Continuous Rebranding

Francisco Laranjo (FL): The terms ‘graphic resistance’ and ‘graphic dissent’ are often used in design discourse. At the same time, ‘design activism’ has been gaining substantial attention, certainly in design academia, and activism commodified in books that provide DIY stencils and pre-made ‘tools’ for design to be ‘political.’ Graphic design has, of course, a long history of involvement with, facilitation and amplification of, politics. But the often-superficial understanding and preconceptions that inform these design (political) acts have profound ramifications for the practice and theory of design, and by consequence, the relevance of its contribution to political struggles.

Angela Mitropoulos (AM): Commodification is a series of steps that involves the extraction of novelty, translation, a bracketed shuttling between communication and commerce. The proximity of graphic design to marketing can seem like an invitation to a medial or instrumental view of design. In this sense, design could be viewed as a neutral medium or conduit, one whose assumptions, history and techniques are seen to work best only when they disappear, as with Beatrice Warde’s analogy of the crystal goblet, or are presumed to be objective and timeless, as with Josef Müller-Brockmann’s “laws of universal validity.” At the same time, new value is not gleaned from sheer repetition but from a process of transcoding, including dissent, into marketable forms. But it is not only that. It should come as no surprise that, for instance, the publishing industry places great store in annual events such as the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, which trades on a limited, and quite possibly cathartic, controversy. It might come as a surprise, to some, to learn that this event, including its edgy-but-safe parameters, have been shaped by its connections to both the banking-finance industries and the migration detention industry. The point here is not that buying and selling books is bad. It is that the dichotomy between form and content, or medium and message if you will, does not exist in practice in this case because of an evaluative system that links controversy as a marketing tool to the financial industry to the detention industry, that is: risk management. Risk management is an abstract and increasingly generalized code, but it is neither a crystal container nor is it a universal value. Its overriding purpose is to minimize the liability costs of, and so ensure the continuation of, ‘dangerous’ industries such as detention.

‘Graphic’ is however also a suffix, as in geography, demographics, seismographic, typographic, photographic, historiography, cartography and so on. Techniques of transcription are not neutral instruments which more or less adequately represent an objective reality that exists independently of the use of those techniques.

How and whether graphic designers reflect on assumptions, whether there are links between their own techniques and that which is being resisted are, I think, important questions to pose about ‘graphic dissent.’ […]

Interview originally published in Modes of Criticism 3 – Design and Democracy (2017)

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