The role of design in culture and society (my two cents worth)

It's design week here in Melbourne. I have just returned from RMIT Design Hub exhibition Experimental Jetset- Superstructure and the public facilitated conversation Why research graphic design?

What a relief to be sitting in a room of designers talking about something other than target audiences, and client briefs! Talking instead about the role that design plays in creating society and culture - more of THIS conversation please.

Graphic design, by its very nature, is one of the most directly applied creative practices for the commercial world. And often gets shoved into that corner, bypassed as a creative form unto itself, and overlooked as the hefty contributor it is to cultural change. Ironically, because of it's commercial application, much of our design history and context has been determined by client parameters, and not by independent research - or design for designs sake. And yet the majority of the visual communication that society views, is in fact graphic design language - for better or for worse. It is because of this commercial saturation of visual communication that design has indeed had such an impact, and continues to have one of the biggest impacts of all the creative arts on the urban landscape, popular culture, modernism and visual histories. Since the development of the printing press and typography - few things have influenced culture and society more.

So why not exhibit more graphic design? Why don't we talk about design more in these terms? Why are we not more familiar with the historical context of design in society? We know the names of musicians and books that have significantly changed culture Eg. The Beatles, but not the names of the designers who created the album covers, the typefaces we have come to recognize, or the collateral that made the movement possible.

Yep, designers are not just here to 'make things look pretty.' There is much more at stake.

I for one, want more space and time to design for design's sake - to explore, respond and comment on the cultural landscape of design in context. How do I marry that need with the client's brief in Australia's very conservative aesthetic environment? There is a saying in the design world; "Clients ruin good work," and yet the skill is to meet the brief while pushing the edges of good design practice and the avant garde, forward.

Some studios solve this dilemma by undertaking personal projects and research - separate to client briefs. But if we really want to be changing the guard - We need the skills and design thinking to couple the two more harmoniously. As the design movement over the course of history has shown us, good and momentous design was created in response to the client brief not in spite of it, and in fact, this is the very thing that gives it so much power and impact - the relevant cultural and commercial context in which the design was created.

Some ideas raised in the conversation today;

  • Study the history of design and understand the cultural context in which you are designing.
  • Seek out the clients and briefs that allow for, and embrace the avant garde within the scope.
  • Observe cultural phenomenon so your design can make a statement and counter statement which is relevant.
  • Let the design change society rather than society change the design.

So no more talk about target audiences. Let's talk about target impact for cultural change instead, and check out the exhibition for yourself running until May 5 2018.