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Design For Good – feat. Climatedesigners.org

We had a chat with Chiara Mensa, Founder & Creative lead at Hyphae and Co-Lead of the UK Chapter for Climatedesigners.org as part of ‘Design For Good’.

The purpose of our ‘Design For Good’ series is to shine a light on how creative innovation can be a driver for positive change. We feature those that are making it happen, those with grand potential. Truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.

Sam @ ADLIB: Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your career journey so far, how you came to settle in the South West and launch Hyphae?

Chiara: My name is Chiara Mensa and I’m an Italian visual designer currently based in Totterdown, a very hilly neighbourhood of Bristol. I arrived in town about a year ago, having relocated from sunny Perth, Western Australia, after my husband was offered a position as a Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol. Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, we’ve really enjoyed what we’ve experienced of the city so far, especially the welcoming atmosphere, vibrant arts scene and the many pockets of green that are just on our doorstep.

Shifting the focus to my career journey, I might start by saying that, whilst I’m an architect by training, I pivoted to graphic and web design shortly after graduation. Since then I’ve been spending my time refining my skillset and workflow within several design agencies across Australia and the UK. Somewhere along the journey, I’ve come to realise design’s potential to shape perceptions and change minds as well as behaviour patterns. Given the current climate—pun very much intended—I decided it was time for me to put this potential to good use. This is why I used the momentum of last year’s relocation to start a new career chapter with Hyphae, an independent design initiative aimed at redirecting my creative efforts towards advancing more sustainable and ethical initiatives and businesses.

My digital and graphic design projects are focused on delivering functional and engaging visual communication that does not come at a high price for the planet. I’m very interested in exploring and perfecting design practices that minimise waste by optimising resource usage and final results. It’s not an exact science and I look at each project as an opportunity to further refine my recipe through collaboration with my clients. Most of them are businesses and initiatives involved in conservation, climate action, sustainable lifestyle and ethical consumerism.

Sam @ ADLIB: You’re also the Co-Lead of the UK chapter of ‘Climate Designers’, can you tell us about the group and your involvement?

Chiara: I first became acquainted with the concept of “being a climate designer” through “The Determined Ones” podcast (really great content, I’d encourage any creative with an interest in sustainability to give it a listen). Hearing that others out there were feeling my same urge to redirect their creative energies towards addressing the climate crisis gave me the validation and courage I needed to make the jump from stable agency roles to being a one-woman studio with a purpose. But it didn’t end there: the climatedesigners.org initiative revealed itself to be the gift that keeps on giving as the podcast was just the beginning. The opportunity to attend their virtual global meetups allowed me to shift from being a passive listener nodding along to the podcast to becoming an active participant in the conversation about design and climate. During the past twelve months, I got to expand my knowledge on sustainability, access insightful resources and grow my network of purpose-driven creatives. Furthermore, I got to try my hand at hosting climate design-focused meetups and workshops as the co-lead of the UK Chapter of Climate Designers, together with my amazing partner Alicia Storie, an eco-conscious Interior Designer based in Edinburgh.

At heart, the UK Chapter of Climate Designers is an initiative to encourage UK-based creatives from any discipline to use their creative talents towards addressing our climate crisis. We believe there is a huge benefit to building a community of like-minded creatives who share the same common goal, so we can learn and share from each other! Anyone is welcome to join the conversation on our online community over on Mighty Networks where you can also keep an eye out for our next virtual events, coming up Q1 of 2021.

Sam @ ADLIB: What do you think are some of the common challenges Designers face when trying to address climate issues through their work?

Chiara: Great question!

Alicia and I have often heard creatives from the UK Chapter expressing their concern and frustration for trying to do sustainable work and falling short of the target due to a wide range of challenges and barriers. People were mentioning a lack of sustainable projects opportunities, small budgets, a difficulty in upskilling on sustainable best practices, among many others.

Hearing all of this pushed us to create ‘tackle’, a community-owned project to empower climate designers from our community to bring down the barriers (well, at least some of them!) keeping us creatives from taking effective climate action. Back in September, we held a co-design workshop which generated a series of amazing project ideas to design our way out of “feeling stuck” when it comes to using our creative skills to fight the climate crisis. You can get the full overview on tackle and the workshop findings on this report deck.

Sam @ ADLIB: What does the future hold for the group and for Hyphae?

Chiara: Hard to predict the future, but I most certainly have high hopes and big plans for both.

Starting early 2021, Alicia and I have decided to evolve our UK Chapter meetups into more specific and curated events that dive deeper into climate design, together with nurturing any action-focused projects and collaborations that may spawn from ‘tackle’. We would love to explore using agile, experimental workshops to connect our community of creatives with businesses wanting to act in the interest of climate. Any takers out there? 🙂

With Hyphae, I would love to get more involved in supporting researchers leading conservation and climate science projects as I think their work plays a key role in tackling the climate crisis. I believe I could use my design skills to help them increase the visibility of their research and strengthen their public outreach, thus amplifying their impact.

Also, I plan to keep growing my knowledge on sustainable design strategies and, with it, the range of design services I can offer to people busy doing good. I’ve been working on a little side project focused on gathering all the key takeaways for the lessons I’ve learned so far and I am hopeful I’ll be able to share it with the rest of the sustainable design community soon. Stay tuned!

Thank You for sharing!