Designer Spotlight: Celery Design Collaborative

Firm: Celery Design Collaborative

Specialty: Creating designs across a variety of print and online media that have a positive impact in the world.
Locations: Berkeley, CA and Paris, France
Website: www.celerydesign.com

Firm Motto: Our goal, aside from doing great design, is to positively influence behavior and catalyze organizational change.


At a time when buzzwords like “sustainable” and “green” weren’t yet part of the mainstream vocabulary, Brian Dougherty and Rod DeWeese were well ahead of the curve: In 1997 they launched Celery Design Collaborative, where design could serve as a catalyst for social and environmental change.

“In the beginning, it was mostly aspiration,” Dougherty says, recalling the firm’s early days when they had little experience in that niche and most of their clients were nonprofits and small, local businesses.

More than a decade later, while they are still committed to working with nonprofits and small businesses, their portfolio also includes clients such as HP, Motorola and Hasbro. They also have opened a second office in Paris, a testament to the fact that sustainable design has become influential around the world.

“It’s exciting, but it also raises the bar,” Dougherty says. “There’s still an enormous amount of work to do.”

How Celery attempts to hack away at all that work is through the concept they call “designing backwards.” At the beginning of any project, they discuss with the client the kind of user experience the design should have as well as how much waste it will produce.

By marrying these two objectives early on, the team can determine how to creatively accomplish both—and still stay on budget.

For example, Celery recently created the packaging for a start-up company that develops housing insulation from discarded sheep’s wool that would otherwise end up in a landfill. They applied this theme of rescuing products from a garbage-dump fate to the insulation’s packaging, by collecting discarded rice bags, flipping them inside out and silk-screening new labels on them.

“It’s an example of how you might come up with ideas that actually cost less than a typical status-quo solution,” Dougherty says. “We can actually do better than the status quo in almost every instance; we just have to approach it differently.”

Another example of how they approached a design solution differently was when the team recently worked with Bon Ami to redesign the packaging for their line of eco-friendly cleaners. The goal was to fashion the new packaging using as much recycled and recyclable components as possible to create a nearly-zero waste solution. By involving the client in almost every step of the project’s strategic decision making, the team was able to craft a solution that Dougherty says is “pretty state of the art” from a sustainability standpoint.

In fact, as pioneers in the sustainable design movement, much of what Celery has been doing for years is pretty state of the art, which goes back to why they started the firm in the first place.

“I think when your passion aligns with your profession, it’s usually a good thing,” Dougherty explains. “It’s not just a paycheck; it’s something you really believe in.”


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