Is there social authorship? Authorship in the context of social responsibility is somewhat different than the notion of producer. An author can be described as the individual who originates or gives presence to anything. Design authorship neither suggests the designer should or should not claim his/her work, nor does it mean that it should be signed in one way or another. To the contrary authorship, or design as author, is more so a voice or expression integrated into the message. According to Michael Rock, “The question of how designers become authors is a difficult one, and exactly who qualifies and what authored design might look like depends on how you define the term and determine admission into the pantheon,” as he suggests in his 1996 essay The Designer as Author (Rock). Those assimilations can be pasted into existence through the graphic designers work and their character. The role of the graphic designer as author shouldn’t stop with the clients work, it turns out to be a way of life—to believe in your principles and their significance.
Is there social authorship with crafting the message? Lorraine Wild mentions technique as authorship in her 1998 essay The Macramé of Resistance. She writes, “Instead of technique, I think it is important to talk about craft.” (Wild) Craft, according to Wild, is not defined in terms of technique but as theoretical knowledge and tacit knowledge. The first, theoretical knowledge Wild describes how Peter Dormer, a late British theorist, discusses his theory, “the concept behind things, the language we use to describe and understand ideas,” while tactic knowledge as, “knowledge gained through experience, or ‘know-how.’” Suggesting an association regarding Wild’s notion of craft, I am motivated to favor the point that graphic designers should be engaged in work that transcends—design at a higher, purer purpose—traditional service-oriented paradigms.
Quiet on the Set: what is a design producer? As important as authorship can be it‘s not surprising that authorship assists the design production, otherwise known as designer as producer. Rock supports this as he states, “Theories of authorship also serve as legitimizing strategies, and authorial aspirations may end up reinforcing certain conservative notions of design production and subjectivity.” (Rock) There could not be a more accurate definition of design production than Ellen Lupton has as she writes in her essay The Designer as Producer, “For the designer to become a producer, she [or he] must have the skills to begin directing content, by critically navigating the social, aesthetic, and technological systems across which communications flow.” (Lupton) This broad understanding allows designers to deliver work at a sophisticated level with an even greater purpose to socially responsible design.
Adding Voice and Purpose
What we know about design producer and author includes making mends and coming to the realization that its takes two. Taking action by being an effective author and producer of socially responsible design can be stimulating. Invisibility versus notoriety can often be questioned as well when it comes to social responsibility. The notions of authorship, craft, and producer are all dynamic and essential theories towards enriching socially responsible graphic design. While theories of graphic authorship may change the way work is made, the primary concern of both the viewer and the critic is not who made it, but rather what it does and how it does it.” Ellen Lupton supports this stating, “For the designer to become a producer, she [the designer] must have the skills to begin directing content, by critically navigating the social, aesthetic, and technological systems across which communications flow.” (Lupton) Reflecting back to the notions of she mentions the same concept in her words, “The knowledge gained through activities that can be described as tactical, everyday, or simply craft, is powerful and important, and it must form the foundation of a designer’s education and work.” (Wild)
Christopher Simmons reminds us that good design often isn’t always about better design. Consider the cereal box versus the annual report; the average person is more likely to interact with the cereal box as apposed to the report for a non-profit charity. Simmons uses the example, “We are more frequently engaged by warning labels than we are by earnestly-crafted manifestos. Yet given the choice between designing birth control packaging or a poster promoting safer sex, most designers will opt for the latter.” (Simmons)
Next Steps to Social Responsibility
The next steps to social responsibility in graphic design will include awareness and education. A few suggestions made from Bruce Mau in his manifesto regarding social responsibility, An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth, include: “You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.” (Mau) “A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.” (Mau)
Creating awareness is vital. Everything we do—as designers, teachers, parents, or community members—it all has an impact on our surroundings. A design example of this can be understood through something as small as a “Caution Hot” label or the design execution of a voting ballet. Thackara informs us of this perplexing fact, “Our dilemma is that small design actions can have big effects—often unexpectedly—and designers have only recently been told, with the rest of us, how incredibly sensitive we need to be to the possible consequences of any design steps we take.” (Thackara) Velden explains the importance of awareness commenting, “Today, an ‘important graphic design’ is one generated by the designer himself, a commentary in the margins of visual culture. Sometimes the design represents a generous client.” (Velden) He continues his thought saying, “The designer does not solve the other person’s problems, but becomes his own author.” We can understand this territory of relational design in which the designer has become an important aspect in the ethos of graphic design.
Enter the Classroom. Students in undergraduate and graduate higher education value the varied theories of social responsibility and they can appreciate the good in bringing these issues into their coursework. As well, fostering a classroom immersed in the accountability of social responsibility simply serves the common good both within the university and within the community. Bringing to light the many efforts of design professionals is an opportunity to raise awareness and begin discussions on these topics. Joey’s Corner, a non-profit design studio founded by David Carson, provides pr0-bono, strategic creative services to other non-profit groups that focus on health care, children’s well-being, and social prosperity issues is one of those examples (Carson). Another great example—well known in the graphic design culture—is Ellen and Julia Lupton’s D.I.Y. Kids. The twin sisters, Ellen and Julia, explain their non-profit organization for kids, “D.I.Y. Kids aims to trigger imaginative play, without requiring fees, teams, or a minivan. It’s for parents, teachers, aunts and uncles, friends and baby-sitters, neighbors and citizens—anyone who wants to create a better world not only for, but also with, the next generation. Most of all, it’s for kids who want to make their mark (and make a difference) by exercising the arts of design with wit, intelligence, and style.” (Lupton and Lupton, D.I.Y. Kids Home)
Prepare for change. Sharing the First Things First Manifesto from 1964 and the revised version of 2000 with student as soon as the first day of class can set precedence for the conduct and attitude towards their design. Believing in the manifesto as a studying design student will build a dedicated design professional by encouraging students to discover and tackle social issues in their own communities. A team of design students from Virginia Commonwealth University addressed the subject of purchasing and consumption of in-season, locally grown food in their design solutions for Project Winterfood. Professor Noah Scalin’s class, Design Rebels: Socially Conscious Graphic Design in Theory and Practice, challenges students to create a project that reaches beyond the school walls and has a positive effect on their community (Shea).
Social responsibility in design has a higher purpose today more than ever and the manifestos from 1964 and 2000 are more relevant than ever before. Revitalization is in need once again as our global society struggles to understand corporate greed and the political motives. The words of Jan Van Toorn are as applicable now as they were over a decade ago, “Design will have to get used to viewing substance, program, and style as ideological constructions, as expressions of restricted choices that only show a small sliver of reality in mediation.” (Toorn) This implies that as designer we need to be aware of our message and its context. Our communications to the global community relies on further immersing ourselves into meaning and message. Lasn, “We will change the way we interact with the mass media and the way in which meaning is produced in our society.” (Lasn)
Checks and balances, keeping on track, will always be an important role in the progression of socially responsible graphic design. As design students, educators, and professionals we must not be content with fly-by-night graphic design. David Berman encourages us to have a personal mission. He shares the Do Good Pledge example, “Immediacy, the time to commit is now. Ethics, I will be true to my profession. Principles, I will be true to myself. Effort, I will spend at least 10% of my professional time helping repair the world.” (Berman) He concludes his words in the book Do Good Design with a simply motto, “Don’t just do good design, do good.” (Berman)
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