Design Activism: Designers With A Sense of Social Responsibility

The aim of this essay is to explore and discuss design activism as a medium by which contemporary designers undertake projects based on their ethical concerns and a sense of social responsibility. Thorpe (2011, p.6) defines design activism as meeting four basic criteria;

  1. It publicly reveals or frames a problem or challenging issue.
  2. It makes a contentious claim for change (it calls for change) based on that problem or issue.
  3. It works on behalf of a neglected, excluded or disadvantaged group.
  4. It disrupts routine practices, or systems of authority, which gives it the characteristics of being unconventional or unorthodox – outside traditional channels of change.

To analyse and effectively discuss the topic of design activism this essay will explore three recent projects – Advance to Zero (Inkahoots, 2016), Vein Care (Bartleet, n.d.) & Digital Birth (Ovland, 2014) – by designers working in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific nations and discuss how design activism has been used to respond to contemporary social problems. This exploration will be supported by various readings, both academic and peer reviewed, including the design activism definition from Defining design as activism (Thorpe, 2011), as well as Design activism: Beautiful strangeness for a sustainable world (Fuad-Luke, 2006), Citizen designer: Perspectives on design responsibility (Heller & Vienne, 2003) and Good: Ethics of Graphic Design (Roberts, 2006) and will seek to provide further insight on the subject of design activists undertaking projects on their sense of ethical responsibility.

The first project selected for analysis in this essay is Advance to Zero; a groundbreaking national initiative of the Australian Alliance to End Homelesness (Inkahoots, 2016). The project focuses around the idea of community, bringing together homeless individuals and families to assist with challenges faced in trying to house people experiencing homelessness (Inkahoots, 2016).

fig1(Advance to Zero, 2016, http://inkahoots.com.au/projects/advance-to-zero/~i-382)

While this summary is only brief it does well to define the Advance to Zero project within Thorpe’s (2011, p.6) criteria. The explicit purpose of the project is to publicly reveal and call for change on the epidemic of homelessness that is currently sweeping Australia (Dow, 2016) and by doing so aid one of the most significantly disadvantaged groups within our society. In doing so the designers are acknowledging their feelings of moral obligation to help the downtrodden in the best way they know how – by designing. McCoy in Heller & Vienne (2003, p. 20) believes that designers can no longer afford to be passive, “Designers must be good citizens and participate tin the shaping of our government and society.” She goes on to issue a rallying cry to all designers to come together with their skills and encourage others to wake up and participate in the bettering of our society. This shows that designers the world over, just like those working on the Advance to Zero project, feel a great ethical responsibility to use their powers to influence change as we progress as a society. The strong, unwavering belief within the design that they can come together anywhere, any time and spur change around the globe (Julier, 2013) cannot be understated. Whether it is to help the homeless as seen with the Advance to Zero project or to push for other societal need like equality or sustainability this shows the power of design activism and the profound impact it can have on society when designers undertake projects based on their ethical concerns and a sense of social responsibility.

 A similar project demonstrating elements of activism by design is Vein Care (Bartleet, n.d.) – an educational initiative of Queensland Health to educate both medical professionals and drug users in regards to safe injecting techniques by way of posters, books and information cards (Bartleet, n.d),

fig2(Vein Care, n.d., http://www.brettonbartleet.com/vein-care/)

Similarly to the Advance to Zero project Vein Care can easily be identified by Thorpe’s (2011, p.6) criteria for design activism. The project is designed to minimize risk and injury in those being injected by publicising an issue that has traditionally been seen as taboo. By doing this the project not only calls for change in the literal sense by reducing harm but also by presenting drug use in a new light – depicting drug users as human beings who need help rather than demonising them as a blight on society as other mainstream media often does. This kind of socially active design – whereby designers are fulfilling their own moral obligation (Heller & Vienne, 2003, p. 54) and ethical concerns to create something for the betterment of society is described by Fuad-Luke (2009, p. 78) as being, “…where the focus of the design is society and its transition and/or transformation to a more sustainable way of living, working and producing.” When considered in this way the Vein Care project is very much focused on transitioning society to a more sustainable way of living – not only for those who are suffering from drug addiction, but also those around them and medical practitioners involved in other community programs. By having Bretton Bartleet, a well known design activist who has worked with many not for profit organisations and charities and who believes passionately in the ability of design to empower, excite, challenge and inform (Bartleet, 2016) partner with Queensland Health for the purpose of this project his personal feelings of ethical concern and social responsibility shine through as well as his talents as a designer.

