read: We Change

1

2011, University of Brighton, College of Arts and Humanities, UK.

This project promotes and manifests „Sustainable Design“ amongst designers.
It criticises the abnegation of responsibility of many designers, it says why design is political, and explains the required change, which has to take place.
Change is provided through instruments, design is an instrument. To use this instrument for a change the mind of the user has to pass through a change as well.
After you read it, pull the thread, reveal the posters in the inside and hang them up on a wall in your private place or in a public space and start to change.

Agit-prop / from Russian (агитпроп)
»The term Agit-prop is a contraction of the Russian words ‚agitatsiia‘ and ‚propaganda‘ in the title of the Department of Agitation and Propaganda set up in 1920 by the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. From then on it was an omnipresent activity in the Soviet Union. Intended to control and promote the ideological conditioning of the masses, it took many forms, such as palaces of culture, Agit-prop trains and cars covered with slogans and posters, poster campaigns, and countless agitation centres, or‚ agitpunkts‘. Books and libraries also played an important role in the Agit-prop enterprise. In the early years avant-garde artists particularly those associated with the Constructivists contributed to Agit-prop manifestations, particularly poster designs. Today the term has come to refer to any cultural manifestation with an overtly political purpose.« (2)

 

„On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels‘ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he‘s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.“ (1)

Czesław Miłosz (1911 – 2004) was a Polish poet and essayist,awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980.

 

abgnegation of responsibilty.

»The self-oranizing principles of markets that have emerged in human cultures over the past 10,000 years are in conflict with the self-organizing principles of ecosystems that have evolved over the past 3.5 billion years.« (3)
Our planet is cataclysmic distressed. We exhaust all of its resources, cover it with waste, deforest it, pollute the water and air, until it will be contaminated and will not offer any life any longer. Finally the Earth will not collapse, it will continue to exist, but without us.
Hence, sustainability is not only an issue of „saving the planet“, it is an issue of saving us on it. Humanity depends on the world and we are taking our future away. Yet, environmentalists will not do the job on their own, it is in everybody´s responsibility to take part on this journey towards a change, which will assure our life within the world.
Now, I question your participation as a designer, realising that many of us have not yet engaged with the most important issue in the present: How can we sustain our life on this fragile planet? Most designers still not consider their impact and contribution to the answer. Therefore, this project is concerned with encouraging designers, who have still not found their way, into sustainable design, and provoking a debate around the lack of participants willing to contribute towards the necessary change.
It is not my aim to present the doom and gloom of our world if we do not, but instead, I will identify the impact of the designer on environmental, human, and political issues.
This is a motivation for designers to recognise their power, instead of lingering in a puddle of marketing orientated briefs and contracts with undetermined clients.

The project aims to set a debate about the unjustified projects, the unpolitical choices, the forgotten aspirations and the abnegation of responsibility of many designers.
Those who are paralysed by this subject may state: »The job of the designer is what the client wants«. For those who have already rendered their judgement: No, it is not. It is not anymore, designing became a „client above designer relationship“ due to capitalistic thinking, due to ideas of a „consumption-wage-balance“ implanted in our heads by ourselves: The designers who do the artefacts and the advertisements, controlled by brands and
industry. The designer did not loose his influence, he simply forgot about it.

In his book „Design Anarchy“ Kalle Lasn, creator of the design magazine „Adbusters“, blames the designer for the societies and ecological problems, as he points out that designers are the creators of the culture, and how they abuse their power by focusing on making money for themselves and their clients.

»I am not a decorator, a packager..
I am the author, the storyteller,
the creator of meanings.
I am a very powerful person
I am to the info age what engineers
were to the age of steam.
What scientists were to the age of reason.
-I set the mood of the mental environment
-The look and lure of magazines
-The tone and pull of tv
-The give-and-take of the net
I create envy and desire
that fuels the global economy
And the cynicism that underlies
our postmodern condition« (3)

Design means to create artefacts, messages and services. It means creating adverts, products and belongings. It means creating ideas and trends. Therefore it shapes habits, behaviour and choices. (4) Design is everywhere and with everybody, and design has consequences. It influences people´s lives, it has impact and is a powerful tool and an instrument of change: »Design can contribute to reformist approaches. It has the ability to catalyse societal transformations. Design is critical imagining.« (5) Start to use your power!

 

design and politics.

Design is power, every designer has power and should be aware of the impact he or she has on the people´s mind, their life, their culture, the economy, the environment and the planet. »All men are designers. All we do, almost all the time, is design, for design is basic to all human activity.« (6) And design is political.

