As a graphic designer, I have been experiencing a deep and growing unease for many years about what I do.
I started to look around for some possible clues in order to resolve an answer, to create a context in which I could begin to look at the role of design, and my role within it. At this critical juncture of the 21st Century, today’s key question is one of identity and role. We increasingly define ourselves through input, and are under pressure to simultaneously publish, receive and edit a million messages a day.
Digital is dead.
At the heart though, stands a question central to our industry – can design feed people?
Clearly, design itself cannot be used as physical sustenance, unless, of course, we find a way of pulping and recycling printed matter as edible fibre. Or redirecting all that energy towards other more humane uses. Still, that leaves an infinite space of digital matter that remains unaccountable.
I immersed myself in an online information jungle, and quickly drowned in an ocean of hard, devastating facts. Each fact led to another ten connections, and each in turn to another ten in a never-ending spiral of links. These facts were shocking to me and as each one was uncovered, the consequences of the statistics began to reveal my planet to be a planet I did not know. A culture shock.
And these facts, when laid out on the dining table, started to reveal links and parallels with each other, forming a matrix of echoes and reflections, a grid of interwoven cause and effect. Not the virtual web of computer cables, or the sprawling network of travel and tourism, but a flowing, fluid dynamic of extreme contrasts and seismic shifts, one set of facts overlaying another in a kind of disharmonic harmony.
The problem with human statistics is that they conceal the human. We hide behind a wall of figures and percentages, an infowall, hoping against hope that the world of real individual pain will remain a virtual one, one in which death and suffering is somebody else’s problem, where any remote suggestion of real emotion can be buried beneath the white pages of statistical papers.
You see, from where we stand, it seems pretty perfect. Excitement about new technologies and software justifies all our inaction. We obsess about communication, and we dispense with content. We foolishly imagine that this will somehow save the planet, yet all it does is keep us so busy that we don’t have to think about anything. We become obsessed with the how and the what, not the why.
Design cannot in itself feed people or replace governments. It cannot shelter homeless people, and it cannot in itself be a cure for Aids. But there are many things it can be. It can educate, instead of dictate. It can reveal and publicise, it can be a call to arms to help our neighbours. It can be a rallying cry to shake people out of their stupor, it can undermine official disinformation, it can help create awareness; it can empower people to better communicate, to let others become aware of their problems, to reduce their reliance on outsiders, to become self-sufficient.
We still listen to the old instructions, repeating behaviours, and failed behaviours at that, instead of inventing new ones. The reason we as a race continue to exhibit old behaviours is that we have not given ourselves permission to stop listening to the old instructions. We need to encourage, stimulate or produce real behavioural change.
The human revolution begins here, and you will need to be willing to be part of that risk. The distribution channels are there, albeit reaching as yet small populations. We, as providers and content creators have the keys to unlock true communication, communication with real meaning and the power to alter our lives and the lives of others for the better through empowerment and respect.
We need to create a dialogue, not a monobrand, monothought monologue. One where the message itself may be altered, the grid rearranged. If we are to not only survive as a species, but to prosper creatively and to evolve dynamically, we must recognise the whole human race as a brand, with all of its diversity and colour, its differences and sometimes its vetos. A brand based on respect, not power; possibility, not uniformity. Love, not fear.