The final project to be discussed in this exploration of design activism is Digital Birth (Ovland 2014) that looks at the sensitive social issues of Online security and children. According to the study attached by Ovland (2014), “84% of Australian children under the age of two have some kind of digital dossier online” – a fact that she brought to the publics attention by placing signs and cordoning off playgrounds (Ovland, 2014)

fig3(Digital Birth, 2014, http://typolitic.com/digital-birth/)

Perhaps the most interesting of the three projects explored in this discussion the project, while conforming with Thorpe’s (2011, p.6) four criteria, stood out particularly for representing children. An incredibly vulnerable, neglected and excluded group when it comes to the discussion of social issues as they are often not aware of what is going on around them or able to fully comprehend. While this project was well received within the community and created great awareness for greater safety for children online the project itself only framed old data word for word in a new, more visually appealing way while being simultaneously confronting (Ovland, 2014). When considering this Roberts (2006, p.92) believes that graphic design is neutral but becomes important by virtue of various things. One of these is the interpretation of the intended audience. Further to the design itself Ovland took her sense of social responsibility one step further and went out to interview some of the parents who had been moved by the project. Parents who had never even thought of what information they were displaying about their children online were determined then to go home and check and make changes to their behaviour (Ovland, 2014). This demonstrates a true to life example of both Thorpe’s (2011, p.6) criteria and Fuad-Luke’s (2009. p.78) belief in socially active design and not only showcases the designers overwhelming sense of social responsibility and ethical concerns for the chosen design but also the powerful impact that design activism can have on the public.

Through critical analysis and discussion of design activism as a medium by which contemporary designers undertake projects based on their ethical concerns and a sense of social responsibility it can be determined that this influence is indeed very strong. Utilising the definition of Thorpe and the readings of Fuad-Luke, Heller & Vienne, Roberts and others, with specific reference to the three projects identified in this essay a clear correlation can be seen between the works and a feeling of social responsibility to help those in need in a manner fitting of a designer. These projects typify the modern design activist and do well to showcase their strong ethics and social awareness while simultaneously being incredible works of art in their own unique way. Specifically these three projects show clear of how, when the appropriate person or group of people target the appropriate project with strong beliefs to match it’s desired outcomes, design activism can be an incredibly powerful tool in inspiring change within our society.

 

References

Books

Fuad-Luke, A. (2009). Design activism: Beautiful strangeness for a sustainable world. London & Sterlin, Virginia, US: Earthscan.

Heller, S. & Vienne, V. (2003). Citizen designer: Perspectives on design responsibility. New York: Alworth Press.

Roberts, L. (2006). Good: Ethics of Graphic Design. Lausanne, Switzerland: AVA Publishing. (Philosophy – an Interview with Anthony Grayling)

Articles and Online Articles

Dow, A. (2016). ‘Shocking’: Record numbers of homeless people sleeping on Melbourne’s streets. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/shocking-record-numbers-of-homeless-people-sleeping-on-melbournes-streets-20160609-gpf1wk.html

Julier, G. (2013). From Design Culture to Design Activism. Design and Culture. 55(2), 215-236. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/citedby/10.2752/175470813X13638640370814?scroll=top&needAccess=true

Markussen, T. (2013). The disruptive aesthetics of design activism: Enacting design between art and politics. Design Issues. Winter 2013, 29(1), 38-50. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.swin.edu.au/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=b303ec5f-bb3a-45b3-8def-c3edbbad4489%40sessionmgr4008&vid=9&hid=4101

Millman, D. (2014, December 15). Justin Ahrens: Design matters, design observer. Retrieved from http://designobserver.com/article.php?id=38699

Rawsthorn, A. (2013, July 15). Expanding the definitions of design. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/15/arts/design/Expanding-the-Definitions-of-Design.html?ref=alicerawsthorn&_r=0

Rawsthorn, A. (2014, December 4). Fixing stuff, repairing the world. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/arts/design/the-fab-mind-a-tokyo-show-highlights-design-activism.html?_r=0.

