Communicating Climate Change


McKenzie Zarn - "Climate Pop-Up Book"

Clark Fan

Duration: 4 weeks
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Bookmark Project

Project Brief

“And yes, we do need hope. Of course, we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then and only then, hope will come today.” - Greta Thunberg, 16-year old Swedish climate activist


“...governments still cling to the neoclassical fallacy that human consumption has no consequences. We continue to embrace economic systems that prescribe infinite growth on a finite planet, as if somehow the universe repealed the laws of thermodynamics on our behalf.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer


Question: What are the ethics for a designer in the era of climate change?

Can better data visualization help create more action on climate change? Re-visualize Dr. Michael E. Mann’s famous hockey stick graph and use it in an action campaign (2-3 deliverables) for an audience of those who need more motivation to get involved and reduce our carbon emissions. Dr. Mann will serve as guidance on this project. (Use: "Northern Hemisphere Temperatures During the Past Millennium")


Climate change will impact the rest of our lives. How much you want to affect it depends on our actions right now. What are the ethics of not doing anything? What can designers do? This project explores those questions and asks you to think beyond the reasonable to the grand. Using the list of possible solutions on Project Drawdown, pick one and create a plan of action/campaign for designers to get involved and help be part of the answer. We will start local, and focus on the designers at UIUC. Help them understand what they can do to drawdown our greenhouse gas emissions by design.

Learning Objectives

Students will learn about how climate change will affect their current and future personal and professional lives, and how design can be used to help create awareness and action on climate change.


Students will deliver either a campaign featuring 2-3 different designed components for either option #1 or #2 proposed in the project brief.


Online Readings:



What went right:

The project stirred up some emotions of anger and fear in the students. They discussed in the beginning of the project how upset they are about climate change and how they felt overwhelmed on what to do. This project provided a good amount of information and guidance for them to show them a path forward on action. 

What didn't go as planned:

The project should probably be one week longer as the topic itself can be so daunting to address. Many projects at the final critique seemed like they needed at least another week to really flesh out. 

Next time:

Dr. Michael E. Mann is a rock star when it comes to climate science. As such, he wasn't able to join the class via Skype or in-person due to his schedule. I would suggest that if you are at a public university with a climatology department, you should invite a Climate Scientist to the classroom to talk through the issues, scenarios, and solutions. In retrospect despite involving such a prolific scientist as Dr. Mann was great, having one on campus willing to visit the class would have been better. 
Finally, I would also have the students write a post project reflection on what they learned about climate change from the readings, videos, and project in general and what they hope they can do to help champion action on the issue going forward.

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