In the definitions of „politics“, we read:

»Politics from Greek: {πολιτικός} of, for, or relating to citizens. Is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions.« (7) > wikipedia.org

»What pertains to the life of the city or state. Hence, study of citizenship or the art of governance generally. Political philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Mill, Marx, and MacKinnon examine the origins, forms, and limits of political power as exercised in practical life.« (8) > Philosophical Dictionary

»Politics is the exercise of power and the interaction of people with power. The narrow definition of Politics (with a
capital „P“) refers to the governing of astate or country and is limited to professional politicians. The broad definition of politics (with a small „p“) considers the interaction of all forms of power, which happens wherever there is a relationship. Everyone is therefore political and has the potential to influence what happens in their lives, their communities and their countries.« (9) > Advocacy Toolkit

If design is power, and politics (with small „p“) is the exercise of power, design is political. If designers have power, and politics is the interaction of people with power, then designers are political. »Everything we do is politics. The difference is whether we are aware of this or not.« (10)
The relationship between designers and politics can be divided into two different parts: „Political Design“ and „Politics in Design“.
„Political design“ is intended to carry political messages or focus on crucial subjects. It describes on one hand politically active design, which considers symbols of formal politics, political organisations or national identity. Design is used to make social and political comments. (11) On the other hand, many designers decide that making only useful products is not enough, so they wish their products to be more, to send messages or become a focus for discussion. (12) »In addition objects have the ability to be the focus of discussion about our potential futures; to explore through objects, the logical conclusion to certain models of thought, be politically partisan, positive (utopian) or negative (distopian).« (13)
Design activism, critical-design, anarchy-design, awareness-design or guerrilla-design uses design as a medium to stimulate discussions and debates. It raises awareness on topics. Those objects and messages definitely stress the idea of design being an important communicator, but often remain unnoticed by the mass of the people. On the contrary, „politics in design“ are intended or unintended, nevertheless, every piece of design carries a political connotation and is therefore political.
Those political connotations are described by Tim Parsons in three different levels: The signal a piece of design sends to the recipient, its wider impact on nature, economy, society and environment, and its design process. (14)
The connotations are depending on the decisions we make as designers, hence we are political whether we decided it consciously or not. Furthermore the piece we create carries power, values, preferences and ideologies, it always implies a political leaning by the effect it has on the recipient. Eventually we are responsible for its consequences. Parson describes additionally, that whether or not the designers´ choice of style has a political motive, an object may imply a political leaning by the effect it has on us. Objects can liberate or channel behaviour and this is a key political weapon. (15)
The designer, between consumer, industry and production, makes all those decisions, he holds a relationship to the participants and communicates with them. His work is a tool, which either fosters the current situation, or is used to provide a change. »What human beings are and will become is decided in the shape of our tools no less than in the action of statesmen and political movements.« (16)
Even though it seems to us we are only fulfilling a clients brief (which is already a political choice), we have the power and we eventually make all the choices and also influence our client in his choices.

Tony Fry also describes the process of change in his book „Design as Politics“: »What all agents of change need to do is to learn how to move design out of its economic function and into a political frame.« (17) As designers, we have to consider our political position and implement it into our work. The demand for political-aware designers is vast. We need designers who are not campaigning, but solving problems. We need them to use their skills and power to create the change.

 

the change.

»Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.« Margaret Mead (18)

Once we have gained the perception of our power and see ourselfes as political agents we realise that we actually can create a positive cultural change!
We need to shift our way of working, we need to articulate and convert our thoughts into a positive societal and environmental change.
From now on, we need to get out of our commercial box and re-think our work, to gain more eco- and ethic-friendly results, to pursuit for meaningful design, and new values.
»The perspective -the aesthetic- of our sustainable future has yet to take hold. But we can speculate. It´s an honest, simple way of being. It follows organic cycles and mimics nature´s way. It´s not so much about being moral or „good“ as being a little bit wild and fiercely determined, like crabgrass growing through cracks in the concrete. It´s about „being“ rather than „having“ and „process“ rather than „form“. As this new way of experiencing
the world seeps into imaginations, it begins to change our clothes, our houses, our shops, streets, food, music.«19
Primarily we have to stimulate our surroundings for this shift: Our colleagues and our clients. It all start with one, but one needs to take more and more people onto his journey. Do not be afraid, that convincing surroundings will be difficult, because sustainable designing is undoubtedly good for us. Not only in matters concerning the Earth, but also for our lifes, our health, our society and our culture.
This is the biggest motivation, and no-one will deny it. Consequently, stimulating a change in our surroundings will be easy, once we have demonstrated feasible approaches to it. Nevertheless, sustainability has to be the next step for us, we are preparing ourselves right now and we are gaining pace. Consumers are re-orientating themselves
already, demanding a greater meaning in life. »Consumers have a more positive image of a company if they see it doing something to make the world a better place. The future survival depends upon delivery and
perceptibility of environmentally conscious practices and products.« (20)

