Citizen Designer
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Citizen Designer

Perspectives on Design Responsibility (Second Edition)

Steven Heller, Veronique Vienne

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eBook - ePub

Citizen Designer

Perspectives on Design Responsibility (Second Edition)

Steven Heller, Veronique Vienne

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About This Book

Balancing Social, Professional, and Artistic Views
What does it mean to be a designer in today's corporate-driven, overbranded global consumer culture? Citizen Designer, Second Edition, attempts to answer this question with more than seventy debate-stirring essays and interviews espousing viewpoints ranging from the cultural and the political to the professional and the social. This new edition contains a collection of definitions and brief case studies on topics that today's citizen designers must consider, including new essays on social innovation, individual advocacy, group strategies, and living as an ethical designer. Edited by two prominent advocates of socially responsible design, this innovative reference responds to the tough questions today's designers continue to ask themselves, such as:

  • How can a designer affect social or political change?
  • Can design become more than just a service to clients?
  • At what point does a designer have to take responsibility for the client's actions?
  • When should a designer take a stand?

  • Readers will find dozens of captivating insights and opinions on such important issues as reality branding, game design and school violence, advertising and exploitation, design as an environmental driving force, and much more. This candid guide encourages designers to carefully research their clients; become alert about corporate, political, and social developments; and design responsible products. Citizen Designer, Second Edition, includes insights on such contemporary topics as advertising of harmful products, branding to minors, and violence and game design. Readers are presented with an enticing mix of opinions in an appealing format that juxtaposes essays, interviews, and countless illustrations of "design citizenship."

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Part 1

The Language of Design Citizenship

Social justice, human rights, and environmental policies used to be the domain of public advocates, activists, and militants. Issues that tested the moral principles of a handful of concerned citizens are now mainstreamed—the responsibility of a growing number of ordinary people like you and me. This is a welcome development. However, we are new to the field of advocacy. We need guidance. Making matters more complicated is the fact that the most sensitive questions that confront our society—poverty, racism, injustice, you name it—have been commandeered by business entities that benefit from being associated with worthy causes. The lines that separate public from private interests are disappearing. It can be a good thing: corporate philanthropic initiatives can make a difference. They can also hijack issues, deflecting the attention away from the real problems with feel-good solutions.

