Last weekend LOKI took Design Against Design to Detroit for the 20th annual Allied Media Conference. We are thankful to have been able to speak to designers with similar practices based in social change/social justice. It was uplifting and inspiring to find ourselves in a design space where the conversations revolved so easily around the how-to's of doing the activism, the life, and the running of a studio — all with little resources and huge demands. We spoke with the aim of demystifying design practices and showcasing work that functions as/supports social-political resistance. We also critically questioned the current positioning and language of social innovation design, which we see as a gentrifying force towards our activist design practices.
LOKI is very excited to be presenting the opening session of the Design Justice track at this year's Allied Media Conference!
The strategy session we are proposing, Design Against Design, will pull together case studies of selected work alongside broader research and thinking on oppositional design practices. We will also present a critique of contemporary social innovation practices that co-opt the language of grassroots activism and design theory, often towards blatantly neoliberal ends.
It is our hope that the session will inspire the collective development of more genuine ways of speaking about and working through socially-engaged design practice, forge new networks, and build some much needed momentum against the growing conservatism of the discipline of design, and culture at large.
Looking forward to seeing everyone in Detroit!
This Thursday I'll be helping to launch Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief in Montréal alongside editor Cindy Milstein at Librarie l'Euguélionne. The collection draws together reflections on the relationship between structural losses, mourning, and resistance. As Silvia Federici describes it "uncovers the destruction of life that capitalist development leaves in its trail. But it is also witness to the power of grief as a catalyst to collective resistance."
My contribution to the book, Fragments Towards a Whole, is a deeply personal one, addressing childhood sexual abuse and its refractions on my life as an activist. Told through fragments across time, it searches for connections and connection, and pushes towards the ideal of collective action as a salve for personal trauma.
Jen Wang’s essay does a brilliant job of challenging the neutrality/whiteness of modernist design aesthetics, as part of a broader analysis on the intersections of racism and design.
“You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
— Howard Zinn
In 1991, Brenda Mitchell-Powell published an article in AIGA’s Journal titled, “Why is Design 93% White?” Since then, little has changed in the racial makeup of the design industry. While there are now more women in the profession, design remains overwhelmingly white, and decidedly not reflective of the racial demographics in the United States. The topic has been revived lately, but the discussion seems to revolve around issues of inclusion. But that inclusion is contingent on the aesthetic parameters of design itself being inclusive. What value does design, as it exists and is taught now, have to communities of color, and how does it represent them?
The lack of racial diversity in graphic design is tied to the pedagogy of design itself. At design schools, foundation courses teach a clearly Western European approach rooted in Modernism. Design history, as it is taught in those settings, renders racial whiteness invisible through an erasure of social context. By isolating creative movements and individual creators, design pedagogy supports the myth of individual exceptionalism, while the Western-centric approach implies racial essentialism. Combined with validating its design aesthetic through theory, this results in a visual language that can exclude and invalidate the perspectives of non-whites. How can a profession hope to attract people of color when the requirements are to assimilate, internalize, and perpetuate white hegemony?
Renewed support is needed for Lucy Granados, the Montreal community member and organizer for the rights of undocumented migrants who was violently arrested on March 20th and deported on April 13th, despite a very strong public mobilization.
Lucy’s application for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds (H&C) is still under consideration and the Minister of Immigration has a legal obligation to respond, one way or the other. Lucy’s application is very compelling and under normal circumstances, if she were still in the country, it would have been accepted. We need to keep the pressure up and not allow the Trudeau government to reject this strong file because they want to evade accountability about CBSA abuse.
More info here.
A little over six years ago, we (Artivistic and our allies) organized, drafted and launched an open letter in support of the 2012 Québec Student Strike. The letter garnered over 500 signatures, drawing links between the threat to education and austerity measures against culture. The website we built for it is long gone, so we've decided to republish it here for posterity, and in the hopes of rekindling our collective imagination and aspirations.
In stark contrast to the hollow optimism, vague buzzwords, and entrepreneurial logic adorning the About pages of social impact and design thinking agencies, these sets of shared principles embody approaches to design practice that are genuinely committed to the communities they serve.
Image-shift: 13 points on (graphic) design
Sandy Kaltenborn of the Berlin-based studio Image-Shift drafts out 13 points sharing their perspective on (graphic) design, clearly and practically demonstrating how it works as a fundamentally social practice.
design requires positioning. you need to know where you stand, to know from where you are speaking. otherwise you are like a leaf in the wind, pushed by aesthetic trends and market requests. this is not something static — its is something which has to be re-questioned over and over again as the "being shapes our consciousness" — and we are not immune against the complex offers of capitalist (market) culture, which confronts us every day. in this sense we are (productively) dependent towards others who share our values. for us these people are our friends, the left (whatever this is...) and people we meet here and there. they are everywhere — though we don’t always share the same language we are happy to say "hello" once in a while.
we work with our clients. we don’t work for our clients (or for any kind of market requests), but on society, as a service to society. this also means we reject the working conditions created by the culture of service industries — where money structures the dependencies / the relations between us and our clients rather than the ideas we share with them. we are not friends with the cultural industries, as we believe that culture has other cause, than serving an industry.
we are interested in the social usage of images and the visual products we put into this world. we try to implement this understanding into our design work. we understand the distribution of the visual products as part of the (communication) design process. we try to see the recipient on the same level in shaping the discourses as us the designers and as our clients who bring the problems, the tasks, the work to our desks.
