A page may have been added last Thursday night to the long and glorious history of dissent.
At the Art Directors Club of New York, a stellar panel of design geniuses debated before an overwhelmingly young and enthusiastic audience how design can be harnessed to drive social change, most urgently by challenging the Republican warlords and Talibangelists who have America by the throat.
The panel represented a spectrum of design approaches to the mission. At the ultra-violet end: legendary Milton Glaser, elegant, wise, quintessentially cool, (he designed the accompanying logo) and who spoke eloquently of how great design should 'get into people's bloodstream'. At the infra-red end, equally legendary George Lois who has been street-fighting for peace and justice for 50 years and who spoke forcefully of how great design should get into people's faces.
Check out George's current trouble-making project
A younger generation was represented by Jessica Helfand and James Victore. The former espouses a more subversive approach, applying intense pressure to the enemy's weak-spots; the latter is more confrontational, raw and 'downtown'. Check out his book (he showed the terrific images on pages 41/42 and 51/52). Although some of the political work she showed is not on her website yet, you can get to know Jessica better here.
Kurt Andersen (Spy, Studio 360, NY Magazine, best-selling novelist) was also on the panel - colossally smart and perceptive as ever, about the various approaches being considered. Steve Heller, Senior Art Director of the N.Y. Times and eminent historian and scholar of design moderated.
The evening was initiated by Brian Collins head cheese of B.I.G. the dynamic design group at Ogilvy and Mather. Brian had been motivated in part by my recent book, a satire that he thought a good way to debate and dramatize the impending fate of the republic, his hope being that it would inspire designers to do the same in their disciplines. I was thrilled to be present - not just because authors are suckers for praise - but also because as an editor I've always been obsessed with great art and graphics, especially where they intersect with satire and parody.
You can hear the podcast of the entire evening here
Nothing expresses dissent or confuses would-be tyrants like the immediacy of a great visual concept. Nothing galvanizes the powerless like the unforgettable image, the slogan that encapsulates their rage. Every great social change has had its look, style, slogans, icons, symbols, jokes, targets, demons and heroes, its own entire visual vocabulary. Design is an unequalled way to capture outrage, frustration - and hope. Design gives change its identity, brings it into conscious existence.
Milton Glaser probably made the most galvanizing statement of the evening when he said that what designers were up against was Karl Rove. The Genderless One is behind the design and style and messages of the barbaric new America the hardhats of the Lord are constructing around us. And it's he (or whatever pronoun seems appropriate) that has to be taken down along with the look and style and slogans and symbols and messages he's hung on The Great Decider. Daunting but doable - we're better than he is.
If you're an artist or designer, whether graphic artist, comic artist, art director, poster maker, web designer, animator (sorry if there are categories I've left out) and you want to put your skills to use in the struggle for America, join us. Whether you want to get in people's bloodstream or get in their faces, whether you want to subvert or provoke, chip away quietly at the weak points in the fortress walls or plaster every available urban surface with your brilliance, join us. Design for your life, design for America, design for social change. Become part of the movement Milton Glaser calls Designism.
At the moment we're only in the formative stages, checking round to see how others feel. The first priorities are response, enthusiasm, numbers. Blog your interest here, forward to every great pair of eyes you know. If you want to be part of the project e-mail your name and relevant info to the Art Directors Club of New York.
Join us. We have designs on you!