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.