Filed under: Communication Design, Participation, Practice-led research
As we inch closer to launching the ‘probes’ for the Probious project, I’ve been having really interesting conversations with a few designers. This morning, it was great to get a phone call from Kevin Finn, who I e-mailed out the blue asking for recommendation for designers in regional areas of Australia.
There was a lot we talked about that resonated with conversations that emerged out of past workshops with other designers, but there are a few that stood out from the rest. One area that provided rich discussion was on ‘community’ – its oft nebulous, mis-used term – and that this project was a way to define and describe what the connections might be among people who call themselves ‘graphic designers’. Who are we, what makes us get out of bed in the morning, and what is our relationship to design? These ‘human’ elements can begin to show the make up of our design ‘community’ that is not defined by a job description/qualification. Kevin shared some personal experiences and recollections when he was practicing out of Kununurra, in remote north Western Australia. He said that he didn’t purposefully seek out other designers, but instead, allowed those connections to form naturally with those he had shared interests with. We then laughed at my dislike of being deliberately introduced to other Japanese people in a large party, just because we are Japanese and therefore we must have so much shared interest, or we know common people back home (!)
In our fetish for design artefacts, these often become the criterias in which a designer is evaluated by – “s/he’s a good designer because s/he does engaging and unique work”. This peer-evaluation works on a certain level (such as awards and setting certain ‘benchmarks’ of work) but is not conducive in building cohesion or connection – the bonds that define a community to give its characteristics and unique experiences. In discussing hypothetical scenarios of designers who are in remote/regional areas of Australia, they might deliberately disconnect with the borader design ‘community’ for that reason – for fear of being judged based on their work – because so much of the design ‘community’ is driven and celebrated by those with established their practices in urban areas who have a wide range of ‘interesting’ clients to work with. Designers who are in regional/remote areas may not have access to that diversity, the multi-faceted cultural stimultion and opportunities for exposure of their work, but they are designers nonetheless with personal motivations, their own definition and trajectory into the field of design. The picture of the ‘community’ we are building is to look inside the individual and the contexts they are surrounded by. We need to avoid the reductive, and instead, build a picture of pluerality and diversity.
Kevin warned not to make the designers in such regional/remote places feel as if they were chosen for this study because they are a strange ‘anomaly’ of the design ‘community’. The ‘bearded lady’ to be gawped at at a circus. I can see how easily this project can be misconstrued that way from their perspective, especially if there is a deliberate disconnect from their part and healthy mistrust for ‘all that jazz’ in the city. I’m glad to be reminded of it so we can proceed with more care and caution than before.
Kevin wisely commented that this project can become bigger than initially conceived, generating more questions rather than answers. I sense this enormity as well, and this reassures me that its a piece of research worth doing. However, the question I struggle with now, which came out of our conversation, is whether this is about graphic design at all. Neither it is to make the hidden aspects of it more visible to the public for it to be valued more. These may have been the intial intention of the research project, but I think it has shifted through the process of doing the reserach and having such insightful and critical discussions with practitioners like Kevin. Perhaps this project is similar in objective to the bushfire community preparedness research – an action research that is bridging disconnected individuals though a common purpose or interest – and through this connection, generating knowledge and learning experiences for all.