Lynda Decker

GREEN19-LYNDA-DECKER

DECKER DESIGN, INC.
NEW YORK NY

Lynda Decker founded Decker Design in 1996, which is among the .1 percent of creative agencies founded by women. The firm develops brand strategies for clients in the legal, financial services, and social impact sectors. Lynda most recently completed a five year term as national co-chair of AIGA Women Lead.

HOW AND WHY DID YOU COME TO USE DESIGN TO ADVANCE SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE AND/OR SUSTAINABLE PROJECTS, CLIENTS AND CAUSES?

I come from a family of idealists, so swinging at windmills is in my DNA. My grandmother was a suffragette, my mother and father were always volunteering, and my sister went to El Salvador during their civil war in the 1980s to document human rights violations. While I have always promoted equality for women in the workplace (and this is probably the issue I am most associated with), I feel my greatest contribution has been in the area of climate change.

Superstorm Sandy demonstrated to me the disproportionate social injustice that climate change inflicts on the poor, the elderly and the infirm. When Sandy hit, I was in the MFA D-Crit program at SVA. My hometown of East Rockaway on Long Island was severely damaged and suffered extensive environmental contamination.

For the D-Crit open house that fall, I spoke about how traditional relief services like the Red Cross were failing in their mission compared to ad-hoc groups like Occupy Sandy, who were using technology and real-time updates to bring water and supplies to desperate people. Karrie Jacobs and Alice Twemlow (the department chair) encouraged me to research and write further about resilience, climate change, and flooding. After earning my degree, I forged a relationship with the nonprofit Waterfront Alliance and have served as their “low-bono” (their words) creative director ever since.

People, especially New Yorkers, often take their safety in a storm for granted, but Sandy’s widespread destruction became the tipping point for a new response to climate change. Now that storms are more severe, the city’s infrastructure, and building codes have been updated — not only to protect property, but to save lives.

As designers, we must place a premium on ways to protect human beings. I think the architectural community has done a brilliant job in innovating solutions for the built environment. However, the graphic design community needs to step up and think about how we can communicate the complexities of these issues more effectively. People simply don’t understand the how the bureaucratic vocabulary relates to their personal safety. A 100-year storm, for example, doesn’t happen once in a hundred years — it’s a term that means there is a 1% chance of risk. The problem is that these “unlikely” risks are happening more frequently.

Last year the New York Times created a fantastic visualization — they made a GIF of a house and simulated a storm surge. It was a simple but powerful piece of communication.

ARE THERE ANY SPECIAL CHALLENGES, OPPORTUNITIES, URGENCIES, OBSTACLES IN 2019?

There are few issues more urgent than climate change on both macro and micro levels.

New York City has over 520 miles of coastline, and more residents living in high-risk flood zones than any other city in the country, yet the hazard seems to fall on deaf ears. Sandy did $19 billion dollars in damage, but the pace of waterfront development has only increased over the past seven years. If we can help our citizens to understand the issues better, they can elect officials that will prioritize their needs over special interests.

Climate affects every dimension of our reality, from the global economy to immigration and public health. We have to stop thinking of environmental, urban, and social issues as separate domains and use our communication and design skills to enhance public understanding. Honestly, I can’t think of a better challenge for a designer.