WE HAVE ONLY BEGUN TO TAP INTO DESIGN’S REAL POTENTIAL TO SERVE AS A TOOL FOR POLICYMAKING, GOVERNANCE, AND SOCIAL AGENDAS
Design is an inescapable dimension of human activity. To adapt one of my favorite quotes by Reyner Banham, like the weather it is always there, but we speak about it only when it is exceptionally bad or exceptionally good. Design is also a powerful political tool, as pharaohs, queens, presidents, and dictators throughout history have taught us. It comes not only in very visible and traditional applications—in the national identities expressed by currencies, symbols, monuments, and public buildings—but also in less apparent and yet equally momentous applications such as the design of complex systems, ranging from territorial infrastructures to the planning of new communities, and the translation of technological and social innovation for the use of the population.
Design has been a mighty governing tool and an instrument of power for all those regimes that have known how to recognize and use it. Iconic examples of design’s alchemy with politics abound, from the Egyptian pyramids to the transformation of Paris by Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann under Napoleon III at the end of the 19th century and by President François Mitterand in the 1980s; from the sinister and incisive branding and the tragic racial redesign determination of the Nazi party, to the creation of a new populist capital for Brazil in the 60s—desired by a conservative president, inspired by the dream of an Italian Catholic saint, and planned by a socialist architect and a communist urban planner.
Totalitarian regimes in which the decisional power is extremely concentrated and not subject to public accountability—the goals are set and clear, at least to the governing body, and the means are all under the same agents’ control—tend to have not only a keen sense of style, which they often use for propaganda and persuasion, but often also a keen instinct for the usefulness of design as a method and process to achieve their objectives. More complicated and compelling, however, is the relationship between design and democracy. Since democracy is by definition pluralistic, inclusive, universal, and popular, and decisions too often happen by committee, many democratic societies do not display a consistent design philosophy.
The few that do have learned to rely on design at all different scales, from the stamp to the city, with visible and exemplary results. The democratic approach to design seems to have worked very well in many Scandinavian countries, where every issue is attacked as a systemic, social design project. The Netherlands, a country born out of the design act of engineering land reclaimed from the sea, and a state that has often been its designers’ best client, stands out as a champion of this attitude. A new foundation called Design Den Haag 2010–2018 has set out to explore the “relation between Design and Government in Europe within an international context, from cultural, economic, and social viewpoints.” It will organize a cycle of events, one every other year in collaboration with different cities in Europe, and will in 2018 submit a detailed report to the European Union with suggestions for future protocols of collaboration. The scale and elegance of the case studies that have already been published show the scope of the integration of design within a government agenda.
- 86 Electrifying Wallpaper Designs – From 3D Walls to Thought Bubble Decor (CLUSTER) (trendhunter.com)
- Utopian Cities (quazen.com)