The Hurting World: Designing Beyond Diametric Relationships
Ah yes, New York City. A walk down the street has us brushing past walls of leaking garbage bags, an unearthly smell wafting up from the sewer grates and the guts of the last bird to perish in this concrete covered world. Every visual semblance of the seventies’ Earth Day and Loisaida gardens have been pasted over by Target and Nike signs; this is a city now designed for consumer manipulation, as opposed to wild community. With signs so big, we barely ever pay attention to the grass growing between the sidewalks. But it is certainly there – roots still run beneath our feet.
When urbanization occurs, the grit of bodies pushed against bodies is inevitable. Our eyes are dragged out of gutters, scanning each face through the lenses of stereotype, then not seeing anything at all. Yet when night falls, we get past the bouncer and push our bodies as close as possible to the next. Sure, city life is about the music - but it’s also about the desire. Unbridled, unbounded, deified desire. It’s the same desire we’re asked to target in the next ad mockup for class. “Convince me I need the product,” the teacher says. This is an environment swarmed with humans and graffitied with spit and urine. But it is ultimately design that reinforces a diametric relationship between urban spaces and our collective nostalgia of the “wild.”
That is to say, consumers are bombarded with products and messaging to buy and buy until they need to escape from the city’s visual noise after a while. Thus, the oversaturation of design made to sell creates a narrative of separation between urban-ness and wilderness: ‘the city’ and ‘upstate.’ I mean, Prospect Park is such the only semblance of Brooklyn greenery untouched by Apple ads that it has changed surrounding property values and cultural enclaves. This need for ‘escape’ is a heavy nostalgia for a time when the city was more independent, radical and ecological.
So, it is only when we learn to see humans as more than a target audience – as individuals taking up a space equal to weeds in the ecological web – can we design for adaptation past destruction.
But perhaps we are in a place that will still try to train us to design for exponential production out of resource exploitation – reinforcing the “status quo.” This diametric that disregards our simply “being,” as creatures do. I mean, we despise Amazon, yet take their job offer. “Ugh,” we say. “It sucks, but that’s how it is.” We know “sustainable branding” is dishonest but ugh, at least we’re getting paid. We market ourselves as outstanding tools in the corporate belt– but “ugh, it’s a necessary evil.”
“Ugh, ugh, ugh.”
Design is supposed to be radical. Radicalism invites pushback and instability. It is now necessary for our survival not just to design for profit. Instead, we need to be connected, ecological people. You wield the power of visual influence. So, who are you designing for?
Art by Nina Lu