Design View | Design articles and news from Andy Rutledge

04/07/07

An Inconvenient War On Truth

There’s a new design community effort afoot and its summation statement starts like this: “Climate-related disasters are increasing. Designers like you can help to change this.” Now I’m no expert on activist promotion, but a non sequitur or blatant inaccuracy is no way to kick off a community–wide effort of any kind. Statements like this describe irresponsibility and naiveté; not the sorts of qualities that should be associated with genuinely positive efforts and responsible practices.

I’m referring to smashLAB’s new online effort called Design Can Change. This slickly designed effort advocates some wonderful ideas, but its introductory statement is either a bald–face lie or a terribly naïve perpetuation of idiocy. I say this because unless blessed with divine powers, designers can do absolutely nothing to change the fact that natural disasters – climate–related or not – are happening, increasing, or decreasing.

smashLAB seems to have swallowed some politically charged koolaid – and/or – they don’t care to behave ethically. Or perhaps they simply don’t understand the harm they’re perpetuating. Ignorance might be bliss, but it’s certainly no basis for a potentially powerful effort.

Those interested in truth rather than misguided ideology know that the responsible science on issues of climate change is clear and in direct conflict with the perverted versions made most public for purposes of anarchist propaganda and political demagoguery. Undistorted science shows that there is only one known factor contributing to our earth’s latest climate trend – the same factor that has always driven our earth’s wildly fluctuating climate. It is not associated with any geopolitical issue or supposedly detrimental human behavior.

Let me suggest that if you don’t know what that factor is you have no business joining smashLAB’s effort or contributing to the related discourse in any way. Instead, you’ve got some education to acquire. You might start with this BBC program and then delve into some other relevant information on the matter. Or you could just stay the heck out of matters you’re simply not equipped to discuss or participate in. It’s the responsible thing to do.

Terrific idea – abominable justification

As for the Design Can Change effort, the root request is absolutely admirable and positive: work to engage in and promote sustainable practices in your individual and business activity, including influencing clients and vendors. The foundational impetus described by the effort, however, is ridiculously naïve, misleading, and largely inaccurate …as are nearly all of the conclusions purported by the perverted science associated with it. Furthermore, some of the actions advocated by this effort are detrimental to society and world cultures. Again, if you can’t spot which ones, you’ve no business joining or commenting on this effort.

…we have to fully understand the impact and validity of the messages we design and communicate to the world. Else we wield our skills as a weapon, firing blindly in all directions without concern for or understanding of the consequences.

This is, in all respects, a tragedy of irresponsibility. It is sad to see a respected design agency abandon ethics and morality in favor of blind ideology. I wonder, can you agree or do you think that ethics and morality only matter when they don’t conflict with your own ideals? I suggest you commit to some sober personal reflection on this point and to some intellectual honesty with yourself. If you have trouble separating ethics and ideology, maybe design isn’t the right profession for you. In fact, maybe a profession isn’t the right profession for you.

Clearly, I take this quite seriously, and here’s the rub: As designers, we wield power that must be used responsibly. We establish important communicative norms. We drive and define conversations. We determine the impact of specific messages. It is therefore our responsibility to act in a correspondingly moral and ethical manner. In other words, we have to fully understand the impact and validity of the messages we design and communicate to the world. Else we wield our skills as a weapon, firing blindly in all directions without concern for or understanding of the consequences.

If our community is going to mobilize to begin exerting more of our powerful influence in specific social matters and matters of politics, specifically regarding the facts of science, it is mandatory that we have a firm grasp of both the scientific facts and the logical conclusions of our communication. Further, we need to know who’s saying what and why they’re saying it. In this case, more than any usual case, our responsibilities to the audience far outweigh either our client’s preferences or our own. Here, as always, we have an obligation to decline ethically or morally bankrupt work. The same goes for misguided efforts, even when they seem to be compassionate.

Designers are passionate people. Efforts born of passion for seemingly noble causes are easy for us to get drawn into. But we’ve got to look below the surface of the slick presentation and the seemingly compassion–based logic to know what it is we’re involving ourselves in. We’re best served by starting with the foundational message and accuracy of the purported facts when evaluating the character and worthiness of any effort. We insist on doing this with our clients; why should we fail to do so with ourselves?

In the end, I do agree with some of what smashLAB is advocating. Yes, please do your part to practice and encourage sustainable activity. Please consider your environment when you engage in your daily activities. These are responsible and healthy things to do. Just don’t rely on motivations born of blind ideology, ignorance, or demagoguery to compel you to do so. Else you end up dancing on puppet strings as an unwitting soldier in a war on truth.

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