I just came across a graphic design company called Thought Bubble, whose goal is to use beautiful infographic design to contribute towards positive social change. Here's a great example of their work:
In ablog post about this video, Suz explains that part of her reason for featuring Micah White was her long-term admiration for Adbusters, a group who produce satirical billboard ads to make us rethink the lifestyle and self-image sold to us by advertising. Adbusters, she says, was her first piece of solid evidence that you can work in design without contributing to consumerism.
This makes me think of two things. First is a conversation I happened to be having last night, where I told an Israeli about the relatively complex identity politics at play in consumerism in Britain. He commented that I had a grin on my face as if I thought consumerism was a good thing. I said that on the contrary, I think it's horrifying, but I have a kind of odd admiration for it because of its immense power to manipulate people and destroy the planet. I compared it to the shared feelings regarding the military that my boyfriend and I had spoken about earlier that day - we are both vaguely pacifists, but we both get a deep sense of joy and awe from anything that reminds us of the army, be it tanks, guns, or chairs lined up in a regimented row like soldiers. Consumerism is a weapon of mass destruction, I said, but a weapon of mass destruction is impressive and even beautiful if you look at it from the point of view of an engineer.
Secondly, I haven't yet figured out when design became an elitist tool of the corporate hegemony. The designers of the Bauhaus movement used to talk about mass-production as a liberating technology that could deliver beautiful, quality, comfortable goods to the masses at a price they could afford. Henry Ford described mass production as making the cheapest goods possible for the highest wages possible. Yet somewhere along the line, beautifully designed, mass-produced objects became expensive, wages and working conditions became barbaric, and the meaning of clean, modernist design became a symbol of economic and cultural privilege. Adbusters and Thought Bubble are both groups that believe that aesthetically beautiful and on-trend design can and should be a force for good in the world, something that everybody benefits from. Aesthetics are after all not a base materialistic pleasure, but something spiritual that should connect us to others. I hope that similar groups will pop up in other fields of design as well.