Thorpe, A. (2011). Defining design as activism. Design Activism. Retrieved from http://designactivism.net/

Web Pages

Bartleet, B. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.brettonbartleet.com/

Inkahoots. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.inkahoots.com.au/

Ovland, T. (2014). Retrieved  from http://typolitic.com/digital-birth/

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Design For Nature – Caption

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“Nature is carefully managed national parks and vast boreal forest and uninhabited arctic. Nature is also the birds in your backyard.” (Marris 2011, p. 2)

When it comes to backyards it doesn’t get much better than seeing this on your doorstep. In Rambunctious Garden Marris explains that nature comes with a preconceived notion that a wholesome environment is somewhere far away – like that which would be seen on a post card or documentary. How easy this point is to understand then when you can walk outside your front door and see this majestical landscape.

manly
“We can marvel at the diversity of life and fight its disappearance, even if that diversity occurs in unfamiliar places. We can find beauty in nature, even if signs of humanity are present. We can see the sublime in our own backyards, if we try.” (Marris 2011, p. 3)

This stunning sunset image was captured from the window of the Hotel Steyne in Manly as my wife and I sat watching the world go by. On the surface this image shows an ecosystem where remains of the natural world narrowly avoid complete eradication by poking their heads out through the gaps in the brick pavement. Underneath this environment is just as unnatural to the Australian coastline as the Europeans who introduced it.

References

Marris, E. (2011). Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-wild World, Bloomsbury, New York

Cradle to Cradle Thinking

Screen Shot 2016-09-21 at 9.43.17 PM.png

(Source: Wallace Detroit Guitars, 2016, http://wallacedetroitguitars.com/)

Wallace Detroit Guitars is one of the most incredibly beautiful, and yet somehow still topically relevant, examples of design I have come across since starting my studies. As a guitarist who has always been partial to a telecaster there is something about this all natural finish and handcrafted piece of work that just makes you stop and think about how much better life would be if you had one of these in it.

But life is not all about looks, and the Wallace Detroit Guitars are no different, underneath the lacquer and rosewood fretboard lies the real beauty. Each handcrafted model is made from 100 year old wood recycled from old buildings around Detroit. This eco-friendly design complies with two of the five steps to eco-effectiveness that are discussed by McDonough and Braungart (2002).

Step 1.  Get “free of” known culprits

“They make sure that lead paint and asbestos isn’t getting into the environment when the houses come down. And they keep literally tons of wood from being sent to landfills.”(Wallace Detroit Guitars 2016)

By ensuring that products used are both environmentally friendly and non-harmful to consumers, and advertising the product with this point in mind, the overall appeal of the product is shown in a positive light and reflects the effective way in which the product has been designed.

Step 5. Reinvent

Now we are doing more than redesigning for biological and technical cycles. We are recasting the design assignment: not “design a car” but “design a nutrivehicle”. (McDonough and Braungart 2002, p. 178-9)

In the case of Wallace Detroit Guitars the redesigning is not “design a telecaster” but “design a nutri-axe”. The use of recycled resources and design methods to put a new spin on a classic design is done incredibly well and, when using this step to analyse the design, it is easy to see how the designer has positioned this to effectively market their product.

The only question that remains now is where can I find $2,000 to bring one of these beauties home for myself?

 

References

McDonough, W., & Braungart, M. (2002). Cradle to Cradle. NorthPoint Press, New York

Wallace Detroit Guitars. (2016). Retrieved from http://wallacedetroitguitars.com/the-guitars/purchase/

 

 

 

Design for a Sustainable Future

“The thoughtful designer of the twenty·first century will design with integrity, sensitivity and compassion. He/she will design products/materials/service products that are sustainable, I.e, they serve human needs without depleting natural and manmade resources, without damage to the carrying capacity of ecosystems and without restricting the options available for present and future generations.” (Fuad-Luke, 2002, p.15)

walksinnature.png

(Source: Walks In Nature, 2016, http://www.violadesign.com.au/portfolio/walks-nature)

Walks In Nature by Viola Design conforms with many of Fuad-Luke’s principles in The eco-design handbook : a complete sourcebook for the home and office (Fuad-Luke, 2002). Many of Fuad-Luke’s 14 principles could have been applied to this project with the two most suitable for discussion being;

10. Design to maximize a product/material/service product’s benefit to communities.

14. Design to create more sustainable products/materials/service products for a more sustainable future. (Fuad-Luke, 2002,p. 15)

The project takes 32 bushwalking trails from Melbourne and surrounding areas and places them on a deck of cards to encourage the public to explore these areas. By doing this the project conforms with the 10th principle as it is attempting to raise community awareness and encouraging participation with the local environment in a way that the public may not have previously considered.

To further enhance the environmental focus of this project the cards themselves are “printed on stock produced with 20% virgin ECF fibre and 80% post-consumer recycled FSC Mix Certified fibre.” (Walks In Nature, 2016) at a mill which has ISO 14001 environmental certification. By using recycled natural materials the green focus of the project, to encourage the public to reconnect with nature, the project successfully achieves the 14th of Fuad-Luke’s principles and creates a sustainable product which, not only contributes to a more sustainable future, but to the future of the very thing that it is designed to promote.