Beyond Wishful Thinking
—A Designer’s Glossary

Véronique Vienne

This glossary of terms relating to design responsibility is an attempt to sort out wishful thinking from reality. Use it as a guide to help you find where you stand on issues. Case studies involving designers, artists, marketers, and brand consultants are examples of how people in our field integrate a more responsible behavior in their daily practices. My perspective and my conclusions reflect my interests and professional experience. You may disagree with me on many points. You probably will—but I do hope that you will find below an incentive to develop and assert your own opinions.
Case Study: Liquid Agency
Related Topics: Altruism, Content Marketing, Pro Bono
In most civilized countries, from Albania to Uzbekistan, independent government officials are appointed to plead the cause of ordinary citizens whose legitimate complaints cannot be resolved by legal institutions. In the United States, the system does not provide this service, and people with special needs or issues must scramble to find help outside the public sector. Private advocates volunteer to fill the gap, making advocacy a uniquely American occupation.
Driven by a feeling of solidarity, unsalaried advocates pester bureaucrats, write petitions, gather signatures, raise money, call journalists—all along giving everyone a hard time in order to get results. Advocates are the real heroes in the Land of the Free—but here lies a contradiction: their unpaid status is their greatest asset, and the reason they are so efficient. Their moral superiority over paid workers is a major competitive advantage. They are not mercenaries but guerrilla fighters on the battlefront of administrative hurdles.
Advocates are so effective that brands, aware of the power of unsalaried supporters, embrace advocacy as the best way to promote their interests. Their preferred marketing strategy consists of turning loyal customers into brand advocates. Liquid Agency, in Silicon Valley, is one of the pioneers of this form of “commercial” advocacy. Brand experience specialists, their success rides on the groundswell of social media: they say that, on behalf of their various clients, they’ve been able to generate more than thirty million unprompted conversations between new customers and enthusiastic, unpaid brand advocates.
Savvy marketers don’t sell products, they sell authenticity, the one thing money can’t buy.
Case Study: Paris Opera / 3Ème Scène
Related Topics: Cultural Activism, Fake News
Gone are the days when alternative media was a novelty. Paradoxically, proposing radically different content to a highly selective public is now a mainstream practice. Traditional newspapers and magazines are developing digitalized platforms for distributing niche viewpoints with a “zine” mentality. Provocative headlines, short indie films, and special-edition podcasts are available on frequently updated web feeds targeting atypical readers. Relentless content stimulation has become the norm. The participatory culture that alternative media platforms were supposed to foster has in fact promoted a sense of uniformity.
Call it subculture fatigue.
Miraculously, a handful of media institutions manage to create alternative forms of communication whose appeal is different—but differently. One example is the 350-year-old Paris Opera company that sponsors short videos by contemporary filmmakers and avant-garde artists. The performances are original creations, not previews or medleys. Available on YouTube, the 3ème Scène series is conceived as a third “stage”—as a filmic alternative to the highly emotional experience of live ballet and opera performances.
Case Study: Designers Without Borders
Related Topics: Charitable Gifts, Mentoring, Pro Bono Work
Altruism is a nineteenth-century concept, an invention of French philosopher Auguste Comte. He believed that we were hardwired to put the welfare of our fellow human beings before our own. Nice try. Since, no one has been able to prove that he was right. There is no scientific evidence that a totally selfless concern for others is even possible. The reality is a lot more pragmatic: we engage in altruistic behaviors because helping others makes us feel good. The health benefits of volunteering are clinically proven. Compassion and kindness are more effective against depressive disorders than Prozac.
This could explain why designers are a pretty upbeat group. Concern for the common good is a shared notion in this profession. Called upon to solve problems that affect the quality of life of users—and the bottom line of their clients—most designers can’t afford to be completely self-absorbed. They cannot ignore societal issues. Willy-nilly, they serve the interests of others—in fact, that’s what they do best.
There is no shortage of designers eager to join like-minded communities of generous problem solvers. Designers Without Borders is a nonprofit foundation that can open doors to altruistic designers by putting them in contact with the right clients. Hired by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), they can look forward to delivering high quality design services to crisis-affected populations in Africa and elsewhere. And there are perks, too: you can win design awards while developing great communication campaigns for people, and institutions in the developing world can showcase your talent in ways commercial assignments do not. And keep in mind that juries love to give design awards to projects that serve worthy causes.
Case Study: Black Lives Matter
Related Topics: Civil Disobedience, Protest Marches
To have an impact, antiwar movements need powerful images. Most popular are photographs of peaceful demonstrators offering flowers to police officers in full riot gear—a genre pioneered at the height of the Vietnam War by photojournalists covering antiwar protests. However, manufacturing antiwar imagery has always been a challenge. There is no memorable poster for anti–Cold War or anti–World War II sentiment. In contrast, opposition to World War I produced the Dada movement—probably the most original of all twentieth-century avant-gardes, and still a source of inspiration for protesting artists today.
