From March 26-28, I attended the Designs on Democracy conference on the UC Berekely Campus. I’ve been meaning to write up my impressions but have found it difficult to put words to those three incredible, densely-packed days of presentations, meetings, networking, and solidarity. Where to begin?
From the Bay Area Indymedia center:
“Designs on Democracy was a three day conference on design, advertising, public relations and marketing for social change.... The conference was organized by a crew of eight activists. Forty volunteers did the work that made it happen for the 350 who attended. Designs on Democracy, said Favianna Rodriguez, one of the organizers: ‘is not just for designers, it’s for people who are in the business of doing marketing and selling the image of the Left, to take it to a broader audience and make it more appealing.’”
The organizers from Tumi’s Design, the Ruckus Society, the Design Action collective, and Change the Game did an amazing job, clocking in months of preparation. The speakers, attendees, and volunteer tech crew were also incredibly flexible and generous.
The sumptuous, donated food also merits special mention, particularly from the Sankofa Kitchen Project, a black, vegan cooking collective in Oakland. The project is part of the East Side Arts Alliance and works with youth to build community gardens, teaches them how to grow and cook their own food, and promotes traditional cuisine, community spirit, and good nutrition — in part a response to the cheap, corporate, fast food crap showered on poor, urban neighborhoods.
Participants arrived from a range of organizations and backgrounds. Some were designers, organizers, techies, printers, media workers. Some from unions, others working on prisons, environmental justice, or genetically modified foods. Some worked in advertising, others on access, training, media justice, or getting out the vote. Some were just designers looking for a way to do more.
Some were veterans, active since the 1960’s, others just fresh out of school. Some owned their own businesses, some worked in collectives or in non-profits, and still others were freelance.
And, where other events of its kind might have fractured into quarrelling ideological factions, here there was common cause: Bush must go.
Many of the conference sessions focused on messaging, narrative, and framing to communicate effectively, move “the middle,” and build a stronger movement for social justice. The list of sessions and speakers makes for interesting reading.
I gravitated towards the more practical sessions, on fund raising and organizational structures. I won’t go into detail about individual sessions — will post more of my notes here soon — but here are a few other impressions and tidbits:
One topic of discussion that was missing from the conference was information design and mapping. This is not just marketing, but using design for analysis and making data accessible. See, for instance, the 2000 Palm Beach County ballot design.
In addition to meeting many new people, I had the chance to meet several people I’d previously known only online including Jason Justice, founder of the Graphic Alliance, an electronic network of progressive designers, and Alex Steffen of the community Web log worldchanging.com. It was also great to reconnect with a couple of folks I’d met at the Ruckus Tech Tools Action Camp in 2002.
Overall, the air crackled with excitement and energy. It was nice to recharge, to find out everyone was doing, and to find among them a progressive community of designers. Many, including myself, didn’t want this to end with the conference itself.
So what’s next? Another one in a couple of years? Perhaps local or regional conferences? An international federation of progressive designers? For now, a database of resources is in the works and will eventually be posted on the site. Watch this space for more.
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