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  • Preface to a Thesis

    Communication, Communication Design

    [section 01] - 1st draft

    On Christmas day in 1987, a grenade exploded in the small coffee farming town of Matagalpa in the Central American country of Nicaragua. Though now a distant event, both in time and space, back then the shock waves of that explosion reverberated all the way back to Canada and and its debris found a place on the front pages of every national newspaper. For most in Canada the news was of a Canadian social worker violently killed in what appeared to be one strange accident with many unanswered questions. Back in Matagalpa, a sterile room held Jenny's body and with her, my inconsolable grief. As I looked out the window on the waking town, behind me the sun was beginning to break through the trees. Morning light had begun to fill the streets and with it came a new day, the end of a vigil, and the end of an unfulfilled life. Slowly, sunlight began to mingle with a mist that seemed to rise in the distance, and soon a brilliant rainbow enveloped the entire valley.

    How could it be that a scene so sublimely beautiful could be laid out before me while behind me lay the desolation of the deepest love I had ever felt? How could I turn my back on that pain to look upon a serenity that seemed to speak of a world of wonder and a future of promise? That morning I chose to find solace in the sunrise, if only with the hope that it might temper the cold of my grief and keep back a slowly creeping depression. In the end nothing could keep away the anguish that would lead to depression, then anger, and finally to hatred.

    This hatred was directed toward those who I felt were responsible for her death, responsible for the war that had been waged against the people of Nicaragua. This hatred was directed toward America. But as time passed and my hatred waned, I was able to see a different America. I had always known that many progressive Americans opposed the policies of the conservative government, but I was also discovering that many conservatives–people who would have supported that same war against Nicaragua–were actually caring, generous, and likable as individuals.

    This was baffling to me. How could someone with values and morals, in many respects similar to my own, believe in such a war? How could they believe that in order to secure greater wealth for America, not only was such violence and oppression necessary, it was actually just and right? It's easy to see the world as a dualism of good and evil, where one can be resigned to the notion that the problems are too big to change, but that's the world of the cynic. In a pluralistic world resignation is much more difficult to justify as there are spaces where action can bring about change. Emotions like anger and bitterness breed cynicism when what's needed for action is optimism, and when the world view is a pluralist one, what's also needed is pragmatism.

    [section 02] - 1st draft

    This research is about finding a space where action can bring about change and how design can have an impact in the form of a new design praxis. While there exists many spaces in which a new design praxis can operate, this research will be sociopolitical in nature and will specifically focus on communicating ideas of global social justice.

    Some might immediately question what kind of role design could possibly play in the process of creating formative change within the area of global social justice. This is understandable, as many people have only vague and often antiquated ideas of what design is. In fact, even designers have difficulty defining what design is. Often design is understood by the qualifier that comes before it — communication design, graphic design, industrial design, environmental design, architectural design — the list goes on. But as Walter Groupius wrote, "design is neither an intellectual nor a material affair, but simply an integral part of the stuff of life, necessary for everyone in a civilized society" (20).

    This frees design from the above constraints and allows for a new design thinking that " lies in a concern to connect and integrate useful knowledge from the arts and science [...] in ways that are suited to the problems and purposes of the present" Buchanan 06. As John Thackara writes, "In an economic world dealing in knowledge, the secret to success is the re-combination of different types of expertise in a productive manner. This new kind of design sets out to increase the flow of information within and between people, organisations and communities" (qtd. in Cottam & Leadbeater 28). Speaking to this notion, Thackara also quotes Victor Papanek as saying that "design is basic to all human activities — the placing and patterning of any act towards a desired goal constitutes a design process" (Thackara 01). As a designer who was educated in multimedia, I am particularly interested in these more open notions of design practice. Design should not be about the confined spaces of technical activity but rather about recognising where problems exist and addressing them, utilising a broad base of knowledge and practices.

    [section 03] - 1st draft

    While the emphasis of global social justice in this thesis is founded on personal experience, its realisation will be found through new ideas and approaches in design practice, and it will be informed by the growing body of knowledge within the wider design community. My hope is that this thesis contributes to that body of knowledge and, in some small way, helps to shape growing perceptions of design as a new avenue for social praxis.

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