First Things First // CTS

In this weeks lecture we looked at the social purpose of design and the social responsibility of the designer.

We began by looking at how things such as the industrial revolution influenced design as an industry. During the 19th century, the economy changed immensely; from being based heavily around agriculture to then being based around industry. This not only changed the economy but also changed the field of design. It changed many of the original processes used in design and overall, allowed art to be much more accessible. This economical change was also a huge contributor to mass production and reproduction. This process of reproduction has direct links with advertising, posters and commercialism. The ability to create design for these purposes, quickly and easily, has allowed the economy to grow through consumerism. Design has a huge influence on what we buy as a nation. Through good advertisement and clever design, our brain fixates on particular messages that are given through things we see.

Before this revolution of mass production, the arts and crafts movement was at a high in Britain. This particular movement focused on intricate historical visuals as this was often perceived as beauty. The arts and crafts movement encouraged the idea that well designed goods would effectively improve society. Also, the concept of social hierarchy demonstrated through material objects pursued an idea that good design was aimed only at the upper class. This was evident with artists such as William Morris. Morris spent a lot of time and money creating beautiful designs to apply to wallpaper. This initially was sold at an intensive labour guided price and therefore, would only be affordable to those who were wealthy.

The arts and crafts movement insisted on quality. The ‘one off’ nature of its outcomes allowed things to be made with much more care and to a much better standard. This also gave design a sense of character and individuality. This idiosyncratic nature is also demonstrated in todays civilisation with the arts and crafts movement portraying quirkiness through things we encounter in our day-to-day lives such as street food, craft beers and handmade fashion. Also, the handcrafted/personalised goods sector is booming with networks such as ‘etsy’ and ‘’ who specialise in unconventional customised gifts.

As mentioned before, all of this design was specialised and mainly aimed at upper class citizens which made it less accessible for those who could not afford it. Movements such as the Bauhaus movement made good design available to other levels of society.

The Bauhaus movement responded to industrialisation and the modern world. Their aim was to create an up to date environment and way of life using good design to establish their own utopia. Much of their design was based around functionalism, geometric formulism and machine aesthetics. This involved mass production and also lots of reproduction; all part of industrial modernism. This dated from around 1919 to 1933 in Germany.

Around the early 20th century, design was noticed as an aid for social change. It was used to manipulate and influence public opinion. This was evident in things such as propaganda. This was when advertisers, illustrators and other designers directed their skills to war-related issues and efforts. This design effected how the public perceived war. It showed war as a means for community rather than a disruption to everyday life. To dispute this, a large uprising of avante garde designers created counter propaganda artwork to show the reality of war. These were often visually interesting and innovative as to appeal to an audience. Artists such as John Hartfield used this anti-fascist approach in his work.

In 1933, the Nazis closed the Bauhaus, claiming that the art and design was degraded and corrupt. Many of the artists moved to the United States after the closure to emigrate away from Nazi Germany. Upon many of the Bauhaus designers moving to the US, much of their modern, experimental and stylistic methods of design was soon adopted by corporate culture. The US soon saw a rise in reduced and simplistic design, similar to the Bauhaus.

Examples of the above include works by Paul Rand and Ken Garland. Ken Garland founded the ‘First Things first’ manifesto. This particular manifesto highlights how Garland and other designers feel pressured into devoting all their skills to advertising and corporate purposes when there is a whole spectrum of design work that has a higher importance and contribution to our lives. For example, instead of prioritising the design of cigarettes, we as designers, should use our knowledge to design things such as instruction manuals and educational aids. This outlook was much more evident during the 1980’s where design was used in an unconventional way to raise public awareness. Many activist design groups used techniques from advertising to spread a message. These campaigns were quite provocative and often not very subtle in their ways, this made them appealing and memorable.

Artists such as Barbara Kruger used these techniques in her work showing how consumerism is taking over. It demonstrates the idea that our culture is now about consumption rather than actual culture. Others such as ‘Ad Busters’ also follow a similar path to spread the same message. They use culture Jamming as a means of activism and a resistance to ‘fight back’ against large organisations and ideas.

This is my own response to the Culture Jam approach. I wanted to address the issue of adultification of young girls in the modelling industry.

This is my own response to the Culture Jam approach. I wanted to address the issue of adultification of young girls in the modelling industry.

All of the above contributes to how text works with imagery and the relationship it forms in the public eye. Alone, text or imagery can be very powerful, but together a whole new message would be portrayed. Text/imagery can add a further message to something that it may not have necessarily had before. Imagery has a tendency to be memorable, often more memorable than text. This allows the human brain to relate certain imagery to relate to certain things and therefore carry a message. When text is added to this imagery, it makes the whole piece much stronger, when done in the right way. Text can narrate an image whether it be in explanation form or to spark an idea in the viewer’s mind. It could be a sentence or just a single word that is powerful enough to encourage a thought process, much of this contributes to how the audience can generate a new perspective of what they see. Also, through learning about the history of design through social change, it has enabled me to see that text can be used to modernise an image, font and typeface will have a huge impact on how this is done but the content can be used to bring an image up to date. It can set a tone to an image, altering how we see it overall, again, portraying a message or a common voice. The colour and placement of the text can have immense influence on an image due to the fact that it will ultimately bring a piece together or separate its components, adjusting how it is perceived. This relationship between text and imagery can show visual stimulation. An image is much more accessible to illiterate people who may struggle to read text. This can be extremely helpful when addressing global, social and political issues as the visuals can help the public have more of an understanding about the world in which they live.


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