During my current work placement at a design studio in Romania called Synopsis, I still remember one of the first discussion with my boss who have been in the design world for over 20 years.
I asked him if he ever wanted to influence people in certain directions, besides coming to a cultural event or concert. He said that his purpose and goal, most of all is to be a better designer. From every commission, to do a better work than before. “Design has the power to change and because of that it hold a lot of responsibility. Bad design can mess up things as well!” And having this is mind, of course he’s not going to accept a job from a Fast-Food chain, or to make a poster that encourages people to smoke. He wants his design to attract people, yes, but to things that he considers important and beneficial. This is why his niche is culture and music, also organizing graphic-design exhibitions about Tolerance and education.
I thought about that in relation to Climate Emergency, and “okay okay, we learn about that book opening or the importance of typography, but what about telling people what to do?” I got a bit stressed and starting to say quite automatically the questions I usually have in my mind: “We are in a crisis, we have to do something about the way we work, we consume resources, we manage businesses. What to do? “ Then, very calmly, he said something like: “ Do the thing you like the most, and do it the best you can. If you believe in something, then do it right. Don’t just do a poster in one day, panicked and in a rush, because even if the message and its purpose serves good, it’s not gonna have any impact. Shortly, work on it, and work hard.”
We talked about how there are activists who go outside with banners designed by then and push the government to stop exploiting the earth for its own benefit. And they play such a crucial role in a There are people like Banksy who are not that vocal or obvious, but his work and subtle messages make people have the “aha” moment, about their action and how bad things are happening around us without us realizing. There are different types of designers and design agencies who fight(or don’t) in their own way, and the ones who really succeed are the ones who really put a lot of work and dedication and passion in it. As we have a now a lot of examples of greenwashing brands and designers who do “environmental awareness” campaigns only for the profit; an informed eye can see who is really doing it for the sake of earth and wellness. This is the role that good design plays: sometimes you can spot the liars and make some noise about it.
An example I have in mind is Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia clothing who stared this brand with his love and care for the environment, saying how hard it is to protect it when you also have to make profit. Initially starting a business with Mountain Climbing Gear, then he developed the brand Esprit which wasn’t the most environmentally friendly. Realizing the harm he is causing, and now having the financial resources and experience, he started Patagonia. A totally different concept of clothing business and branding, using second hand and durable materials, encouraging people to repair their clothes instead of buying new ones and making it for the love of nature. He offered a business model and succeeded in it, for other companies to follow.
When it comes to individual designers, we really need to think and choose wisely who to work for or with. As the Crypto-art and this digital currency is increasingly popular we need to do our research and ask ourselves some questions before jumping in though all the new commercial platforms handed to us by “Silicon Valley-style move-fast-break-things accelerationism” (Atken M. 2020) see how much this seemingly undisruptive way of selling your art is energy consuming and ecologically unreasonable and choose not to use it. I understand how difficult is to do what you love and earn a living but we need to choose wisely and find ways (or if we can’t, to create new ones) to be able to hold ourselves responsible for our acts.
I remember how hasty I was when looking for a job, applying first to the studios I admire for their work ethos and emphasizing this in my cover letter, like “I want help making this world, at least a bit better and influence people to make more conscious choices, as you do” but seeing that I don’t receive any feedback or reply, I started to apply to jobs that didn’t have the same set of values, but I really needed the money and experience. And now I am asking myself, really, did I? I lucky to be in my home country and not worry that much about the monetary side, so I am taking advantage of this time in order to do become a better illustrator and designer so I can choose to work where I feel it’s doing something good for the planet. Or this is my goal at least.
As I am now working in this studio, currently unpaid, but understanding that this time is for learning. And honestly I don’t feel like I can help that much as they have their projects going on already and don’t exploit me in a way of doing what’s needed(like bureaucracy) just giving me the opportunity to see how they work, how they talk to clients, how they decide if they want to do a project or not, if it’s worthy to invest time and energy in a project where they don’t feel connected to it. They offer me advice when I need, and let me work on the projects I love. It feels reassuring seeing that they can say no in a very diplomatic way and choose to focus on the studio projects, like making open-air exhibitions around the world, to influence people to make better choices, to see the beauty, pragmatism and the role the design plays in making the world a bit better, when it is done right.
I will conclude with a quote from my favourite artist and designer, Agnes Denes: We live in an age of complexity, when knowledge and ideas are presented faster than can be assimilated, while disciplines are becoming progressively alienated from each other through specialization. The hard-won knowledge accumulates undigested, blocking meaningful communication. Clearly defined direction for humanity is lacking. The turn of the century and the next millennium will usher in a troubled environment and a troubled psycheÖ Making art today is synonymous with assuming responsibility for our fellow human beings."
After having those conversations and reflection upon my work and career, I feel like a solution for me to be a responsible designer is to be the best I can in this domain and use the knowledge and abilities acquired to work in a team with similar goals and ethos and together to promote this business model, where we use our superpowers for good.