Abstract

Public discourse has long been enlivened by graphic designers who harness their creative skills and ideas to political, social and cultural issues. Iconic examples populate the canon of American graphic design history over the past century: designs for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and ’40s, Lorriane Schneider’s 1967 poster “War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things,” Gran Fury’s AIDS awareness campaigns during the 1980s, and carrying the concept into the new millennium, Shepard Fairey’s recent “Obama Hope” posters. However, historical emphasis has often been on the individual design artifact, with secondary consideration of the contextual milieu for its creation and implementation. A third consideration must be acknowledged to arrive at a more comprehensive idea of how and why graphic designers create works outside of the typical client-designer relationship. Design authorship suggests such a model. Theories of design authorship, first developed in the mid-1990s, help to define a new paradigm for designers’ enlarged sense of agency. Partly enabled by technological advances (desktop computers, printers, Postscript® software), partly by the convergence of discursive methodologies (image-making, designing, writing, publishing), and partly by the influence of avant-garde philosophies (post-modernism, post-structuralism, deconstructionism), a more holistic breed of designer emerged. The ‘Designer as Author Activist’ doesn’t just design the occasional protest banner – she infuses her practice with ethical and moral concerns. As this paper will show, the history behind this symbiosis of form, content and intent is not merely one of styles and trends, but of a fundamental shift in design’s core.

Keywords

design authorship, graphic activism, history, politics

COinS
 
Jul 1st, 12:00 AM

Designer as Author Activist: A model for engagement

Public discourse has long been enlivened by graphic designers who harness their creative skills and ideas to political, social and cultural issues. Iconic examples populate the canon of American graphic design history over the past century: designs for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and ’40s, Lorriane Schneider’s 1967 poster “War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things,” Gran Fury’s AIDS awareness campaigns during the 1980s, and carrying the concept into the new millennium, Shepard Fairey’s recent “Obama Hope” posters. However, historical emphasis has often been on the individual design artifact, with secondary consideration of the contextual milieu for its creation and implementation. A third consideration must be acknowledged to arrive at a more comprehensive idea of how and why graphic designers create works outside of the typical client-designer relationship. Design authorship suggests such a model. Theories of design authorship, first developed in the mid-1990s, help to define a new paradigm for designers’ enlarged sense of agency. Partly enabled by technological advances (desktop computers, printers, Postscript® software), partly by the convergence of discursive methodologies (image-making, designing, writing, publishing), and partly by the influence of avant-garde philosophies (post-modernism, post-structuralism, deconstructionism), a more holistic breed of designer emerged. The ‘Designer as Author Activist’ doesn’t just design the occasional protest banner – she infuses her practice with ethical and moral concerns. As this paper will show, the history behind this symbiosis of form, content and intent is not merely one of styles and trends, but of a fundamental shift in design’s core.

 

To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.