Activism and Advocacy

Explore the relationship between ethics and activism in the arts

Photo of large posters on a wall with text saying 'Liberation'

Ethics of Graphic Design

Graphic design has a long and complex history when it comes to discussions of ethics. Used in both war propaganda and charity fundraisers it has the potential for harming as well as helping society. Good: An Introduction to Ethics in Graphic Design, shows how individual responsibility as a graphic designer has changed as our personal freedom has increased.

Lit up green cross sign attached to a wall

Social Responsibility

Communication Design: Insights from the Creative Industries explores the idea of social responsibility through three different design companies: a global advertising agency, an accessibility focused graphic design company, and a digital design agency. Each interview offers insight into designers' first-hand experiences of activism, advocacy, and the power that design can have as a catalyst for change.

A slogan stating 'Climate Crisis On' projected onto a cooling tower of a coal-fired power plant

Radical Design

Design activism can be characterized both by its clear intent (the social or ecological cause being pursued) and the often radical nature of its practice (how design is used, and by whom). This chapter from Design for Sustainable Change explores design as a form of direct action to transform society and the ways in which we live. It examines whether you can be a design activist while working as a hired professional and how radical designs have to be in order to be considered 'activist'.

American environmental and conceptual artist Agnes Denes photographed standing in her installation, a two-acre wheat field with a city-scape in the background

Landscape Activism

Although activist landscape work is rare, partly due to the public and usually permanent nature of landscape-based artistic interventions it can be used as a powerful means to invoke transformative experiences or provoke subversive, intentional and political agendas about environmental and social concerns. In Landscape Architecture and Environmental Sustainability: Creating Positive Change through Design Joshua Zeunert unearths examples of activist art that have been created from the landscape.

Photograph of Subhodh R. Morey with his design of a street cleaning machine

Activism in Product Design

Graphic design has a long history of turning the persuasive skills of advertising to political ends. However, product designers have an equally important role. Thinking: Objects: Contemporary approaches to product design looks at the relationship between product design and politics, whether that be through methods of production, designing articles of 'conspicuous consumption', or ensuring they can be recycled or reused.

A hand scrolling through Netflix on a tablet device

The Influence of Digital Media

Animation in Context looks at how our beliefs, values, identities and way of life have become increasingly shaped through the media we consume. The chapter explores the role and responsibility that animators therefore have in perpetuating or challenging stereotypes as well as the effect that distorting facts and truths can have on communities and individual consumers.

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange. Photograph depicts a woman with two children.

Documentary Photography

The choice of what to put in and leave out of the frame is a dilemma every photographer faces but with documentary photography, which usually involves marginalized people, that dilemma also includes an ethical component. In this chapter from Train Your Gaze, Roswell Angier focuses on the moral critique of traditional documentary practice, particularly photojournalists who work in the world’s crisis zones, producing pictures that are affecting, intrusive and often heartrending.

Images above and on the homepage are courtesy of Getty Images.

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