References

Fuad-Luke, A. (2002). The eco-design handbook : a complete sourcebook for the home and office. Thames and Hudson, London.

Viola Design. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.violadesign.com.au/portfolio/walks-nature

Going, Going, Gondry – Further exploration of the Auteur

The Auteur theory is one which I have done some research on before – if you are interested in some light reading feel free to immerse yourselves in Pulp Fact-ion: An Exploration of the Auteur Theory (Starring Quentin Tarantino) (Colvin 2016) – which filled me with optimism when I learnt of this task. Furthering my excitement then was the chance to look at another two artists which I happen to quite enjoy the work of – Michel Gondry and Radiohead – and one of the pioneers of cinema Georges Méliès.

In the film clip for Radiohead’s Knives Out Gondry’s use of in camera effects and trick staging are numerous but, when looking with direct reference to the techniques attributed to Méliès by Ezra in Georges Méliès: The Birth of the Auteur (2000), there are some that are easily identifiable;

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 10.59.01 PM

(Source: Knives Out, 2008, https://vimeo.com/31067592)

  • Matte shots – While Gondry appears to use a more stop motion approach to filming the use of the television, complete with moving picture, while the image around it remains stationary is a variation on the Matte shot which was utilised by Méliès in Le Portrait mysterieux/The Mysterious Portrait (1899), in which Melies places a blank canvas inside a large, empty picture frame, sits beside it, and watches as an image of himself materializes (Ezra 2000, p. 30)

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 10.59.28 PM

(Source: Knives Out, 2008, https://vimeo.com/31067592)

  • Staging in depth – when Thom Yorke is in the bed sliding back and forth past the camera.Méliès occasionally used staging in depth, by having actors move along the camera axis, rather than restricting them to horizontal movement (Ezra 2000, p. 32).

Given the progression of both cinema and technology since the time of Méliès other shared elements, such as the use of modelling and recreating smaller environments (the train track on the television) and the use of montage and overlapping editing, can be seen in works by both of these amazing Auteurs but are more difficult to justify with literary evidence given the drastically different nature of their works. Regardless of this the talent and influence of these two incredible directors cannot be understated – and nor should it – as they have both earned the right to be considered pioneers of film in their own unique right.

 

References

Colvin, W. (2016). Pulp Fact-ion: An Exploration of the Auteur Theory (starring Quentin Tarantino). Retrieved from https://confessionsofanergonomichitman.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/pulp-fact-ion-an-exploration-of-the-auteur-theory-starring-quentin-tarantino

Ezra, E. (2000). Georges Méliès: The Birth of the Auteur. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Knives Out [vid]. (2008). Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/31067592

 

 

 

Journal Research

For the final assessment task (Assessment 3: Issue Essay), having found myself enthralled by the Defining design as activism (Thorpe 2011) reading decided to explore and explain how recent design projects have utilised design activism to respond to one or more contemporary social problems. Given the broad nature of the topic – and how relatively little exposure I have had to it thus far – I settled in for some research and found two peer reviewed journal articles which helped greatly with my understanding.

Markussen (2013) offers somewhat of an explanation of design activism, in much the same vein as Thorpe – even going so far as to reference Defining design as activism (2011) – but works harder overall to separate design activism from other aspects of activism in general, insisting that although political activism and design activism may share common interchangeable themes the two are not mutually exclusive and can coexist harmoniously.

Lees-Maffei (2012) takes a slightly different approach and stance to design activism. In a recount of events from the 34th Design History Society annual conference in Barcelona Lees-Maffei cites historical sources and argues that – as was noted by a number of keynot speakers in the Catalan capital – Design Activism has become a fancy new way of describing design reform and is not necessarily a new thing. Instead it has been happening for hundreds off years in all matter of mediums as a way of achieving positive artistic expression be it embroidery or engineering.

While both articles contain vastly different content the overall summation by Lees-Maffei (2012) does well to bring together not only these two pieces but all facets of Design Activism.