In the twenty-first century, the wars that are the focus of most dissent have names like “War on Terror,” “War on Crime,” or “War on Drugs.” Profiting the military-industrial complex, these “wars” often target minorities, African Americans in particular. More than any other group, they are victims of racial profiling, police brutality, and systemic violence. One organization, Black Lives Matter (BLM), regularly holds peaceful protests, marches, and rallies. An international activist movement, it might turn out to be as influential as the Vietnam antiwar movement was fifty years ago. BLM has a great logo, but no powerful imagery—not yet—except for a raised fist, a ubiquitous symbol of defiance.
Case Study: Ukrainian Mirror Protest
Related Topics: Civil Disobedience, Political Posters, Protest Marches
Think of them as mixed-media art installations. A seventeenth-century Parisian invention, the first barricades were simple chains extended across narrow streets to prevent government forces from storming inner city neighborhoods to make arrests. With each new rebellion, barricades became more efficient, as protesters realized that messy piles of indiscriminate objects were harder to dismantle than tidy structures. Over the centuries, novelists and poets have celebrated these homemade barricades as bastions of creative resistance. The twenty-first-century versions are built with sandbags, tires, cobblestones, barbed wire, bamboo poles, scaffoldings, and even snow.
The US Army Corps of Engineers has developed high-security barricades to be used against terrorists—and insurgents. Portable and computer controlled, these crowd-control fences are sci-fi blockades with none of the heroic appeal of ersatz fortifications. To fight the dehumanization of street confrontations, protesters in Kiev staged a living performance while facing riot police. Forming a barricade by standing shoulder to shoulder, they held mirrors while defying their armed aggressors. Known as the Ukrainian Mirror Protest, it was a perverse “selfie” moment. Forced to look at themselves, some paratroopers appeared confused, embarrassed, and ashamed. A few looked away. A couple tried to smile.
Case Study: Persado Software
Related Topics: Calls to Action, Fake News, Outrage Addiction
One could argue that design is a manipulative discipline of sorts. The role of a designer is to influence the way people relate to a product, a service, or a message. However, the design process never aspired to become a science. Design Thinking is the closest we ever got to a systematic study of the laws of creativity. But today, with the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning, a number of design agencies are morphing into “cognitive content” platforms. They develop proprietary “behavioral algorithms” to identify the “optimal” visual language and wording to “drive action.”
It’s a lot of jargon to say brainwashing.
A dizzying number of new ventures are using cloud-based market research and computer data analysis to solve their clients’ communication needs. It’s a brave new world. They can tell you which part of a photograph has the most visual effect on a specific target audience. They can create elaborate dashboards to visualize consumers’ browsing habits and favorite keywords. They can automatically tweak messages to find the exact words that will get people to “engage.” One London-based platform, Persado, has cataloged one million words and phrases and rated them based on sentiment analysis. “The software can create a message, optimize its language, and then translate that message into any of 23 languages.” Using a technology called “emotion ontology,” Persado can appraise which subjective feeling is most likely to trigger the desired response.
Case Study: Climate Solutions Caucus
Related Topics: Advocacy, Nonpartisan Journalism, Political Correctness, Red and Blue
In politics, bipartisanship is the Holy Grail. It is a mystical quest for all elected officials. Their constituents expect them to put their principles above their electoral self-interests. You and I would like to think that we’ve elected politicians who can win support from colleagues across the aisle. Investigating sexual misconducts, and punishing acts of anti-Semitism. Everything else is a polarizing topic, and the only way lawmakers can reach a compromise is to wheel and deal behind the scenes.
But miracles do happen: quantifiable facts on global warming are prompting some members of the US House of Representatives of both parties to form the truly bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. With slogans like “Science is patriotic,” they strive to educate their members to depoliticize the environmental policies in the United States. Could the climate change trigger a real sea change in a frozen and gridlocked two-party system?
Case Study: École 42
Related Topics: Hacktivism/Activism, Whistleblowing
Eventually all rules must be broken. Today grammatical rules are at the forefront of a culture war, fighting a losing battle against the assaults of digital technologies. On mobile devices, keystrokes have a mind of their own. Social media sound bites pack together acronyms, memes, typos, emoticons, hashtags, homophones, slurs, ellipses—and split infinitives. Like it or not, electronic text-speak is here to stay.
Disruption is the latest buzzword. With innovations that are counter-intuitive, disruptive business models are driving the cyber economy. Making headlines are cars without drivers, people who are famous for not being famous, and schools without teachers or academic programs.
Such is the concept behind École 42, a private, nonprofit, tuition-free computer programming school that doesn’t have any faculty, does not issue a diploma or a degree, and is open 24/7. With two campuses, one in Paris, France, and the other in Fremont, California, the school embraces peer learning, whereby students are expected to self-organize and assist one another. During the three to five years it might take for them to complete the curriculum and become world-class developers, the digital economy will have evolved—new rules will have to be broken—and École 42 graduates will be prepared to program the next disruptions.
Case Study: The Nerdy Nonprofit
Related Topics: Consumers Boycott, Memes
The most celebrated call to action (CTA) in the history of graphic design is probably Alexander Rodchenko’s 1924 Constructivist poster featuring a woman who appears to be calling citizen to come get books for free—part of a campaign to democratize literacy. Already a century ago, rallying cries were used to infuse a sense of urgency to advertising messages. Mu...

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