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Design as Manipulation. Design as Emancipation

Communication design is used to sell products – but even when it is not explicitly engaged in manufacturing consumer desire, design can function to conceal the impacts of conspicuous consumption and the socio-political-economic system through a process known as symbolic violence. While communication design can be used to reveal consequences, illustrate systemic dynamics and facilitate public processes – capitalism needs designers to promote consumption not to critique consumption! The values embedded in capitalism are reproduced by the design industry. Communication design serves not only to whitewash the destructive practices of corporate entities but to perpetuate the point of view of the culturally, politically and economically powerful.

While there is some vague anti-consumerist and anti-corporate rhetoric in design circles – a cynical stance, on its own, will not transform the dysfunctional political systems. What is urgently needed in design is new form of politically, socially and ecologically engaged design practice. The work of building new social relations that can resist and transform political and economic institutions requires transparent, truthful and participatory communication systems. Designers must engage with social movements who have a legacy of creating agency and developing the means to see through oppressive cultural practices. In this way design can become a force for emancipation rather than manipulation.

Presentation at Occupy Design launch January 2012

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Design as Manipulation. Design as Emancipation

  1. 1. Symbolic Violence:Design as Manipulation / Design as Emancipation Jody Boehnert EcoLabs - @OccupyDesignUK Launch January 2012
  2. 2. THE STEADY STATE ECONOMYA Totem of Real Happiness
  3. 3. reas sur an c e fast climate Change Slow climate change £220 £220 £260 £280 £280 £300 BROWN ‘Green’ TECH African bush Canadian Beaver sparrows Honey bee Tech elephant Fig Trees Starfish bowhead tropical cameron whale forest £200 £340 Slow oil deplesion Tasmanian Slow oil deplesion Coral reef Amazon Forest £180 £340 Yangtze so ci al learni n g Boreal Forest River £360 £180tech n o -fix E conopoly Enviropig £160 Hydrophere cereal hybrid £140 £380 Fast oil depletion Fast oil depletion Descent Energy Local Plan Atmosphere terminator gene £140 £400 Local Energy Lake Gulf of Descent ARAL Kalahari Kayapo Madagascan Victoria Mexico Plan Sea Devil’s Claw people Periwinkle Coll apse Transition £120 £100 £100 £80 £60 £60 fast climate Change slow climate change cr isis ori ent ed
  4. 4. £220 £260 £280 £280 Canadian Beaver sparrows Fig Trees StarfishE conop oly Ecology GAmes 2012
  5. 5. Design asManipulationThe UK advertising industry, worth £17,318M in 2008 (1.2% of GDP),has plentiful resources to communicate a view of nature that suitsthe needs of industry and convince the public that new products andbusiness as usual are sustainable.
  6. 6. Design skills are harnessed to help advertisers communicateattitudes and values supporting consumer capitalism.Advertising offers highly paid work for graphic designers buta recent report by the new economics foundation found that‘for every £1 of value created by an advertising executive,£11.50 is destroyed’ (nef 2009).
  7. 7. Symbolic violence is perpetuated through design.The design industry manipulates tastes, desire and identity tomaintain the seductive power of consumer capitalism.Design serves the needs the capitalism system that is dependenton both the exploitation of nature and the invisibility andremoteness of this dynamic.
  8. 8. This visibility of corporate advertising marginalizes environmentalconcerns to the point of obscurity.Truthful information on the state of Earth’s systems cannot competewith the information overload by advertisers characterizing natureas infinitely exploitable.
  9. 9. Design asEmanicipation • Visualizing ecological literacy & sustainability • Supporting social movements (such as Occupy) • Politically, socially & ecologically engaged design practice
  10. 10. Visualising ecological literacy & sustainability Graphic by PIRC
  11. 11. Recent temperature changes GLOBAL STEP 2 Temperature Choice Models vs. Scenarios Bars show the range in year 2100 produced by several scenarios. 6.0 5.5 5.0 A1FI - Rapid growth, fossil fuel intensive. Temperature Rise, degrees Celsius 4.5Temperature Rise, degrees Celsius. A2 - High energy consumption, rapid population growth. 4.0 A1B - Rapid growth, balanced energy sources. 3.5 B2 - Environmental preservation and local solutions. 3.0 A1T - Rapid growth, new, non-carbon, technology. 2.5 IS92a - "Business as usual" IPCC. 2.0 B1 - Environmentally and socially conscious global approach. 1.5 1.0 0.5 Scenarios A1B 0.0 A1T A1FI -0.5 A2 B1 -1.0 B2 IS92a 1700 1800 1900 2000 2100 Year "The Game Plan" slideset release 1.0, March 13 2008 43
  12. 12. Springer-Verlag. The New Scientist.
  13. 13. Earth’s Natural Wealth: an Audit. The New Scientist
  14. 14. The Oil Age. Information design by Dave Menninger. 2006
  15. 15. Good Magazine
  16. 16. Living Planet Report WWF
  17. 17. Planetary Boundaries Climate Change Nit ro ge n ss & Lo Ph ity o s sp er ho iv ru od s Bi Cy cle s Ocean A System Change cidification Land Ch n em io et ic l ep al D P ol er lu at tio W n h es Fr Ozon e and AerosolHumanity has already transgressed three planetary boundaries: for climate change, rate of biodiversity loss and changes to the global nitrogen cycle.
  18. 18.