Design & Social Responsibility

Today’s lecture on the social responsibility of designers was led by Paul and Adriana.We discussed the manifesto published by Ken Garland and written by him and a few peers, here is a background of it from here:

Written in 1963 and published in 1964 by Ken Garland along with 20 other designers, photographers and students, the manifesto was a reaction to the staunch society of 1960s Britain and called for a return to a humanist aspect of design. It lashed out against the fast-paced and often trivial productions of mainstream advertising, calling them trivial and time-consuming. It’s solution was to focus efforts of design on education and public service tasks that promoted the betterment of society.

The manifesto expresses how the writers of it have been become working designers in a world where their skills and expertise are most lucrative in advertising outcomes that help generate income for large corporations. This was the atmosphere they observed in the sixties in Britain, and they recognised that while these powerful forces were not to disappear immediately, they hoped that the public would understand the need for effective and considered design solutions that would serve society well.

“We do not advocate the abolition of high pressure consumer advertising: this is not feasible. Nor do we want to take the fun out of life. But we are proposing a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication. We hope that our society will tire of gimmick merchants, status salesmen and hidden persuaders, and that the prior call on our skills will be for worthwhile purposes.”

— extraction from First Things First, published by Ken Garland (1964).

I found that what the manifesto said about “proposing a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication” has relevance today as well if we look at the technological shift from print to digital platforms and the eventual decline of print applications and formats you see happening in the world of publishing.

It is great that social media is so immediate and readily accessible, but does that mean that all forms of communication and information dissemination is suitable to exist on digital platforms? The spirit of immediacy and to-the-second currency of social media is so readily embraced and valued over slower channels of communication like print, and this is similar to what happened during the turn of the 19th century (as discussed in class today) about the start of the industrial revolution, where slow, quality-driven craftsmanship and artisanship was devalued in preference for the quick, fast, and cheap manufacturing methods introduced.

From what I understood from the lecture, there were 2 distinct groups of people that reacted vastly differently from the onslaught of machinery and mass-manufacture. They are the Arts & Crafts movement of the 1880s in Britain, led by William Morris and the founding of the Bauhaus school in Germany from 1919.

The Arts & Crafts movement sought to reject the practise of mass-production and wanted to remind people of the appreciation for well-crafted, quality-driven products. They did this by returning to motifs of nature, the direct opposite of the mechanic aesthetic that industrial processes created.

The Bauhaus, on the other hand, embraced and saw opportunity and possibilities in what the Industrial Revolution brought. New ways to manufacture things with new materials meant that they could explore innovative ways to create objects for everyday living. The Bauhaus had utopian ideals for what human life could be transformed to become.

Perhaps, in the same spirit, we as graphic designers shouldn’t immediately take sides like “print” or “digital”, but instead embrace the technological shift we see happening and find ways to utilitise both the immediacy of digital platforms and the persuasiveness of print to produce effective work that Ken Garland would be happy to see.



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