We need to catch up with them and recognize the switch in demands.
It is a personal development, a life journey, to realise a state of being and the desire to contribute to a greater social good,
motivated by the worlds requirement for our help, the desire to sustain our lives and the goal of gainable aspirations.
»It´s time for a radical re-think.« Gert Dumbar (21)
After perceiving our power as designers, we have to make a decision about our political position.
Some may decide to continue their work as designers for the regular system (for advertising, brands and industry) implying new meaning into their work.
Some others may turn away from the system, and try to contribute to the general development of new ideas for sustainable design, or attempt to educate others about the idea. However, we start it right now. Because now is the time. When you start searching and gathering information you will find yourself in a huge community, which shares the same idea of a better life. You will find support and you will find new people to join, discovering that this idea sowly changing from an utopia to the only possible future and this future requires help to become present.
We are the makers, the creators.
We need to be aware of what we make and create.

 

References.
1 „Postwar Polish poetry: An Anthology“, Czesław Miłosz, University of California Press, 1983, P. 76
2 Glossary of Tate Britain, London, http://www.tate.org.uk/collections/glossary/default.htm, 08.11.2011
3 Lasn, K., „Design Anarchy“, Adbusters Media Foundation, 2006.
4 Various authors, „First Things First Manifesto 2000“, „Emigre 51“, 1999: http://www.emigre.com/Editorial.php?sect=1&id=14, 06.11.2011.
5 Fuad-Luke, A., „Design Activism: Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World“, 2009, Earthscan, UK, p.XXI)
6 Papanek, V., „Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change“, 1985, Thames and Hudson, UK.
7 Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics, 06.11.2011.
8 Philosophical Dictionary: (http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/p7.htm#poli), 06.11.2011.
9 Graham,G., „Advocacy Toolkit: Understanding Advocacy“, Tearfund Roots Resources, P.50, PDF: http://tilz.tearfund.org/Publications/ROOTS/Advocacy+toolkit.htm, 04.11.2011.
10 Mari, E. in: Burkhardt, F., „Why Write a Book About Enzo Mari?“, 1997, Milan: Frederico Motta Editore. In:Parsons,T., „Thinking: Objects. Contemporary Approach to Product Design“, 2009, AVA Publishing SA, p.16.
11 Winhall,J., „Is design political?“: http://www.core77.com/reactor/03.06_winhall.asp, 05.11.2011
12 Aldersey-Williams, H., „Applied Curiosity“, in: „Design and the Elastic Mind“, 2008, Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA, p. 46.
13 Parsons,T., „Thinking: Objects. Contemporary Approach to Product Design“, 2009, AVA Publishing SA, p.20.
14/15 Parsons,T., „Thinking: Objects. Contemporary Approach to Product Design“, 2009, AVA Publishing SA, p.17.
16 Feenberg, A., „Transforming Technology: A Critical Theory Revisited“, (1991)2002, Oxford: Oxford University Press (p.3). In: Dunne & Raby, „Between Reality and the Impossible“, PDF, p. 2: (http://www.dunneandraby.co.uk/content/bydandr), 05.11.2011
17 Fry, T., „Design as Politics“, Berg, 2011, p.VIII.
18 Margaret Mead, 1901–1978, American cultural anthropologist, in: Fuad-Luke, A., „Design Activism: Beautiful
Strangeness for a Sustainable World“, Earthscan, 2009, UK, p.77
19 Lasn, K., „Design Anarchy“, Adbusters Media Foundation, 2006.
20 Chapman, J., „Emotionally Durable Design: Objects, Experiences and Empathy“, Earthscan, 2005, p. 176.
21 Lasn, K., „Design Anarchy“, Adbusters Media Foundation, 2006.
Alana Zubritz
MA Sustainable Design
University of Brighton
Faculty of Arts
Brighton,
United Kingdom
2011