ENG/ The NC Master of Graphic Design candidates, leaded by Denise Gonzales Crisp , hosted a graduate symposium, which was absolutely great. Three days of developing thinking on themes like rhetoric and authenticity under different scopes. The opening lecturers were as different as they can be. Brenda Laurel , Chair of the graduate program in Design from CCA. She is well known because of her edition of the book: The Design Research, Methods and Perspectives . On the other hand we had Elliott Earls, the head of the graduate graphic design program at Cranbrook Academy of Art. “The writer Rick Poynor has said of Elliott: “If ever a designer seemed like a certified oddball, pursuing a trajectory far removed from the obligations of institutional life, it is Earls. He is one of those unclassifiable, mutant blooms thrown up by the fractured landscape of 1990’s graphic design”. I’m not going to go into details of both of the characters, but I would just like to recover some ideas and thinking from both lectures, especially Brenda´s, who’s work and mine share common procedures.
EDUCATIONAL CONSUMPTION VS/ CRANBROOK’S MODEL
Elliott’s most appealing (to me) intervention had to do with the “consumerist attitude to graphic design”, the dissent or “elegant dissent” to that. I believe this opposition can make graphic designers interested in Social Matters, at least is what took me into this area. On the other hand, Cranbrook Academy of Art opposes to the “bankruptcy of the educational model”. And even though I find difficult to make a model outside from the forces of the liberal economy (I actually can’t figure out where they take the money for sustaining this educational system), it is kind of an interesting reflection to make. Students, in my personal opinion, shouldn’t be treated as education consumers. It may lead to just a transactional relationship that tears apart any vocational willingness from the professors. It also reduces the possibilities for knowledge construction, as sharing knowledge would seem like a bad strategy to succeed. If everything is a business planning is hidden, courses are registered as intellectual property and the intentions of “open source” knowledge diminish. An educational business model does not encourage or afford the knowledge dissemination in an uninterested way. And isn’t that the role of universities? I’ve been frequently challenged by these ideas. The objective is not to encourage plagiarism of knowledge, but to encourage an ethical interest in constructing knowledge. Back in Latin America, some private establishments taking advantage of students seeking for a university career, who do not have the performance, but do have the money, is growing. Not all of them, of course. Yet there are a vast number of examples where we can find students getting a non-accredited education and not being able to perform as a professional. Essentially, they pay and get a diploma. So this is a point to make a reflection on.
DESIGN FOR SOCIAL CHANGE: BRENDA LAUREL
Brenda Laurel’s intervention was around the topic of “DESIGN FOR CHANGE”. Brenda explained the notion that design can cross community boundaries. She highlighted the importance of Design Research helping designers to get the “right question” to problems (not necessary bad things) and not just a question phrased from your own values as a designer. Nonetheless, she assumes the fact that designers do come with a particular set of values into the context they are working in. By giving some examples of some of her early work as a design researcher and game developer, she commented on the idea that rich discoveries are related to human processes. For her, every design project is context-based. Which I believe it has a correlation with the generalizability of the qualitative approach. On the other hand, addressing communities, she asserts that some causes of exclusion have to do with: self-exclusion, ingrained attitudes and barriers to change. In her thought, new normatives do create new communities. This could be an idea leading design for change. Objects or products (tangible or intangible) with a new norm create new affiliations to it, and thereof, new communities. So, according to Laurel, it is about creating a new norm through cultural intervention. In her words: “introducing new genetic material into a culture without activating its immune system”. That is such an important reflection! Bringing change together with a successful cultural implementation. After showing some work she did with her class, overall in the area of sustainability and ecology, Laurel mentions that: ”you need to know how to speak business, they have to know the “enemy” (recalling some of Earl’s conception of design research used by the evil business aparathus) They have to know their aspects. We don’t use the word consumer. Methods look similar but the purpose is different”. Laurel poses a realist stand. Do we want to be doing research just to sell deodorants? Yet we need to know how it works, overall when we want to engage different sectors for social change.
BEING PART OF THE COMMUNITY: GIVES US MORE RIGHT TO DESIGN FOR THEM?
Denise Gonzalez Crisp made a bold assertion: “What right do we have to design for these communities?” And not just talking about the social aid to unprivileged communities, but to communities to whom we don’t belong. I can link this question with Jon Sueda’s lecture where he gave Butt Magazine’s example. “Gert Jonkers and Jop van Bennekom. They are two homos from Amsterdam, The Netherlands” . So these designers are part and belong to the community they design for. So can we achieve the same effects through collaboration with participants? Can we design for communities we don’t belong to? Can we really do co-participative design? Can we be authentic when being outside of the cultural system? These are questions I still haven’t been able to solve as a PhD student and designer. Lastly, Brenda commented that we should be aware that “research is there to make design better, but is not the larger picture”.
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