Design Against Design emerges out of a deep frustration with the current state of design discourse. And we’re pretty sure we’re not the only ones feeling this way. Francisco Laranjo’s article/rant, originally published in Modes of Criticism 3 – Design and Democracy, sets the tone for our criticism.
We republished the First Things First Manifesto numerous times with decreasing effect. We made post-it notes the symbol of design thinking, elevating it to a meaningless term used by businesses across sectors.
We made stretched typefaces cool, maximalism hot and anti-design mod again. We’re specialists in presenting variations of the past and selling them as novelty. So we fetishised vaporwave, repackaged it via MTV and turned it mainstream. We made trendlist happen and created an app to speed up the styling process. We spread Mr. Keedy’s Global Style… the beautiful miracle of replicating generic styles regardless of context to much applause across the design press. We insist on the existence of ‘neutral reporting’. Graphic design has been instrumental in the rise of capitalism and neoliberalism. The design press should be responsible for their selection criteria. They maintain the status quo. So this reminder comes as no surprise: all design magazines are political magazines.
We gave hundreds of pencils with different hierarchies, rubbed shoulders with every year’s ‘new blood’ and kept business as usual. We celebrate all things design with self-praise and nothing but good intentions: good design is (still and mainly) good business. And it’s this race for fame and awards, for young guns and the coolest designers under-30 that we happily feed. Entrenched competitiveness defines the culture of design, nurtured by supportive ❤❤ on every social media network. Design is now sold and marketed as a science of winning, with a variety of image filters, from ‘curated’ feeds of designers’ lifestyle, to schools that claim to give the necessary skills to be a graphic designer in 6 months, or world-renowned universities displaying their rank as badges of merit, year after year. Design education is now ranking warfare as business strategy.
In celebration of May Day, we are distributing two amazing free books sent to us by designer and friend Jeff Clark. Every year Jeff designs and publishes a beautiful, militant May Day book to be given away freely. This year's edition is Boredom Weeps: Graffiti, Curses, Inscriptions of May 1968, a 208 page collection of images and English translations of materialized texts drawn from the streets of May '68. Last year's title brought together texts from Emma Goldman, The Assassination of McKinley, and Assata Shakur, Women in Prison: How It Is with Us.
Copies of both books are available PWYC (to cover import fees) at our studio. Please feel free to get in touch if you'd like one (or two)!
Design Against Design is a creative research project investigating critical and oppositional graphic design practice and theory.
Conventional narratives of graphic design position the discipline as a glorified handmaiden to capitalism or as a purely aesthetic and technical practice largely divorced from the social contexts within which it exists. With the growing popularity of “design thinking”, “service design”, “social innovation” and “social impact design”, the language of marketing and commerce are further naturalised and celebrated. Participation, diversity, and inclusion are subsumed into a managerial and mercantile logic with, at best, token gestures towards charity or incremental political reform.
This narrative logic masks a vibrant counter-history of critical and activist design practices, rooted within struggles for social change and social justice. It marginalises the roles of contemporary politically engaged practitioners who are actively challenging the definitions of what design can be, what design can do, and whom it could serve.
Design Against Design seeks to deconstruct this logic and demystify graphic design in order to explore how it can genuinely support movements dedicated to social change and contribute to a dynamic and vital culture of resistance.
We invite you to use the #designagainstdesign hastag to highlight projects and initiatives that fit within this context. We aim to create a living archive to document, articulate and disseminate contemporary socially engaged design practices.
Over the past three weeks, we have been deeply concerned about the case of Lucy Francineth Granados and have been doing what we can to support the solidarity campaign to stop her imminent deportation. Lucy has made Montreal her home for the last nine years and has put down deep roots here. She is an activist for the rights of women, undocumented migrants and temporary workers, a mother working in difficult conditions in order to support her family in Guatemala, and a cherished member of our community.
“There are no windows. I want to see the light. I want to breathe. I don’t even know what my own name is any more.”
On March 20th, Lucy was violently arrested by CBSA agents and has since been detained in the Laval Immigration Detention Centre pending her scheduled deportation this Friday, April 13th. Community mobilising helped to push back her initial deportation date (Mar 27), but her health has been deteriorating while in detention, and her treatment by authorities has been abusive.
LOKI calls on all our friends and allies to mobilize for Lucy and to put pressure on federal ministers Ahmed Hussen and Ralph Goodale to stop Lucy’s deporation and secure her Permanent Residency status. We call on all our friends and allies to stand up for Lucy's rights and call out the violent and inhumane immigration policies of the Canadian state.
For more information and context, please visit Solidarity Across Borders’ Campaign page. You can sign the petition for Lucy here. Numerous actions continue to be organized, please check here to see what you can do!
Looking back to move forward... Above is a panel presentation I gave as part of La Recherche-création: Territoire d'innovation méthodologique, an interdiscipinary academic conference hosted by UQAM in 2014.
In the talk I describe Artvistic's Promiscuous Infrastructures exhibition project as a process of creative research, linking the context of social struggle, material production, and affective relations with the creation of (new) knowledge. The ideas we were exploring seem all the more relevant today, and I hope to be able to build in more of the strategies we were experimenting with into our practice moving forward.