Scott Boylston’s unmute with Beyondesign

Scott Boylston has more than 25 years of teaching experience in design and sustainability. Currently, he is a professor at Savannah College of Art and Design, Georgia. In a conversation with Bhavika Shah of Beyondesign, Boylston says “sustainability is ultimately about humankind’s greatest, most innovative, and most ambitious leap”

14 Feb 2024 | By Bhavika Shah

"The 'X' factor in packaging is using materials that breathe life into the world once their primary function is complete"

Bhavika Shah (BS): A little bit about you and your journey.
Scott Boylston (SB):
I have the honour to work with 50 graduate students in the Design for Sustainability masters program at SCAD. Every day we explore how design can create a more equitable and regenerative world. While I have been a designer for over 30 years, the opportunity for what and how I design continues to be dynamic and emergent.

BS: How do you tackle a creative block?
I am constantly inspired by people around the world who embrace the abundant opportunities for us to change the way we live on this planet in aspirational ways. For those interested in regenerative design and sustainable design, there is no shortage of creative and revolutionary innovators showing how what seems impossible to accomplish is, indeed, within our reach.

BS: An experience that has changed your path
In my early 30s I broke my neck while surfing. I was in a surgical halo for about four months, and progressively smaller braces for several months after that. I am extremely fortunate to be here, and to have the use of all of my limbs. And I constantly remind myself of that. That journey helped me appreciate the value of finding a personal life and professional path that fit my vision of a life well lived, which includes a daily commitment to using my skills to make the world a better place in every way possible.

BS: Current challenges you are facing in the industry.
In teaching design for sustainability for over 15 years, we have gone from having to sell the value of sustainability to having to help companies implement a vision of sustainability that is compatible with their brand and authentically sustainable. There is a lot of work to be done.

BS: What kind of 'X' factor impact does packaging have on a brand?
The 'X' factor in packaging is using materials that breathe life into the world once their primary function is complete. Designing packaging so it can either feed the consumers’ garden (by way of compostability), or feed the emerging circular economy is the next great challenge. We have got to fit into this magnificent world better and stop choking it with one-way packaging. It is embarrassingly unimaginative and unambitious. As much as anything else, designers are material stewards: the choices we make can have continued negative ecological impacts, or can contribute to a new, holistic and regenerative world.    

BS: Will AI change the rules for the industry in 2023? Are we ready? How do we equip ourselves ?
Designers need to take it upon themselves to explore both the potential positive and negative impacts of AI. And we shouldn’t wait until clients request its use. Here is where we can apply our creativity and our ethical compass to explore what it can do and how it does it. And we cannot become so enamoured with its possibilities that we offhandedly disregard potential downsides. It’s going to upend everything we do as traditional designers is AI. Find out how you can use it to up your game so you don’t become a victim to it.

BS: Going forward, what is your strategy in promoting sustainability ? We have admired your work over the years, is sustainability sustainable ? 
To live fully in a way that generates abundance for present and future generations. We have to stop making excuses, and stop seeing the challenges as insurmountable. Imagine if designers made excuses about everything else they did. They couldn;t call themselves creative, In the end sustainability is about creatively addressing challenges in ways that are better than other approaches.That’s worth putting up with the challenges, and it will make us better in the long run.

BS: What is one message for the designers that you think is crucial for them to keep growing ?
Never assume that the limitations that others have set before you are impossible to overcome. And never assume that the way things are today are the way things were yesterday or the way they’ll be will tomorrow. When you realise that the world is always changing, you can be empowered to boldly ask what you want to be different about the world and set about enacting that change. Really, what else would you rather be doing?

BS: Do share any industry insights you have that we can highlight for you in the article or you think would make for an interesting read .
When I finished graduate school, computers were brand new to the design world. As someone who took a few computer c lasses, I was constantly told by the more seasoned designers I worked with that computers would never be a part of a ‘real’ design studio. I’ve witnessed that same thing recently weith sustainability. ‘Seasoned’ professionals might tell you it’s a nice idea but not realistic. I suggest otherwise. It is inevitable and happening much faster than you think. Equip yourself. Inform yourself.

BS: What are the most profound changes the pandemic has brought upon the design industry? Do you think some of these changes will be permanent? If yes, what would be those?
Remote co-designing has exploded since the pandemic. We used to do all of our design process on huge walls with thousands of sketches, stickies and outputs. Now that’s done on platforms like Miro. I miss the in-person commitment that emerged from the late-night camaraderie that built strong bonds of trust and personal connections. I encourage more personal interconnections with work even at the same time that I’ve seen the immense value of having online tools that help you do the same thing. The outside work that I do, in fact, because it is international, is built almost solely on these online tools, so like any technology, it’s how you use it.

BS: In India, design costs vary tremendously as do salaries in design and we do not work or charge by the hour - how does this differ internationally and how would you suggest some standardisation of costs to value the designs being brought to the table ?
This is a tricky one because we don’t do something as simple and transactional as changing tires. I think the key is in understanding the true value of what we do, and as part of that do our homework into how significant the market size for the client we work with is. We too often undervalued our own work. Design matters. But it’s up to us to show just how much it matters, and only a strong argument based on good research can help you do that.

BS: How has your journey over the years changed ?
The meaning of design has changed fundamentally. I am definitely still the graphic designer on all the teams I work with (and the brand specialist, the packaging specialist, the sustainable design specialist). But I am also involved in every aspect of the operations, and an advocate for regenerative innovations on every level of every subject. Finding the most sustainable approach to the actual business endeavour is as creative an act as any other; and so is pitching the relevance of pursuing that path to your colleagues, investors, partners and clients. Designers can lead the way with our insistence on innovation at every level--including what kind of brief gets written to begin with.

BS: One piece of advice for designers
Push yourselves deeper and further into addressing systemic challenges that build your creative capacities. Ask yourself what design really means, and find ways to bring your design mind into unchartered territory. Start further upstream. Design the design parameters, principles, and  presumptions. Explore what it means to create a future that is equitable and regenerative. Be bold, be creative, be persistent, and use your skills to help others embrace that vision. To see and commit to a future unlike today.

Unmute in print is a platform where Beyondesign invites designers, printers, artists and anyone from the industry live and/or in print to share with others and learn together. The platform started online, and the response was overwhelming. WhatPackaging? is the print-packaging partner for Unmute with Beyondesign. Do reach out to us on to be a part of this platform.

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Which is the sustainable packaging product among MSMEs that is most popular?


Which is the sustainable packaging product among MSMEs that is most popular?

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