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