We live in broadcast culture. The Internet offers us access to the sentiments of people from around the world, and invites us to contribute our own voices. We are simultaneously the audience and the photographers, the journalists and the graphic designers. And this means that we have access to unmediated content direct from the source, along with a variety of perspectives on every issue. Is there a role for design in protest? Is it possible to reimagine the activities, artifacts, and behaviors of protest through the products of design?
The graduate students of the MFA Products of Design students at SVA|NYC explored the theme of protest in a class entitled “Product, Brand and Experience.” Led by faculty members Rinat Arul and Johan Liden of the design consultancy Aruliden, students spent 15 weeks pushing and pulling on the conundrum of “designing for protest.” At first glance, of course, design seems positively antithetical to the commonly-understood notions of the grass-roots, the spontaneous, the proletarian, the “un-designed” around the act of protest. But that surface, once scratched, reveals myriad opportunities for design intervention. Certainly design can cast revealing wavelengths of light on any subject, and the challenge of matching the “frequency” of appropriate design to the riot of forms of protest proved both difficult and instructive. In the end, the students created 8 offerings of design for protest—some speculative and discursive, some immediately practical, some provocative, and some tongue-in-cheek.
Protesting can often come with the risk of physical harm, which can hinder participation. A sea of people can be empowering or terrifying, depending on the choreography of the group. Using directional guidance, Loop serves to connect the individual participants to the collective flow of the crowd—like the flocking behavior of birds or the swarming motions of schools of fish. [Learn more about Loop]
And despite the unifying strength of the collective, individually we are targets of censorship by simply showing up with our smart devices. Our data takes on new value in this context, and BlackBox inconspicuously scrapes and protects our personal information in the vulnerability of public demonstration. [Learn more about BlackBox]
And even if our personal information is secure, often the goal is to disseminate elements of it in real time. To facilitate the revealing of this media, Pix works around strategies that control the flow of information—such as signal jammers and confiscation— through simple camouflage. [Learn more about PIX]
Often, without a hierarchy to create a cohesive visual language, it can be difficult to convey a unified cause. This presents the need for tools that afford visual consistency on the mass scale. Kopi is a portable silkscreening kit for just that purpose. [Learn more about Kopi]
Our expressions manifest beyond the virtual world of course; we take them to the streets. For the activist, the whole urban environment can serve as the scaffolding for the display of posters and signs. Able allows us to post our messages with tools that are built to last, and left behind for others to repurpose. [Learn more about Able]
Speaking out can be a vulnerable experience—no matter how strongly the message is felt. B. Super gives would-be participants the confidence to get involved by offering a tool-belt ensemble of transformative accessories that allow us to access our inner superheroes, and to be ready for anything. [Learn more about B.Super]
The site of protest is not limited to the streets; it happens when we extend ourselves beyond the borders of convention. Where there is proscriptive play, for instance, there is an opportunity to liberate. Pure Imagination’s Possibility Pack is a grab bag of parts that encourages young minds to defy these boundaries, and to set patterns of independent thought early on. [Learn more about Pure Imagination’s Possibility Pack]
And finally, on the days after a protest, social energy and bonds can often deflate, and best intentions of continuing the pursuit of social change become more difficult. Wearing (and sharing) an artifact as a reminder of a social change pact can be a powerful motivator, and TrmTab is an accessory that keeps dedication to the cause top of mind. [Learn more about TrmTab]
Together, all of these products and services attempt to navigate, illustrate, and communicate the complex landscape of protest, all the while questioning the limits and opportunities of where and how design might play a part.