April 06, 2006

Is Design Political?

Last night while surfing del.icio.us for SXSWi 2006 I came over a link to CORE77. The content over at this website is quite interesting for designers in general. In the article archives I came across an article by Jennie Winhall, a Senior Design Strategist for RED. The article was titled “Is design political?

It is quite co-incidental that I am being quite political these days, with movies like Good night, and Good Luck and V for Vendetta and books like Orwell’s 1984 and Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, taking a good part of my time. I’ve actually been thinking of writing something about politics in context with movies or art in the main. The reason is largely the inspiring Ed Murrow talk I’ve been getting into lately.

But before I get into my small talk I’d prefer to previse that I personally do not have any political ideologies or preferences. I can’t have one. Basically every ideology sucks as much as the other, because there is no gauge to measure up or standardize political systems since the diversity is so varied. Everyone believes their ideology to be the best. So, can’t help. And moreover it’s all about perception. Perception is, I believe, the key to every philosophy and belief, political or not. And my perception is as good as yours.

But enough of my political-crap, the question remains is design political? We, as designers and artists, prepossess a singular ideology that design is a hell lot of expression. And with expression comes the idea of freedom of thought. And we designers believe that politics is way too different from the freedom-of-thought thing. We have this pre-conception that politics stand for everything uncreative or rather destructive. But as I read into what Jennie Winhall had to say I have come upon the other side of the answer.

Design is political. What comes to my mind to justify this sentence is a design/symbol.

The Swastika is an equilateral cross with its arms bend at right angles. For ages it has been used as holy symbol by the Hindus and Buddhists. It had no political outlook until it was adopted as the emblem of the Nazi Party in the twentieth century. The symbol came to be known in the western world during the Second World War. And all of a sudden a peaceful symbol had changed into a symbol that still invokes all kinds of emotions in various races. Swastika today symbolizes racism and fascism around the western world. Design here becomes political because it has become a symbol for a particular ideology, and a very ugly one at that.

When you are in India you’ll see the Swastika every so often. Hindus interpret it to a holy sign. As you move westward you’d rarely see a Swastika. Wearing or exhibiting a Swastika makes you stand out and gives out a wrong impression because it is interpreted in totally different manner. Design depends on a lot of interpretation. How you interpret design is totally your outlook. Calling design “political” works in the same way. It works just as political ideologies work all over the world. For a communist communalism works best. An American feels proud of its democracy, although the world knows how dumb their leader is right now. And an Indian is content with any politician who delivers.


Anonymous said...

interesting blog.... i was thinking about this smae topic, except i had taken a very different route.... you see the way i was seeing it was in the context of a power hierachy. politics is a complex structure of power, and power has a lot to do with ownership. Earlier all politics/power revolved around ownership of land.... now we are realizing that that is not enough... now a new concept of ownership of 'ideas' has come into being - 'Intellectual property rights'. though this sytem of IPR does have its merits, - it loops us - 'designers' into a complicated political system ...
hope i have managed to get across what i was trying to say
do keep writing interesting blogs!!

Syed Asif said...

You sure did get across what you've been trying to say. And it does loops us designers "in" too. But in the end we are nothing more than political in our own rights. We are the one who do things that we call "Radical".