An ongoing occupation

A year on from the launch of The Occupied Times, and fresh from their TYPO London talk, CR spoke to Occupy Design’s Tzortzis Rallis and Noel Douglas about why the visual communication behind the Occupy movement remains as important as ever

Issue 18 of The Occupied Times

A year on from the launch of The Occupied Times, and fresh from their TYPO London talk, CR spoke to Occupy Design’s Tzortzis Rallis and Noel Douglas about why the visual communication behind the Occupy movement remains as important as ever…

An Occupy team works on putting issue 18 together

The first Occupy protest, Occupy Wall Street, launched on September 17 2011 and since then the movement has instigated events all over the world. (The Guardian’s Data Store has a good interactive map of Occupy protests by Andrew Mallis and Thiago de Mello Bueno – detail of Europe, shown below.)

Occupy St Pauls, the first ‘occupation’ to take place in London, began in October of last year and also marked the arrival of a supporting newspaper, The Occupied Times of London, designed by Tzortzis Rallis and Lazaros Kakoulidis (we blogged about it here). The publication was originally produced on-site (from a tent) as a weekly title, which settled into an A3 broadsheet size and is now produced to a 24-page monthly format with a magazine-style front cover.

The Occupied Times’ office, St Pauls, 2011

In recent issues the editorial approach has become less focused on Occupy-related news, and in taking on a particular theme each month, the OT now sees itself as working towards “sociopolitical, economic and environmental justice” with a range of new writers, illustrators and designers on board.

Issue 1 of The Occupied Times

Set up at the beginning of this year (covered by CR here), Occupy Design and its off-shoots – the Occuprint project and Occupier poster publication – have contributed to the distribution of the organisation’s message and also helped to define a visual presence for the movement. This was strengthened further when Occupy London also acquired a logo (shown below, centre) courtesy of designer Jonathan Barnbrook.

Occupy London logo by Jonathan Barnbrook

Much has changed since the launch of The Occupied Times year ago, so we asked Rallis and Occupy Design’s Noel Douglas to explain how Occupy’s visual communications has evolved and will continue to carry the movement’s message into the future.

Creative Review: With digital publishing now reaching more and more people through a range of devices, why is it still important for you to produce something like The Occupied Times in print?

Tzortzis Rallis: Initially, many people within the occupation no longer had access to the internet, and we wanted to keep those at the centre of the whole thing in the loop. As well as that there were a lot of people coming past the occupation who we wanted to reach with our message. To be able to give people something which would put across ideas and arguments in more detail was something we thought would be beneficial.

Issue 18 hits the streets at the recent TUC march in London

TR: People are much more likely to look at an actual newspaper you’ve handed them than a website address you have noted down. Newspapers also have a viral quality of their own, especially on the Tube where there is no internet. Also, homelessness is criminally ignored by the corporate media, but as well as failing to sufficiently cover the issues affecting the worst off in society, we are starting to produce media which they cannot easily access.

Print is still attractive to writers in a way online platforms aren’t. We’ve managed to print some very well-established writers without paying them, and while that is mostly down to the importance and scale of the Occupy movement as a whole, we wouldn’t have been able to do that just by setting up a website. But maybe there is something about the permanence of print that makes the OT attractive and, at the same time, empowers our digital online platforms, website and social media.

Issue 13 folded for distribution

CR: How has Occupy Design helped shape the look of the Occupy movement, particularly in the UK?

Noel Douglas: An important aspect of the graphic work produced by the Occupy movement is the range of aesthetic styles and how they draw on sources that are far away, from the classic protest looks drawn from previous movements like Constructivism, Atelier Populaire or Punk. There is still a strong amount of ‘culture jamming’, Adbusters-style playing with corporate logos etc, but the range of sources is as diverse and wide as the people involved, and as with all things that have strong connections with internet culture, there is even a strand of using cats as protest symbols! We’re interested in developing these new protest aesthetics and thinking seriously about the language and image of social movements.

Occupier posters on display

ND: As Occupy Design we’ve also been part of helping other Occupy collectives produce and reproduce work from the movement. The Occuprint project led by Jesse Goldstein in New York raised $25,000 through crowd-funding to print and distribute Occupy posters to keep the movement visible. We also produced a poster newspaper, The Occupier, using the same work for distribution here (examples shown, above).

Posters from the Occuprint site: Occupy Everything Pie Chart by Colin Smith (US) and Fawkes 3D by AJ Hateley (UK)

ND: Crowd funding opens up new possibilities for funding radical projects and is an exciting development with huge potential. We now are looking forward to new projects, including working toward something bigger for when the UK hosts the G8 summit next year and trying to get college workshops off the ground for next academic year.

Front (on right) and back cover of issue 14 which was themed ‘corporations’. Cover by Alex Charnley.

CR: Jonathan Barnbrook’s typography helped make for a distinct visual look for the OT. Are you still using Bastard in the more recent issues, that adopted the new format? Do you think it still retains it’s power a year on?

TR: Radical concepts and truly challenging ideas cannot be visualised with neutral design – and our principal rule for our design and typographic approach was to visualise the Occupy metaphor. For this reason, we built a typographic system whereby we ‘occupy’ a ‘mainstream’ typeface (Din) with a ‘radical’ one (Bastard). We combine two very different typefaces, both in their design and ideology.

Din has been used widely within the multinational corporation brands and Barnbrook’s Bastard is our design critique (the occupy metaphor) to the current political and economic model. And yes, after one year – and as the newspaper evolves – our original typographic structure is still the strongest element of our visual voice. It gives OT a political graphic language that is distinct from the commercial surroundings, but also from the traditional visual narrative of the agitational newspapers.

