There are two things in my life that I follow on a daily basis, politics and design.
Now, in my vocabulary I use the word “design” not merely to emphisize it’s aesthetic definition, but as a term defining a person’s way of thinking. It symbolizes a way of improving upon what you are given and thinking about variables in a creative way. To design is to have an understanding of a subject and to produce the best possible outcome with what one has. The way that we as designers achieve this is by being creative, whether with a paint-brush, a pen, a mouse, a keyboard, a video camera, or a voice. What I feel many people fail to see, is that these practices and disciplines are merely tools, they are tools to tell a story, to evoke emotion, to provide understanding, to teach, to help, or in most of our cases, to sell a product.
On the bridge of a new social change in our country, I want to remind people that we as “designers” have a responsibility; we have a responsibility as the tool-makers, as the creative thinkers and as the problem solvers. For far too long we have dealt only with the problems that effect us day-to-day, and we have become seduced by the luxuries that we are afforded.
In many conversations with designers over the past couple of years, both in person and online, I have come across a great deal of backlash from people who, due to their lack of interest in politics and social issues, feel as though the discussion of these topics is inappropriate in industry venues. I have experienced this both in writing on design and tech blogs as well as in conversation at industry events. I would argue that these are exactly the places where these topics need to be addressed.
As I’ve said many times in the past, most of the people that I work with on a daily basis are the “taste-makers”. They provide vision, creativity and culture, and for the most-part, provide these services at a price in order to sell other people’s products (usually with very little care as to what it is that they are selling). I’d like to remind these people that their responsibility to society is not one that is absolved by ignorance, for as we create and perpetuate a commercial culture that is lazy, unhealthy, exploitative and only wants to be entertained, we diminish our culture and disrespect the people who have put forth so much effort and intelligence to place us in the powerful positions we are in today.
I’m not sure what our new president will say later today in his inaugural address, but I’m hoping that it will be a reminder that the new era we are embarking into will need to be one of self-governance and individual responsibility; that the reason we are in a poor financial, social and global position, is not because of a great evil in the world, but because of selfishness, ignorance and a readiness to be entertained rather than a passion to be informed. We have replaced newspapers with gossip magazines, we have replaced heroes with celebrities, and we have replaced art with advertisement.
Let us, as an industry, do our part by changing our trajectory and moving in a direction that will lead to better lives for everyone. As designers, let’s innovate in the right ways, let’s pay attention to what it is that we are selling and let’s ask ourselves not only if something is profitable economically, but if it is profitable socially and culturally as well. Let’s stop thinking about the maximization of profits and more about the optimization of profits. Let’s try to do great work for the clients that we think are doing the right things or selling the right products, that are advancing our ideals and not diminishing them; let’s sell Prius’ and not Hummers, let’s be the voice of NPR and not TMZ.
I’ll also remind you that doing these things does not mean that you have to go broke, but it means making the right decisions at the right times. It means taking a personal stand in your everyday life and not just doing what is easy, but doing what is right. It means to stop being just an artist, or a programmer for hire, and means becoming a “designer”.
I’m very proud to work with the amazingly creative and intelligent people that I do and have great hope for the future of our industry.
– Jessey White-Cinis
“To the youth of America, I say, beware of being trivialized by the commercial culture that tempts you daily. I hear you saying often that you’re not turned on to politics. The lessons of history are clear and portentous. If you do not turn on to politics, politics will turn on you.” – Ralph Nader