‘What new agency comes from a complete global reset?’
The new normal. It’s a defining phrase that seems to sit on the lips of every politician in the guise of distorted comradery, and ricochets around each of our living rooms as the 6pm news rolls in. It is the signal of a global shift, a signal that we are indeed living in circumstances beyond previous comprehension. As we wade on through the blurry ambiguity that is 2020, it’s becoming more apparent that what once felt like a hypothetical concept, the new normal is now very much rooted in our sense of reality.
It is rare that we are given the opportunity to foresee and articulate a new way of living. This in itself is an agency granted to us in the wake of what feels like complete chaos. In our acceptance and approach towards this global reset, our agency on both an individual and broader cultural level has expanded. Aligning this agency with purpose and intent, it becomes a directive tool for us to foster growth and acclimatise to a world very much turned upside down. Redefining normality means assessing the space in which we work and have impact, and this space is expanding.
In comparing our pre- and post-Covid world, I think one of the most notable differences is the way in which we view and interact with time. As a concept, time is often what drives us. It motivates us, informs our actions and, in turn, our agency. It is with this, however, that time can often feel quite imposing. As the world resets itself and the new normal finds its feet, I’ve found my relationship with time has changed, and I’m discovering new agency over my work and routines.
Moving forward into a world where traditional structure is breaking down, our individual agency is allowed more room to be nurtured. In a period of work-from-home zoom calling, home schooling and banana-bread making, we have newfound agency over time, and are less inclined to accept the routines that once were. In the ambiguous new normal, time is something we have control over. It has a newfound flexibility, and the ownership I have over my own path has never felt more apparent.
For me, the idea of agency is closely tied with the concepts of power and purpose. During a period of such intense social, economic and cultural disruption, this idea has never felt more elevated. As designers, we are naturally reactive. We are often catalysts for change and are at the forefront of future-thinking. Our work is significant as a result of its ability to influence, communicate and resonate. I’ve found that my own approach to work has shifted in recent months. I am more acutely aware of my relationship with an audience and the ways in which I am able to reflect on and adapt to the ever-changing global situation around me. This is reflected in the wider creative industry, the resilience of which, in adapting to the new normal, has been empowering.
With such a dramatic shift in social norms and our overall awareness of the global stage, there has been a definite drive to position ethics and philosophy at the forefront of design. I feel our agency as creatives is now, more closely than ever, aligned with the political and social spheres and thus our influence radiates further. The new normal has opened further the opportunities for our communications and commentary. A great example of this being optimised is Design Emergency, where Paola Antonelli and Alice Rawsthorn have collated the response of the design community to crises such as Covid-19. Their Instagram platform sparks real discussion surrounding the agency of the designer as a force for possibility. In the light of new crises, the agency of the designer can ultimately serve to challenge social infrastructure and antiquated systems, navigating and directing the new normal.
Earlier on in the year, as the UK came out of its first lockdown, Design Emergency spoke with Es Devlin in an interview that encapsulates this idea of new agency and design reform. Devlin is a theatre designer whose work prior to the pandemic was articulated in the form of mass gatherings and audience engagement in physical spaces. With our current social interactions limited by ‘hands, face, space’, Design Emergency questions the nature of collective experience in the new normal and outlines the ways in which designers are informing and projecting the future of live events.
“It is our role to try and imagine a way forward.” Es Devlin, 2020.
What I found particularly inspiring in Devlin’s interview is the way in which she uses her creative agency to suggest diverting human connection to the digital space whilst also retaining the emotional connections humans are inherently dependent upon. There is a responsibility there, not only in terms of curbing transmission through limiting physical interactions, but also in terms of reigniting the emotional engagement lost through new restrictions.
I think ultimately, when considering this idea of new agency and the new normal, the two appear to go hand in hand. As I personally reflect and consider on my own creative practice, I understand that my agency is growing beyond traditional limitations. I no longer feel tied to the aim of getting a stream of internships but am learning to balance my outlook with a greater variety of professional practice. The way in which I continue to craft and manoeuvre through my DPS year is far from the structured proposal I outlined months ago. Instead, I am assured by the freedom and new agency that can be found in these uncertain times. My perspective is continually expanding, and I am seeing possibilities that I otherwise wouldn’t have sought or even acknowledged.
BA Graphic Branding and Identity
Alagiah, M. (2020) Fine Acts: Global Art Campaign. Available at: https://www.itsnicethat.com/news/fine-acts-spring-of-hope-campaign-art-illustration-010520 (Accessed: 11 November 2020).
Antonelli, P and Rawsthorn A. (2020) 'Design Emergency' [Instagram]. 4 May. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/B_xdSPGDoD8/ (Accessed: 11 November 2020).
Devlin, S. (2020) BBC – Culture in Quarantine. Available at: https://esdevlin.com/work/bbc-culture-in-quarantine-masterclass (Accessed: 11 November 2020).