Sustainable Materials Talk Series: “How to write sustainable stories with CMF Design?” with Katie Kubrak

Sustainable Materials Talk Series: “How to write sustainable stories with CMF Design?” with Katie Kubrak

Posted 27 January 2020 by Katie Kubrak

In the coming weeks, as part of our ‘Material Monday’ series, we’ll be featuring the highlights of the talks delivered by an impressive roster from across the creative industries. Firstly, we share the “Sustainable Materials” talk series which features great insight from the likes of Katie Kubrak (Nirvana CPH), Sian Sutherland (A Plastic Planet), Gary Tee (TIPA) and Julian Ellerby (FranklinTiill).

Today, we kick off with discussing the highlights of the talk delivered by our own in-house expert at Nirvana CPH – Katie Kubrak.

Katie heads up our Materials & Insight department at Nirvana CPH. She graduated from Product Design at Central Saint Martins where she developed an interest and passion for colours, materials and finishes. Since graduating she has been specialising in Sustainable & Sensory CMF Design across packaging, consumer electronics, lighting, femcare, FMCG, curating exhibitions and talks, organising events and more. She was also a speaker at TEDxUAL event at The Museum of London and is currently doing a PhD at the Royal College of Art (RCA).  Here, she explores the topic of sensorial design of colours, materials and finishes and how can we use these to produce designs that don’t compromise circular economy model. She is part of the Burberry Material Futures Research Group at the RCA’s Materials Science Research Centre.

Her talk is titled “How to write sustainable stories with CMF Design?”

For all of those who might not be familiar with CMF, it is a niche field of expertise within the design industry, which adopts a material driven design approach. This means that any creative output of a CMF design project will be driven by the chromatic, tactile and decorative identity of products and environments. In this context, user research attains a secondary status as a driver force of the project.

The key statement of her talk is “Sustainability cannot be designed backwards.”

She discusses that the key to achieving sustainable design lies within understanding that a brands’ environmental impact is always subject to the creative output that specifies product’s colour, material and finish (CMF). This is applicable across all design industries that include, but are not limited to, fashion, shoes, furniture, product, packaging, consumer electronics, FMCG, interiors, retail, beauty, POS and more.

This is a consequence of resources needed for manufacturing of the selected colour, material and finish. For many businesses, it accounts for 50-80% of the overall impact a brand will impose on the environment. Despite this, the importance of CMF is often overlooked and left as the last stage of the project, just before it hits production. Such approach leaves huge room for error and abuse of unsustainable practices. With this outlook, the talk explains the vitality of CMF being part of the process from the earliest stages as sustainability cannot be designed backwards.

Aside from highlighting a new approach, Katie delivers education on how to write sustainable stories with CMF Design, so that your brand and product, however small or big scale, it can be at the top of its game.

During the lecture she also demonstrates that in order to create a sustainable story of a product one needs to first understand lifecycle of colour, material and finish. In short, lifecycle consists of raw material, production, consumer use and disposal. With this transparent information base, it becomes much easier for anyone to understand if these elements are sustainable, recyclable, biodegradable, compostable, vegan, organic and more. It all allows us to also establish if we are working with a linear, mixed loop or circular CMF. Lastly, we can begin to design and write a sustainable story of reduce, reuse and recycle in context of circular economy model popularised by Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

To find out more “How to write sustainable stories with CMF Design?”, please follow the link here. Also, make sure to watch the other “Sustainable Materials” talks available on our YouTube channel! If you have any questions, feel free to comment here or email us at