Atlana Puntigam Design Management and Cultures @aurorafortunata
In my first DPS internship at a Design studio, I had the opportunity to develop my own project. The Studio was eager to get involved in creative initiatives, and after researching different possibilities, I had the idea to come up with a design event that serves the immediate community the Studio is located in; Dalston/Hackney. Since the Studio's work history has been primarily commercial, it was important to me to focus on social impact design with this event. I truly believe in using the design community's power for good. I decided to focus on helping an institution that has been serving communities for many decades; the Rio cinema. I was lucky to have been given the freedom to create an event and business plan from scratch by myself, which tested my preexisting abilities and helped me develop many other skills.
After some hard work, Placard was born. A fundraising design event that calls together some of the best design studios in London. Each Studio will create a poster inspired by the Rio cinema. The final posters will be up for sale. All the money proceeds to the cinema, which has been heavily affected by the pandemic. After defining the idea, we pitched it to the Rio. They were immediately excited to collaborate on this project (but also, why wouldn't they, we are essentially raising funds for them). The Rio cinema team gave us a private tour through the whole 111-year-old building and exclusive access to all their archived material such as flyers, film posters and photography. They have generously offered to provide their archives for inspiration materials for the designs of the poster created by the studios. Researching for Placard and analysing the sector of the poster and design competitions gave me, I believe, a good glimpse into the current trends of style within the world of graphic design. At first, I wasn't surprised by what I saw. I was rather impressed, inspired and amazed by the marvellous works produced by creatives across the world. Around this particular research phase for Placard, I attended the weekly Decolonising Design COP sessions. Week after week, my eyes were opened more as to how strongly colonised the design world is and its problems. I'm confident that at some point throughout my design management and cultures studies, I have come across the term "decolonising design".
I'm also confident I didn't know what it meant at the time.
Being a diverse group of students of a massive design university, we are constantly taught to criticise our world around us. To investigate the meaning of things, question, fact check, debate, argue, cross-examine, and so on. But in reality, most of UAL is part of a big colonised design bubble that has been built upon the Anglo-European sphere. We are being taught a certain way of how things work, and it's incredibly vital to question the origins of that "certain way". Is this "way" oppressing individuals/groups/communities? Do we perpetuate a systemically racist social structure by following certain design rules? Anoushka Khandwala argues that with the design comes social responsibility and that it's essential to recognise that "design does not exist in a vacuum".
Learning about decolonising design while doing the design research for my project Placard heavily shifted my views throughout the process. I became so much more sensitive and aware of the notion of "good" and "bad" design. That there was no openness to other practices. In some ways, this very much mimics our society's capitalist structure; I was just blind to it. As Danah Abdulla stated "capitalism "is an instrument of colonisation," and therefore that it's almost impossible to truly decolonise in Western society at present". Instead, Abdulla proposes decoloniality is about reimaging something beyond the current system we exist in. While working with the Rio cinema, which was home and shelter to a community with a diverse background in Dalston throughout this past hundred year, learning about decolonising design came at the right time. As I was building a list of studios' names in London to reach out to and ask for participation, I became aware of my power in this position. I had the power of selecting who I want to be affiliated to Placard and who I wanted to represent within this design event. Of course, it wasn't solely my choice (my employers had put some ideas of studios forward), but I had a considerable amount of influence as I was directed to find more. Looking through their choices and the studios I was initially looking at, I thought there really didn't seem like a lot of diversity, and it started to really bother me. I actively researched and tried to find more diversely represented studios - after all, Dalston has an incredibly multicultural community (some could argue it's becoming less so) which makes up most people living in the area. Giving back to an institution that has always had opened their arms to people from any background, gender and sexuality, it was vital to not have predominantly white middle-class men represented in Placard. I found Shades of Noir to be really valuable to reach out to black creatives through their database, but besides that, it was incredibly tough to look for what I was hoping for. I had given myself a lot of pressure for having not succeeded in getting an (at least) 50/50 diverse studio names list. It took me weeks until I realised that my power of collaborating/hiring someone does not extend to what the HR and hiring process looks like within a studio - and that it's the Studio's responsibility of having an inclusive company culture. However, this experience made me even more aware of how the design industry suffers from structural and systemic racism and how blind I was to it only a few years ago. As Khandwala writes, "To educate yourself on anti-racism is to understand that by simply existing, you are complicit in a structurally racist system. Once you understand this, you will realise that if we do not work to disrupt this system, we will reproduce the same ideas, aesthetics and politics that perpetuate white supremacy."
I believe (particularly young) designers must educate themselves about decolonising design, unlearn certain beliefs and habits, check their privilege, co-create on briefs with designers that are directly affected by certain issues, question what they have been taught, and aim to teach it differently to the next generations.