Concurrents: Our Invisible Threads

Jen Levisen

I’ve spent the last year+ wrapping my brain around the complexities and possibilities of mindful MATERIALS’ Common Materials Framework — what it is, what it allows, its hierarchical structure, etc. At this point, I can confidently TACO ‘bout it you know? #iykyk

But beyond all that – beyond the data, eco-labels, standards, and levels – my favorite part is the why behind the CMF — why it was created, why it is needed. So you better believe I jumped (like two feet in, hands in the air jumped) at the chance to work with the renowned Studio O+A on the first-ever artist rendering of the CMF.

This compelling poster titled Our Invisible Threads” was released at NeoCon and serves as a powerful visual metaphor for the intricate and often unseen connections between the choices we make in design and their broader impacts on people and the planet. It serves as a powerful visual of the CMF’s heart. Learn more about the Common Materials Framework here.

Redefining Beauty in Design

We wanted to set a visionary tone with the poster’s description: “One day, when good design is redefined, what makes a material beautiful or a room inviting will be its harmony with people and planet.” This statement expresses the aspirational goal of sustainable design — where aesthetic appeal is intrinsically linked to environmental responsibility and social well-being.

Today, the frameworks and acronyms that guide sustainable practices are still being developed and refined. These things are the “invisible threads” that weave through the tapestry of our work, influencing our choices and shaping the built environment in ways that are not always immediately visible. The poster emphasizes that while these things, these frameworks, and acronyms, may eventually fade into the background, their importance cannot be understated. They are the foundational elements that ensure our designs are not only beautiful but also sustainable.

The Role of Curiosity in Sustainable Design

A central theme of the poster is curiosity. It urges designers to ask better questions and challenge the status quo: “When I choose a material, what else am I choosing? Why that coating? Is that the best way to manufacture, or just how it’s always been done?” This reflective approach encourages designers to delve deeper into the implications of their choices, considering the environmental and social impacts alongside the functional and aesthetic ones.

By fostering a culture of curiosity, we celebrate a more thoughtful and informed design process. This approach not only leads to more sustainable outcomes but also sparks innovation and creativity. It is through this continuous questioning and exploration that new, more sustainable materials and methods can be discovered and implemented.

Bridging Design and Expression

The creation of “Our Invisible Threads” was a collaborative effort that brought together different artistic and design perspectives. Studio O+A Co-Founder Verda Alexander, Senior Designer Chelsea Hedrick, and Brand Designer Minnee Pham worked closely to bring this vision to life. They navigated the unique challenge of balancing artistic expression with the informative nature of the CMF.

Verda highlighted the importance of understanding that their role was to express creativity rather than solve a design problem. This mindset shift allowed the team to approach the project with a sense of freedom and experimentation, ultimately leading to a more impactful and engaging final product.

Minnee’s hand-drawn illustrations played a crucial role in making the poster relatable and engaging for both designers and non-designers alike. Her style added a personal touch that helped bridge the gap between complex sustainability concepts and the everyday decisions made by designers. Meet Studio O+A here. 

Inspiration and Impact

One source of inspiration for the project was a presentation by the Beehive Collective, known for its detailed and cohesive murals that tell powerful environmental stories. This influence is visible in the poster’s intricate design and the way it visually narrates the connections between materials, design choices, and their broader impacts.

The collaboration exemplifies how art and design can communicate complex ideas in an accessible and compelling way. “Our Invisible Threads” is not just a poster; it is a call to action. By highlighting the connections between our choices and their impacts, we can create a more harmonious and sustainable future for all.

Editor’s note: Jen Levisen is a writer, editor, and content strategist passionate about connecting and storytelling and using both to highlight impact. She serves as the Director of Communications for mindful MATERIALS and calls southern Minnesota home, where she can most often be found chauffeuring her two boys around town. Connect with Jen on LinkedIn here. Or email her directly at levisen.jennifer@gmail.com.