What do graphic designers have to offer the world? While there’s no standard job description, there’s still a widely held perception that, as professionals who primarily work with visual media, designers make things look good. But that’s only half of the job.
Designers possess the unique ability to translate and clarify — a skill more vital than ever as people increasingly look for ways to step off the civic sidelines and get involved in the public sphere.
How do people use graphic design as a tool not only for branding, packaging, or advertising but also for helping fellow citizens better understand the processes that shape society, from local communities to the nation as a whole?
These are a few questions that our Design Director Jee-Eun Lee and Senior Designer Wednesday Krus set out to answer in their breakout session, “What’s Your Stance?” at the Met Teens Career Labs program in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education on February 15.
Once a month, the program turns the Met into a gathering space for teenagers thinking about life beyond high school to interact with creative experts and museum professionals, giving them the opportunity to try out some aspect of a job they might be interested in. Jee and Wednesday used their breakout session to introduce teens to the world of branding and what it’s like to design brand identities. And they showcased the work that influences and motivates them the most: what we refer to at ThoughtMatter as work worth doing.
Expanding on Milton Glaser’s idea that “good design is good citizenship,” they presented provocative real-world examples of civically engaged design, from World War I propaganda posters and visually powerful political campaigns to activist ads by Benetton and Patagonia. Another example they cited was the infamous protest poster by the Guerrilla Girls, “Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into The Met. Museum?”.
They also highlighted projects by ThoughtMatter that exemplify work worth doing. Those included our For The People project, which used branding to present the U.S. Constitution in a fresh way, and our March For Our Lives posters which captured the sense of urgency and outrage that coalesced around gun control in 2018.
The session culminated in one takeaway: Design does more than just make things look good; it can be used to help people who stand up, stand out.
At that point, we turned it over to the students and asked, “What matters to you? What’s your stance?” We invited them to critically think about their personal experiences and articulate what/who each of them would like to advocate for. If they had to put it down on a postcard, how would they communicate this message through words, images, or both? They were encouraged to imagine a group of people using their design to amplify their voices.
Armed only with art materials, plain cards and an assortment of old magazines, the students proceeded to craft calls to action and create images that best represented the issues they felt passionate about. The causes chosen were just as diverse as the teenagers in attendance, who came from different backgrounds and a wide range of public, independent, and home schools.
The resulting postcards were thought-provoking.
We were moved by the sight of this eclectic group, excitedly articulating the causes that they believe are worth fighting for. Watching them connect with art, activism and other young people renewed our vigor to support the next generation. Moreover, it reinforced our confidence in public institutions like the Met, which continue to use their spaces to spark civic engagement, foster a sense of community and incubate ideas that may potentially change the world.