Portrait of Design by Nature's creative director Anna Carlile


What’s behind the new brand, Design by Nature?

Rohan Trollope May 2023

Viola Design has a new name to reflect our 25 years of unwavering commitment to people and planet: Design by Nature. Creative Director Anna Carlile talks through her thinking as the studio’s new brand launches.

The first question is fairly obvious: why the change?

I named Viola Design when I was 22 years old. I never imagined I would be establishing a business that would last this long.

What I did know, however, was that I wanted to change the industry and make it more sustainable. There were no resources that I could find, or very few. Sustainability was not a huge thing at that time. It was a very different climate. I knew I had to get informed.


How did you go about educating yourself?

I followed my design degree with a Masters of the Environment at Melbourne Uni, where I went deep into a thesis on sustainable graphic design. We built a resource that was the first of its kind globally called Design by Nature, which had information on paper, printing, sustainable design processes, and so on. We partnered with RMIT, and they produced a component on packaging. That was launched nearly 20 years ago.


At the same time, you were designing?

Yes, concurrently, Viola Design was ticking along in a really beautiful way. Every client came to us through connected values. We were based in a community hub called Ross House, housing not-for-profit organisations. I was young; I was eager. I worked with many groups that I still work with today.

So Viola Design became the focus, with Design by Nature in the background. And my intention today is to shift the balance to elevate Design by Nature and return to my roots and have a voice. I want to contribute more to our industry and shift people’s behaviour.


How will you do that?

I would like to share some stories from our experiences over the last 20 years. These could be around sustainable design, sources of inspiration, or our process of getting B-Corp Certified. We’ll use the journal on Design by Nature as a platform for sharing these stories.

I’d also like our studio to do more research, for example, into digital design. Over the last 20 years, with the transition from print to digital, 90% of our work now exists purely digitally. We want to explore how we can minimise our environmental impacts on that platform.


Have you seen changes in this area over twenty years?

The language around being purpose-driven and the desire for people to want to do meaningful work has completely shifted. Many people all want to do work that they feel good about, which is a wonderful shift. So that’s one thing. It’s about who you work with and what you use your skills to elevate in the world.

Secondly, how you do it in a way that has the least environmental impact, That can continue to be unpacked and done in a way that’s informed and authentic.


What are some examples of how design studios can be more sustainable? 

First of all: what you’re communicating, how you’re communicating, what values you’re putting out into the world, whether that’s on representations of women or diversity or age, or what are the subliminal messages you’re putting out through your imagery and your messaging.

How local are you in your focus and your resourcing of materials? And this is where the B Corp certification process gets you to rigorously analyse every element of your business, and gives you a roadmap of where you are going well and where you aren’t.


What about day-to-day decisions?

That’s about asking questions. For example, does your printer have an environmental management system in place? Is it accredited to ISO 14001? Are they local? Are they recycling all their plates, do they have good waste management, and are they using vegetable-based inks?

You can avoid many toxic things, for example, metallic inks. There are certain things that we don’t do because they’re not great environmentally. So as tempting as it is to use fluorescents and metallics, we don’t do that as a rule.

Then there are recyclable laminates. And the issue with laminates is, you’ve got to balance the durability of your product and ask, what is the shelf life?

Of course, paper is huge. Everyone loves FSC, but we use 100% post-consumer recycled paper at a minimum.

Ultimately, you want to be designing things that, if they do go to print, they’re warranted. They’re sending a good message, and you’re producing them in a way where they’re a keepable item rather than a part of our throwaway culture.


What does the future hold for Design by Nature?

Working with progressive organisations inspiring positive change, having internal research and output of information, and contributing to the industry’s knowledge base.

We’ve also just published our seventh book, Wild Life, about our values to do with nature and connection. I love creating books, and they’re global, so they feel like they have a good impact.


Finally, returning to the name, what is your personal connection to nature?

Community and being in nature are the essence of me being a happy human. I’m also totally motivated by beauty. And to me, nature is the most beautiful thing.

Related Journal posts