OUT NOW: desktop #302 — Protest and Communication

Published:  March 28, 2014

“I believe every human being should be socially responsible in order to have a positive impact on society. In my case, being a graphic designer, I make my craft available to a cause that people can understand or relate to. I am continuously committed to the cause, portraying my point of view to colleagues and various groups of people.”

This issue is named after a chapter of Kenneth Clarke’s 1970 documentary series Civilisation. Within this particular chapter, he concedes that printing has “perhaps done more good than harm,” and that in the 16th century—as the idea that printed material could be produced to distribute ideas—the power of mass communication was taken from the Church and given to the people.

This meant information crossed the borders of Europe much as it does now, albeit more slowly, within a period of intellectual exchange and internationalism. It is moments like these in our global history, Clarke argues, that are responsible for any worthy developments we have made. “All the steps upwards in civilisation have been in periods of internationalism,” he explains—periods that expanded on nationalistic preoccupation. “Necessary if civilisation was not to whither or petrify.”

Cover for desktop #301 — Protest and Communication. ‘Tony Abbott, constipated’ artwork by Mimi Leung

Contemporary visual communication—more urgent than cave painting, with more immediate than a book—presents a powerful opportunity. To put an idea on paper and show it to another is an action that is the very root of graphic design. Yet in Australia, and many of the countries like it, we concentrate on its use for selling, and forget its influence in protest, communication, identity and culture.

Which is why this issue concentrates on its social usefulness, its ability to make a difference and share an idea, without the capitalist emphasis. Alejandro Magallanes, currently in Melbourne for AGideas, is one of the world’s most prolific contemporary ‘activist’ graphic designers who has long been concerned with the social and political issues of his native Mexico. He talks to us about why he found it so important to be involved with the society around him.

Alejandro Magallanes

Separately, Saed Meshki and Ken Tsai Lee, also in Melbourne for the AGideas event, both design with a national duty in mind, although from opposing perspectives. Meshki is committed to his country and his people, and seeks to strengthen Iranian design with dedication from within. Ken Tsai Lee seeks to strengthen the awareness of Taiwanese design by exposing it to the world.

Saed Meshki

Ken Tsai Lee

Illustrator (and this issue’s cover artist) Mimi Leung endured a personal and creative metamorphosis in her relocation from England to the Australian outback, where she became involved in disadvantaged community groups, and Jason Grant of Inkahoots writes about how the legendary activist posters of Redback Graphix are still powerful today.

Redback Graphix

Our article Branding Terror showcases some of the research of Artur Beifuss into the flags, logos and branding of insurgencies and terror organisations.

Artur Beifuss’ study of the logos of terror organisations

In an important essay on cultural appropriation, Ari Dyball explains how the design and artistic practice of appropriating the creative output of another culture comes with a heavy responsibility, and in our new section Cache, we have a look back at a 1994 Emigre article that resonates with the same issues we still face today: understanding the more abstract impacts design makes on society, and society makes on design.

Despite the recent prominence of technology, international trade and the democratisation of communication, our cultural identity is still shaped by our immediate environment. News and information may cross borders but many of our tastes and actions are influenced by more local, nationalistic ideas. This issue is a reminder to observe how graphic design both nurtures and feeds off our surroundings, both virtual and real, and is sometimes critical enough to show us an alternate way we could see ourselves.

From this issue on, desktop magazine is only available by subscription. Get a new issue of desktop delivered to your door 6 times a year for $49.

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