A multi-disciplinary collective has been set up in an attempt to change how “progressive” organisations interact with the climate emergency.
Urge comprises nine founding members from fields including branding and textile design who hope to work with companies and “enact radical responses to the climate emergency”.
There is a diverse skillset among the collective. Communication designer Sophie Thomas, who headed up the RSA’s Great Recovery project about waste and the circular economy, is a member.
Textile designer Ella Doran and furniture designer Michael Marriot will be providing insight into product design, manufacturing and textiles. Biomimicry architect Michael Pawlyn is also involved.
From a branding perspective, former executive creative director of Discovery Inc. Federico Gaggio and strategy consultant John Grant are also part of the team. Music video and commercials director Dougal Wilson, who has been involved in climate activism for decades, is contributing his skills.
Former editor of Creative Review Patrick Burgoyne and communications designer Alexie Sommer are also members in the founding team.
Transformation, education, innovation and communication
The four pillars of Urge are transformation, education, innovation and communication. On the first point, the group aims to “help leaders turn ambition into action by applying the proven methodology of digital transformation to sustainability”.
Urge also hopes to create lasting change by educating the next generation of designers and wants to provide the opportunity for them to engage with the climate emergency.
In terms of innovation, its mission is to “help progressive organisations to see the potential in innovations which meet real human needs with radically better impacts”.
Finally Urge wants to work with organisations to create compelling campaigns and communications which “support system change”. “We help leaders build appropriate brand narratives, galvanising internal and external audiences to drive sustainability agendas,” the organisation says.
How will Urge work?
Thomas tells Design Week that Urge has been prompted by the headline-grabbing work of Extinction Rebellion and climate activist Greta Thunberg who has brought new eyes to the climate crisis.
She says that the collective’s shared experience — especially in dealing with big companies which might not have been as receptive to sustainability issues — will provide an insightful viewpoint for the challenges at had. The variety of skills among the designers means that the team will be able to act with agility and adaptability, she adds.
The collective had been planned before COVID-19, at which point a physical space was in the plans. This would have been a way to invite businesses and their in-house teams in for collaboration but like most working practices, this has had to shift to virtual work.
As the consultancy is new, they are still talking to clients about collaboration. Thomas says that it’s companies at either end of the spectrum in terms of size that will be the target, as they have the most potential to cause disruption.
The identity has been created by Pentagram partner and Urge member Harry Pearce.
Ella Doran says that a recent project for London Design Festival points to some areas where Urge could have impact. The Clean Up Plastic Camo Chair was a collaboration with Urban Upholstery and began with an abandoned chair in Hackney.
The chair was deconstructed and re-upholstered during a livestream, with a participatory audience of school children. Using a reworked velvet material (another collaboration between Sophie Thomas and Doran), the project sought to “demystify the re-use process”.
Doran says that it relates to many of the ambitions for Urge. Educating children about the process of furniture-making and materials provides insight that might make people more interested in finding out where their goods come from, for example.
It also shows how what might be thought of as waste can be reworked into something with practical and aesthetic value.
Although it was a project centred on a single object, it also hints at how these values could be scaled up to working with a much larger organisation. One area which needs addressing is the “transparency” of supply chains, she says.
In terms of sectors with the most potential, Doran says that healthcare companies could be great collaborators. The intersection of design (with a focus on interiors and material design) and people’s experience with healthcare has great potential, she says, highlighting the work of cancer care organisation Maggie’s.