“Design activism provides a compelling prism through which to understand the past, and awareness of the history of design activism and design reform can inform the present.” (Lees-Maffei, 2012 p. 92)

 

References

Lees-Maffei, G. (2012). Reflections on design activism and social change. Design Issues. Spring 201, 28(2), 90-92. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.swin.edu.au/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=b303ec5f-bb3a-45b3-8def-c3edbbad4489%40sessionmgr4008&vid=8&hid=4101

Markussen, T. (2013). The disruptive aesthetics of design activism: Enacting design between art and politics. Design Issues. Winter 2013, 29(1), 38-50. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.swin.edu.au/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=b303ec5f-bb3a-45b3-8def-c3edbbad4489%40sessionmgr4008&vid=9&hid=4101

Thorpe, A. (2011). Defining design as activism. Retrieved fromhttp://designactivism.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Thorpe-definingdesignactivism.pdf

Graphic Identity – Where did you come from?

Life’s greatest questions have always been; Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here?

When it comes to the second where we come from makes up a huge portion of our identity and, like us, where we come from has an identity of its own to maintain. It is for this reason that most states, territories, shires and towns have their own unique logo – something to capture their identity and share it with locals and visitors alike.

 

correct-baw-baw-shire-logo

(Baw Baw Shire Council, n.d.).

The Baw Baw Shire council logo is a fairly safe and simple logo. It’s neat and tidy and places emphasis on where you are – with the big bold Baw Baw leading the line. The colours used are symbolic of the area. The red soil of the volcanic Strzelecki ranges, the green in betweens of the pastures in the valleys and the dark green figure of Mt. Baw Baw itself with a peak that rests peacefully above all that surrounds it. The design has one simple purpose – to capture the essence of the hills and mountains in which it frequents and act as  “…a unifying symbol” (Glickfield 2010, p. 31).

Latrobe-Hor-Col-Wht-LGE-1024x412

(Latrobe City, n.d.).

In Glickfield’s On Logophobia (2010) she explains that “logos increasingly have to communicate an ethos rather than something figurative or literal, the designer’s task is to give form to abstract values, concepts and attitudes in a single mark” (2010, p. 27). This can be seen in the more modern, abstract looking logo for Latrobe City which looks to cash in on the abundance of coal mines and power stations in the area. The bold typeface on Latrobe gives it the main focus and the eye is directed by (what appears to be) a cooling tower.

Both logos identify and define the areas that they represent – but unlike a larger more densely populated and well known area (such as Melbourne) – this may only be seen in full to eyes of a local. A weary traveller who had just drifted into town with no knowledge of the area would be forgiven for just seeing  a collection of assorted shapes and colours.

References

Glickfeld, E. (2010). On logophobia. Meanjin, 69(3), P 26-32. Retrieved from http://onlineres.swin.edu.au.ezproxy.lib.swin.edu.au/522077.pdf

Baw Baw Shire Council [Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bawbawshire.vic.gov.au/Home

Latrobe City [Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.austimber.org.au/sponsors/latrobe-city/

Design Activism – Make something make something do something

In its simplest form activism can – and quite often does- appear around us daily. Why then is it, by definition at least, so difficult to properly identify? This was the question that Defining Design as Activism (Thorpe 2011) aimed to answer (with regards to design activism at least – which is where we go from here).

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 10.53.36 PM.png

(source: http://inkahoots.com.au/projects/keep-coal-in-the-ground)

Using the image above – taken from an Inkahoots project for Queensland Conservation – we can see how with the right application the criteria suggested by Thorpe can suitably define and demonstrate design as activism.

From (the) overview we can extract four basic criteria to define design as activism:

  • It publicly reveals or frames a problem or challenging issue.
  • It makes a contentious claim for change (it calls for change) based on that problem or issue.
  • It works on behalf of a neglected, excluded or disadvantaged group.
  • It disrupts routine practices, or systems of authority, which gives it the characteristic of being unconventional or unorthodox—outside traditional channels of change.(Thorpe 2011, p. 6)

Five simple words are all it takes for these criteria to be met – which clearly shows the power of design in activism. The first two criteria seemingly go hand in hand.

The problem or challenging issue? Mining.

The claim for change based on that issue? To make it stop.

The second two criteria, though still present, may not be as glaringly obvious – but are still relevant nonetheless. In todays modern society the single most neglected or disadvantaged group in existence has to be the natural environment. Humans may think they are the be all and end all but without our environment our existence is doomed. This human ignorance is prevalent for the final point as well – as it is we who have developed the mining practices which are being opposed.

It is for these reasons that a visually stimulating design is able to do so much more than a traditional activists protest or angry letter ever could.

References

Thorpe, A. (2011). Defining design as activism. Retrieved from http://designactivism.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Thorpe-definingdesignactivism.pdf

Keep Coal in the Ground [Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://inkahoots.com.au/projects/keep-coal-in-the-ground