Telling the Transition story for suburbia

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GOOD Magazine shows how effectively ideas can be communicated when information is organized well and design is sharp. Click to enlarge. Infographic:

Every peak-oil aware person, whether in an official organization or not, at some point is confronted with how to tell the Transition story.

I don’t just mean the official story of Transition groups out of the worldwide Transition Town movement, or out of its wing in the States, Transition US, though those are interesting stories, too.

Specifically I mean telling about how any person, family or community might plan for a lower-energy future by pooling resources, relying on more Do It Yourself power, and getting involved with more energy and food projects at the local level.

So much to say

One group, Suburban Permaculture aims to communicate all this and more through a series of posters on these and related subjects.

Their three posters, “Creating a Safer, More Secure and Healthier Neighborhood”; “Front Yard Gardens, A Simple Act, Impressive Benefits”; and “Transforming a Suburban Property” all have laudable goals: To educate and inform citizens and suburban residents on how to see prosaic and otherwise commonplace spaces as potential sources for a new flowering of capacity, culture, and community.

The three posters, for sale at the Suburban Permaculture site for $15 each, are roughly about 2′ x 3′ and are highly detailed in each subject area.

Each is rendered with full color photographs, diagrams and graphics to present a variety of subject areas. In the top center of each poster there’s a contents area with that poster’s full array of coverage, the titles of which are repeated in sections throughout each poster when that information appears again. Under each discrete section, supporting information tells the rest of the story, often in conjunction with a photo or graphic.

The Suburban Permaculture website writes about the posters that they’re “Great for Permaculture classes…The posters are a great show and tell at community events…The posters are great learning tools.”

All this is likely true.

In an academic, studious, or very focused community event the posters have the potential to aid and support learning about why suburban areas should not only NOT be written off as a would-be wasteland in the post-peak decline, but why they can actually be places where small scale farming and village life return. All three posters are rife with passion on this possibility and each offers guideposts on how that can be done with a little togetherness, ingenuity, re-skilling and goodwill.

Prettying up isn’t dumbing down

I do wish the Suburban Permaculture group had recruited a graphic designer to help with layout. The posters are cluttered, crowded and unappealing to the eye. Unfortunately, an amateurish look will likely handicap their ability to reach people, no matter how high quality their information may be.

Between the purple background and the overall lack of design clarity I didn’t know what to look at, much less what to read.

Words and photos are laid out seemingly willy-nilly in an attempt to flesh out every element of the story. Where one good picture would suffice, eight indistinct pictures were used. Clutter wastes the brief opportunity that your average poster has to grab the eye and engage the mind of a busy passer-by.

We can argue until the cows come home about whether that audience has a right to want and even expect information in a way that speaks to them. But as far as I can tell, if one’s aim is to effectively communicate, you better know how to reach your audience if what you want is results.

A good example here is from, well, GOOD, the magazine, company and website “for people who want to live well and do good…Launched in September 2006, the company has garnered praise for its unique editorial perspective and fresh visual aesthetic and is quickly positioning itself as a significant new voice in our culture.”

As part of their mission, GOOD produces a variety of infographics designed to inform, educate and move folks to action. They do it by providing clear, palpable and substantive information within a sharp design sensibility that gets down to the meat of the matter in a compelling way. It’s an example worth following.

Going back to the drawing board, perhaps envisioning in permaculture style how a natural phenomenon would go about “attracting” its mate, might produce results more conducive to telling the otherwise very important story behind Suburban Permaculture.

– Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

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  1. Macrobe says

    Even in academia, the general ‘rule’ for poster presentations is concise, concise, concise, and less is more.

  2. says

    Thank you Transition Voice for reviewing the posters. There is a great need for all kinds of approaches to advocating alternatives to the mainstream be they books, websites, posters, presentations, interviews and on site visits.

    The posters are arranged like a slide show and read like a book, upper left to lower right. Its simple. I welcome comments. There are many more images, updates on projects, foto galleries, “how tos” on my website – And, of course, one can buy posters on the website along with a 90 minute DVD – Global Trends – Local Choices.

    Thanks Lindsay and Transition Voice for their good work.

    Jan Spencer

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