Wall of words : dialogic activism in collective design

Gale, Cathy (2019) Wall of words : dialogic activism in collective design. In: Bieling, Tom, (ed.) Design (&) activism : perspectives on design as activism and activism as design. Mimesis International. pp. 139-153. ISBN 9788869772412


The emergence of creative collectives is explored in this proposal as an antidote to the contingencies of current market-led practices in graphic design practice and pedagogy. Historically, isolated modes of professional practice have been sought (and taught) as the route to hero status (amongst one’s peers) and commercial success through differentiation. Yet this dominance is dependent on individualistic rather than co-operative approaches in a competitive over-crowded field leading to anxious states of capitalism realism. The design collective represents a way to overcome these limitations through cohesion and shared ideals, whether for pragmatic cost-saving ends, or for a more critical purpose. By embedding notions of design activism and political reflection into the design curriculum the power of written and visual forms of design activism are examined. The same persuasive pictorial strategies employed in visual communication to increase consumer engagement and gain commercial advantage are developed here as a visual rhetoric to provoke discourse in two pedagogic contexts. First, the design manifesto project, ‘Word As Weapon’, which has enabled individual students to reflect on the inherently political nature of their practice and take more critical positions. Here, the collaborative manifesto is not only a forum for design debate, a framework for a visual argument, but also a script for action. Secondly, the ‘Wall of Words’ exhibition demonstrates how power can be derived from a synthesis of voices given visual form in a public exhibition. Collective approaches to design are framed here as a source of agency derived from a synergy of diverse voices expressed through design tools in a new mode of graphic authorship. In a more collaborative and co-operative formation, the knowledge resource embodied by a growing community of (graphic) designers represents an untapped source of power for the discipline in society.

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