Photo: Occupy Design

CR: What other kinds of projects has Occupy Design been involved in recently?

ND: We started the Debrand The City project in response to a D&AD student award brief that asked students to give the City a rebrand to sell it to the world as it had had a bad press recently! We found the cynicism and lack of solidarity toward students disappointing as students are, with the £9,000 fee increase, one of the main victims of the City’s world economy-crashing, reckless casino-style gambling. The premise of the brief, that we need the City to fund our pensions, student loans and overdrafts is false – we are in fact supporting them through the £700bn-plus of tax payers money that has pumped into what essentially are bankrupt institutions that have seen no reform.

The D&AD brief was to us a classic example of the lack of critical thinking in a lot of our design organisations, which means design is often seen as something banal or vacuous when it is vital to society and what it means to be human. D&AD said to us that students have to get used to working on briefs they may not agree with. We feel students should not be encouraged to be so cynical so early in their careers. Yes, at work, people may have to work on projects they don’t agree completely with, but as a student they should be freer to imagine what design can and should be so that design can change for the better when they become working designers.

Alongside this debranding was a more infographic style project, Expose The 1%, which was a call for work that tried to show through design what ‘the 1%’ do, and how the financial system is deliberately made obtuse to the ordinary person so the looting can continue. It’s an important and ongoing issue which we will return to.

CR: You were both invited to talk at the recent TYPO London conference. How did you find the experience? And what did you make of the ‘social’ theme?

TR: TYPO was a great and inspirational conference. For us the concept of ‘social’ as a theme had an important symbolism during this period of difficult socio-economic conditions. We believe that along the practical examples from the design industry the audience should also see that there are other alternatives our there. For that reason we showed work from the Occupy Design and the OT in order to highlight how graphic designers have a vital role in current protest and the imagining of a new society.

Presenting examples aimed at opening up a debate in the public sphere, we wanted to invite designers to join us at Occupy Design or inspire them to channel their creativity towards social change. The highlight of our presentation, though, came at the end of our talk when the great Ken Garland jumped up to the microphone and, having come from the Wallpaper* talk, voiced his support to our presentation and told to the audience, “I wish I’d got here earlier!”

Occupy Design at TYPO London in October this year. Photo: Occupy Design

ND: We set up Occupy Design to support the Occupy (and other) movements, but also to transform the design world through Occupy as an idea, which, to us, means intervening in the design profession. To this end we have been involved in a number of debates this year in numerous art colleges, during the London Design Festival and TYPO London.

We were pleased TYPO wanted to add us to the schedule, and enjoyed the conference. Our attitude in general is one of friendly criticism in these situations. We believe most designers care about the world and understand, being working designers ourselves, the problems of making a living and how this has its own pressures. But we feel this is a vital and necessary debate to have. We’ve had things like the First Things First manifesto in our history for a long time and now we want to try give it some real organisation, to create the space and platform for designers who do want to work in this way to be able to find each other and produce work that makes a difference – to give it some sense of urgency, as urgent as the crisis all around us.

One of our criticisms of TYPO London is that the student tickets are too expensive – this excludes many young designers and is, given the ‘social’ theme, unfortunately anti-social. It’s like the way unpaid internships also create a barrier and hierarchy in the profession to those without means, which reinforces the inequality in society. We know the organisers are aware of this, and of the difficulties of the cost of an event on this scale, but we still feel something could be done and we had to speak up for many of the designers who follow us who said it was too expensive. The other main issue, which is easier to address, is that there needs to be debate and discussion! We were kind of shocked that no time was given for the audience to question the speakers, especially as for us this is a vital part of public events! [Some speakers were available for one-to-one questions after their talk – MS].

Issue 17 of The Occupied Times – the ‘education’ issue. Cover by Röte/Indyvisuals Collective

CR: Finally, a year on from issue one, how do you see the OT’s place within the Occupy movement, and also within the wider context of protest in the UK? Can the publication still make a difference? Has it made a difference?

TR: It depends how you look at it. In social movements you work and participate with the thought in mind that you make small steps towards change. So in the same way the eighteenth edition of The Occupied Times came out 365 days after the occupation at St Paul’s began.

Cover of issue 15 of The Occupied Times – Olympics issue. Cover by Defacto Collective

TR: The one year anniversary gives us a chance to look back at those days when we dared to dream in public; to assess what progress has been made and to analyse where the movement needs to go if it is to help bring change. Occupied Times is here to reclaim the media. We set out to use print and digital platforms and we continue to publish monthly a plurality of views; from writers and professional ‘journalists’, to activists, students and academics who have something challenging to say.

The socio-economic conditions in many countries around the world from the US, UK and Russia, to Portugal, Spain, Chile and Greece almost guarantee ongoing civil unrest in the immediate future. Greece is ripe for revolution, Spain could break up which is incredible, and here in the UK we’re yet to feel the bite of most of the cuts. So as long as we face this systemic inequality, The Occupied Times, a collective of activists, journalists, artists and designers, will continue to inform, educate, and occupy the news media.

Issue 18 of The Occupied Times is available now from several independent businesses across London, including Housmans, Black Gull Books, Ray’s Jazz Cafe, Banner Repeater, 56a, The Cockpit and The London Review Bookshop. The full list of stockists can be found on the OT Stockists Map. Follow the OT on Twitter at @OccupiedTimes, or visit where donations can also be made. The publication is designed, written and distributed by a team of volunteers and supported entirely by donations.

Back cover of issue 15, the Olympics-themed edition of The Occupied Times


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