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Design Activism: Anti Commercial or Conformist? – Synopsis

March 9, 2012


The essay will look at defining activist graphics in this chapter, in which it will briefly explore the issues in relation to activist graphics. The quote below will be used as a starting point for this:

“Design Activism is ‘design thinking, imaginative and practice applied knowingly or unknowingly to create a counter narrative aimed at generating and balancing positive social, institutional, environmental and/or economic change”

(Fuad-Luke, 2009, 27)

The issue of positive change will be explored; in light of the fact that definition of positive change is dependant on an individual’s personal outlook and position within society. Could it be argued that different points of view seen within different activist groups are essential for a balanced outlook and allow for change?

By being anti commercial does something automatically become activism? Equally does a campaign hold its title as activism if it is involved with the commercial world?

Case Studies

The case studies used within this essay will be:

–       AIDS/HIV
–       Race and Racism
–       Environment
–       Anti Capitalism/Consumerism

 Examples of agitation will be deconstructed, and analysed as to who their message is aimed at and who is behind the message, in order to define the conventions that appear across the different pieces of design activism. The motivation behind the message will be brought into question. It will also discuss whether the message is seen as positive and which group in society sees it that way.


 This chapter will discuss the activism produced by charities, the complex messages produced by charitable organisations, and the blur between commercialism and activism within their advertising.

 The use of collaboration between charity and commercial companies will also be explored (collaborations between the Body Shop and Greenpeace, ACT UP and Benetton, and so forth) and the positive and negative effects that result will be explored.


 This chapter will address the relationship between design activism and commercial advertising. The following campaigns will be discussed and deconstructed:

–       United Colors of Benetton (Colours Magazine)
–       Levis
–       Go RED campaign (the sale of red products for HIV)

The essay will then compare the conventions seen in activist graphics and the commercial advertising campaigns listed above. Leading on from this deconstruction the essay will ask if the use of activist conventions within commercial advertising affects the message within activist graphics. It will also ask whether it is a positive which highlights the issues raised in activism and brings them into the public eye?


The essay will conclude by discussing the relationship between activism and the commercial world. Is activism a tool for commercial world to raise profits or a powerful tool for change when given exposure and funding by commercial campaigns?


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