RCA Book Test Unit 2018 Launch 'A guide to ______ing sustainability'

MRes RCA Communication Design Pathway and Visual Communication MA students have launched a new book that explores the current state and future of sustainability. A guide to ______ing sustainability expands the understanding of sustainability beyond the environmental to the sustaining of knowledge and systems of distribution. The design of the book critically reflects on sustainability and is a system of distribution in itself – one that is activated through the act of reading, physical engagement, and by being passed on.

A guide to ________ing sustainability was created over the last four months by the Book Test Unit 2018 from the RCA, in partnership with graphic design alumni Thomas.Matthews, Pureprint Group Limited and sponsored by the paper company Antalis. The book is a collection of discussions, experiments and prompts for action that set out to expand the conversation around sustainability.

‘The students have been exploring what the future of the book might be, in the context of reimagining what sustainability can mean for communication design – now and in the future,’ said MRes Communication Design Pathway Leader Dr Emily Candela. ‘The result is a book that exists not as an end in itself, or really as an end at all. Instead, it is a node in a set of larger networks generated and traced by the Book Test Unit, and a starting point for future interactions and sustainable practices.’

The RCA Book Test Unit is an ongoing experimental platform that takes the form of an annual student-led collaborative project exploring critical perspectives on the future of the book and publishing, and sits within the College’s Book Futures Lab. This year it is made up of five MRes Communication Design Pathway and five Visual Communication MA students who have been working with external partners that place sustainability at the centre of their practices: Pureprint, a print company concerned with lessening the environmental impact of printing and Thomas.Matthews, a studio established by RCA alumni with sustainability at its core.

Thomas.Matthews Studio initiated the project’s focus on sustainability as part of their 20-year anniversary. The studio is co-founded by Sophie Thomas, who studied in the Communication Art and Design Department at the RCA. Thomas’ graduate exhibition with Kristine Matthews responded to the volume of polystyrene cups and aluminium cans used at the College. Thomas and Matthews used this waste to create an affective installation, which then impacted on the College’s policy on recycling and waste.

A guide to ________ing sustainability contains extracts from conversations with industry experts that have shaped the project including Patrick Lucas, sales account director at Pureprint, who discussed the steps to sustainability as a printer; Sophie Thomas, Leah Harrison Bailey, and Alexie Sommer from Thomas.Matthews about ways of adopting ecological sustainability in design and how this can be communicated to design students; and Maja Maricevic Head of Higher Education at the British Library, about the British Library’s approaches to encouraging learning through engagement and different ways of accessing knowledge.

The activities, conversations and approaches used by the students throughout the project are documented in the book. This includes a checklist of sustainable approaches to book design, with annotations detailing how the design of the book addresses each point. The book also encourages the reader to create their own knowledge that can be transferred from reader to reader. There are prompts based on activities the students carried out, including interactive elements, such as bookmarks that can be removed and used to recommend books to others and postcards to encourage people to rethink sustainability.

Book Test Unit 2018:
– MRes RCA Communication Design Pathway students: Emily Hoong, Gesi An, Patricia Puertas Torrado, Paul Ransom, Rimjhim Surana
– MA Visual Communication students: James Etherington, Ji Min Lee, Kevin Kremer, Servane Vignes, Shelby Guergis


Find out more about MRes RCA Communication Design Pathway and MA Visual Communication and how to apply.