases, such as water vapor, methane, and carbon dioxide, live in our atmosphere and act as a sponge for the sun’s light rays that hit earth: some light is reflected back into space to keep the earth cool, but some light gets absorbed by the greenhouse gases and warms our planet. Now, the greenhouse effect is a natural occurrence. Without it, our earth would be substantially colder and humans would be unable to inhabit it. However, the problem comes when humans emit extreme amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, more than the planet can sustainably work with.1 These crazy amounts of human-made greenhouse gas emissions spill into our atmosphere from sectors such as factory farming, transportation, and fast fashion, to name a few. That’s the overarching issue here, but part of the problem is that people don’t know or don’t care about it. So how do you raise awareness to get people to care? That, dear reader, is where graphic design comes into play.

The Power of Graphic Design

Graphic design is all around you. Are you sitting in a coffee shop? Look around at the art on the walls and the words on the menus. Are you walking through downtown or campus? You’re bound to see logos, posters, and flyers that are meant to grab your attention. Are you reading a book or magazine? Graphic design makes the information on the page legible and easy to understand. 

Design makes you feel a certain way and reminds you of what you saw. The curve of certain letters, the colors used throughout a piece, the layout of the information. All of it is meant to draw you in, pull you through a story or emotion, and leave you with some kind of feeling that makes you remember and want to take action. It paints a picture for you in more ways than you realize, and when it comes to climate change, that’s more important than ever before.

The Duty of Designers In Saving Our Planet

It’s going to take bright minds in the design industry to help people visualize what’s happening to the globe. For example, take a look at the National Climate Assessment that documents climate change and the impacts it’s had on the United States. A smooth interface, sophisticated graphics of data, and clear key messaging make this assessment readable and understandable to a regular person.2 It visualizes the problem we’re facing and the livelihood that’s at stake.

Clear graphics and writing make this National Climate Assessment easy to understand.

Think about other ways graphic design might help you become more aware. What about a smartly-designed book or podcast cover, one that catches your eye and makes you wonder, What’s that about? Or an infographic that arranges all of its information in just the right way to help you realize that, wow, more wildlands are being burned and deforested now more than ever before and something needs to be done about it. Or perhaps it’s the email you just got from the Sierra Club or the Nature Conservancy that has awesome graphics and a layout that really draws your eye down the page, making you want to know more. That is where designers can strut their stuff.

A Call To Action For Today’s Creatives

A quote from Ellen McMahon, graphic design professor at The University of Arizona and a leader in climate change research, explained it this way: “We need to shift how we educate designers so they don’t think of themselves as artists for hire but as informed and empowered creative forces working for the greater good.”3 Designers are vital for helping raise awareness of and educate the public on the climate crisis. Because it is a crisis, and we are living through the repercussions of global warming right now. I may not have the skills in science and research to pull together data or develop large strides in renewable energy. But if I – and other creatives like me – can harness my knowledge of design to present the data in a way where people can understand it, or create a campaign that generates buy-in for renewable energy, then that’s where I’m going to help. I want to create a better world tomorrow, but there needs to be more empowerment in the design field to help creatives realize their role in saving our planet.

My example of how powerful design might entice audiences to learn and do more for our environment.


1 What is climate change? A really simple guide. (2020, May 05). Retrieved September 24, 2020, from

2  US Global Change Research Program. (2014). National Climate Assessment. Retrieved September 22, 2020, from

3 McMahon, E. (2014, June 20). Designers Can Help Save the Planet. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from

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