Sept. 26, 2016
In 2014, a widely shared youtube video recorded a dispute between tech bros in San Francisco’s Mission District and local youth over the use of a public soccer field. The tech bros insisted on their entitlement to use the field exclusively for 1-hour by presenting a San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department permit that for the cost $27 would reinforce their claim. The permit’s legitimacy was contested by the youth who countered that in the local custom, the field had never been “booked,” and thus could not be “booked” now simply because one possessed a permit. The tech bros’ incredulity that the document they held—in this case, a banal graphic design artifact that facilitates the governance of space—did not possess the legitimacy to back their claim is this text’s object of inquiry.
I would like to use this incident to open a consideration of the extent to which graphic design has been mobilized as an instrument of statemaking, and via colonization, impose a normative universalization of its logic. The park permit, as a graphic artifact, with its attendant references to maps and legislation, and to the extent that it enables a presumption of the legitimacy of its issuing agency and the claims of its holders, supplies a lens through which the persistence of colonial dispossession can be apprehended in its most banal forms, and hopefully, can inversely contribute to articulating possibilities of subversion.
Copyright and intellectual property are sensitive issues among designers. If someone infringes or rips off their work or style, fundamental questions of intellectual property tend to be raised. While other realms of art, interlinked with democratized technology, focus on sharing their culture and information with the public, designers are concerned about building boundaries — Nobody can achieve their unique identities.
However, more and more, while designers see copyright and intellectual property as a vital issue, they also need to see where they have been in the commons. With this query, my essay will examine how we can build the commons together especially in the digital era focusing on the ideas of autonomy and multitude which go beyond the simple notion of the private space and the public space.
It seems designers can’t get out of the notion that designing is a creative and individual task. Because of its strong obsession for visual effects, the complexity of its production and distribution in design also seems slimmed down into only its skin. As Jan van Toorn once elaborated, is it because the misconception of designer’s position in a market economy leads them to discomfort whenever they need to be brought up to critical parts?  Or is it because of the tendency which designers tend to be their own best audiences? Susan Buck-Morss once pointed out that our individual successes to have privileges as educational and cultural producers feeds the privileged ideology. 
With the advent of the internet, the digital age has changed people’s minds. Our notion of what a creator is has also shifted to the idea that creativity not only occurs alone, but it is produced when we communicate with each other. Today, people generate new meanings by using and sharing other people’s works and the information which circulates on the internet. These acts question the concept of common, which goes beyond the stale boundary of intellectual property. Conversely, some corporations and companies — those which monopolize the mass media — have choked people to control due to its attribute of the difficulty of controlling. Naturally, with this phenomenon, we wonder where designers position themselves.
Design and Intersectionality: Material Production of Gender, Race, Class–and Beyond
by Ece Canlı and Luiza Prado de O. Martins
First of all, we would like to say that we are very glad and honoured to host this event with its exciting schedule and presenters, and we hope that we will have great discussions and exchange of ideas during these two days. Before starting the first panel session, we would like to introduce an overview about the symposium, starting with the driving forces that prompted us to organise this event, and then–since especially the name of the symposium is Intersectional Perspectives on Design, Politics and Power–explaining a bit the concept of intersectionality, and its relation to design practice and politics.
Feathers of Hope: A Design Justice Case Study
by Una Lee
In the last decade, “design for social impact” has become a buzzword in the discipline. Yet all design has a social impact, and that impact has historically served the interests of those with greater economic and political power. Designers must become aware of all of their impacts, not just those that are intended to “make the world a better place.” This presentation will introduce the Design Justice Network, a community of design practitioners and community organizers who are urging the design field to engage in critical discourse about how this work perpetuates injustice, and how we might bring justice to design. It will outline the Principles for Design Justice, a collectively written and edited document that underpins the efforts of the Network, and will use these principles as a framework for understanding the design story behind Feathers of Hope: Justice and Juries, a community development initiative centred around Indigenous youth in Canada.
5000times: exploitative mechanisms within the design of smart high-tech products
by Isabel Mager
Design within globalised capitalism runs the risk of generating harm. In this discourse, the production of high-tech devices (smartphones, tablets, notebooks) serves as key example of such harmful effects. The designer is located at a critical point between reinforcing discriminative and inhumane mechanisms while fuelling the very demand for this mechanism to exist: consumption. The author’s study 5000times acts as a foundation for the discussion by conducting empiric experiments around the topic of productive industries and the human body within these. By beginning to de-assemble a high-tech device, a quest began into where and how the human hand has participated in the production of the device. The result of 5000times shows the amount of tasks, which are done manually along the assembly of high-tech products. Re-enacting these tasks as a designer originating from a privileged western context, represents the coherence, reliance and hence accountability of the designer towards the productive mechanism that is being used. The empirical and theoretical research into the topic of high-tech manufacturing unpacked the crucial amount of manual work and the devastating, discriminatory, and exploitative politics under which this work is happening. The study claims that product designers are responsible not only for the experience of the consumer but also for how those who make the designed product are affected by it.
Full paper available here.
Intersectional perspectives on intimate technology, solutionism, and privilege
by Marie Louise Juul Søndergaard
In this text, we discuss if and how an intersectional perspective on design may be critically practiced from a privileged position. More precisely, we ask how intersectional perspectives on race, gender and class may be useful in reflecting on and critically intervening in a privileged, Northern European culture. Our discussion is motivated by considerations into what impact culture and context have on the practice, representation, and reception of critique.
Full paper available here.
moderated by Pedro Oliveira
Why people do not rebel? Issues of self-marginalisation in design for mental health
by Paola Pierri
In this paper, I will take the opportunity of the Symposium organised by the Decolonising Design Group to explore what does applying a lens on intersectionality do to my practice and my research around issues of participation and agency in design. I will start by introducing my research interest and my current practice and reflecting on the issue of participation in design. I will then apply an intersectional lens to my thinking and my practice, working with people with mental health conditions, trying to reframe the issue of inclusion/exclusion through the work of Patricia Hill Collins and her conceptualisation of the ‘outsider within’. I will conclude my paper by reflecting on what is still missing and where the failures and frustrations are in my work in mental health at the moment, and present the areas that I am currently exploring as possible ways forward to improve the impact that my practice can have, by looking at how to politically link social suffering and power.
Full paper available here.
Intersectional Perspectives in the Context of South Asia
by Manahil Huda
South Asia’s, specifically Pakistan’s design dynamics are very unique since the culture is very different when compared to the rest of the world. In my paper and discussion I take two examples, one of Pakola (a green ice-cream soda flavored drink) and one of the laltain (Lantern) as an election symbol and discuss in their reference how design and politics influence each other in an intersectional manner, especially when an audience is oblivious of the power of design. The origins of the drink and the lantern; and concepts of class, nationalism, gender, and education level are discussed. The focus is to try to understand the ways in which power structures are defined in Pakistan and how do they address the common man with the help of design.
Full paper available here.
by Márton Kabai
The White standard is a design research that manifests as a magazine with a map. It attempts to draw a line between the early physical anthropology until today’s beauty standards. This project was rises questions as: What is common between colonial skin color charts and today’s skin bleaching products? How whiteness counterparts with power, authority and maintains colonial inferiority that preserves the post-cold war world order. How advanced capitalism can justify and commercialize race and gender differences in favor of the white man? How commercial design becomes a propaganda machine and has a significant role of serving the actual power structure? How design can be used in order to be independent from commercial interest? The magazine presents 33 skin whitening products, advertisements and critical essays. The map shows how corporations and its brands take similar arrangement as it was at the colonial times, as if colonialism has never ended.
moderated by Danah Abdulla