How can we better equip emerging designers?

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Published:  March 15, 2013
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How can we better equip emerging designers?

How can emerging designers become better equipped to respond to the political and social issues of our time? We asked six designers for their views…

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Ken Garland
kengarland.co.uk
The best way emerging designers can equip themselves for this purpose is to raise their eyes from absorption with graphics periodicals, annuals and awards portfolios, and become involved in their local communities, political parties and other organs of social concern. More precisely, they might consider approaching charitable organisations with exactly definable causes – for example, WaterAid, which concerns itself with providing artesian wells and tap points for the many parts of Africa and Asia where whole populations are dying of thirst – and offering their skills; but first, acquire those skills.

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David Tartakover
tartakover.co.il
Because the political and social issues of our time are global – what happens in one place is no longer an isolated event, but affects the entire world – young designers must keep up with the latest in communication technology. They need to have their hand on the pulse of the latest events on the world stage, as well as follow the local developments of where they live and work. A network of designers is very important as well; being a member of an international designers’ organisation is helpful, so as to meet designers from other countries and share ideas.

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Siân Cook
nostarpro.tumblr.com
The issues are all too big. So start local. You, your neighbourhood, something you care about. Begin not as a designer, but as a concerned citizen. If you can understand a problem from the inside, then scaling up becomes easier. Responding to an issue is not just about the design community talking to itself (if beautiful posters could save the world, we would have done it by now). There’s no substitute for getting your hands dirty and working with a variety of people in different ways towards a common goal. And you might enjoy it – win/win.

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Kevin Finn
thesumof.com.au
Before we address the how? I think it’s important to first be clear on the why? Designers of all persuasions create or produce work that exists in the world – socially, culturally, politically or economically. Like everything else, design doesn’t sit in a vacuum, so it’s critical that we deeply understand the context of where our work operates. That means we need to know as much as possible about the wider world, not just the world of design. In doing so, we are in a better position to create relevant and appropriate work and – in some cases – we might even create important work. All this involves empathy, observation and having an informed opinion. However, the first step is ‘wanting’ to be engaged in the social and political concerns of our time. Otherwise, it’s only about following a popular trend…

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Jonathan Barnbrook
barnbrook.net
It is not something you can suddenly learn or is a separate issue, but it is evident that it is at the heart of being a good designer. Anybody who wishes to be a good designer should understand good design is not about ‘the designer’ but the people who use it and how it serves society. So these things start with examining the basic principles of design. It also follows that design education needs to teach the history of design with less of separation of the commercial and social. Graphic design has been a facilitator of social change as much as it has sold people things they don’t need. If students were encouraged to realise the possibilities earlier on and are taught to take risks with their careers, rather than being= shown that the way to be a successful designer is a ‘job in an agency’, we might have a profession which is not seen in the wider world as something which is largely commercial rather than creative.

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Sheila Levrant de Bretteville
cs.yale.edu
To respond to the political and social issues of our time, I suggest you think seriously, with heart and mind, about a goal stated in the Port Huron Statement, “The object is not to have one’s own way, so much as to have a way of one’s own.” It is not enough to only become as dexterous and able to deal with the unpredicted as possible. Given that it is quite possible that the world is so much in chaos and whatever any of us do as designers could ultimately be meaningless. For that reason alone, gathering skills and dexterity, being able to work well with others and the unexpected must include locating a ‘way of one’s own’, which should equip you to deal with whatever comes up. And maybe re-read the Port Huron Statement again as well.

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