Occupy Design launches

Occupy London will launch its Occupy Design group tomorrow with a weekend of talks and workshops. CR spoke to Jonathan Barnbrook, one of the organisers of the event, about what the movement’s new design wing hopes to achieve

The identity for Occupy Design references the symbol used by squatters (above, left)

Occupy London will launch its Occupy Design group tomorrow with a weekend of talks and workshops. CR spoke to Jonathan Barnbrook, one of the organisers of the event, about what the movement’s new design wing hopes to achieve…

In our interview with Tzortzis Rallis, co-designer of the Occupied Times of London newspaper, he alluded to the founding of a design group centred around the movement. This weekend the newly formed collective will convene in London for a series of talks and a poster workshop, This Space is Not For Hire.

Posters made at various workshops in Novi Sad in Serbia (left) and pasted up in Graz, Austria (right)

Relocating to a new venue only a few days ago, the events will now take place at The Rag Factory Ltd, 16-18 Heneage Street, London E1 5LJ instead of the Bank of Ideas (the UBS building previously occupied by the protestors) on Sun Street.

The hands-on workshop will, says Barnbrook, lead to further lectures and events which examine design within the context of protest. While plenty of designers have professed interest in Occupy, a programme of design events associated with the movement has come about in part, Barnbrook says, because of the lack of interest from UK art colleges towards the discontent felt by many students.

“We do feel the art schools are not addressing the feeling of discontent properly [due to] the amount of red tape and the restraints put on teachers because students need to get ‘value for money’ and have a guaranteed degree,” he says.

“There are also some ridiculous things going on at the moment which show that much of design and advertising is simply pretending it’s business as usual. For instance: D&AD setting a brief for students to rebrand the City of London, to make it look cool when these people are responsible for the mess we are in and the huge cuts in education.”

Occupy London protestors with All Power to the 99% banner

Barnbrook has since turned down the offer of judging D&AD this year, but what should design education be addressing? “We should be teaching students that anything is possible, not that they will have to suppress there instincts about what they believe because that is the ‘pro’ way of doing things,” he says. “A lot of people feel disconnected from what they are asked to do at work or college and want to try and make a difference.”

The Occupy Design workshops will, he says, offer an alternative route for students or, for that matter, any working designers interested in attending. “It may be a path that has less security but it will mean that they could be a lot happier and honest with themselves.”

Various posters displayed at the St Paul’s site in London

The are echoes here of the First Things First manifesto which united several leading designers in 1964 and again in 2000 to the cause of putting their collective design skills to worthwhile use, addressing societal rather than commercial problems (Barnbrook was a signatory of the latter – AdBusters magazine has been involved in both FTF and the initial Wall Street protests of last year). But in 2012, things seem to have moved on to a stage where design needs to reposition itself again.

“The First Things First manifesto was good at getting the issues of where design is heading into the mainstream conversation,” says Barnbrook. “The context has changed now – before it was trying to divert designers from just going after the lucrative useless work because, clearly, the world was heading for big problems with designers absolutely complicit in the unsustainable model.

“Now we’re in the situation where most people accept that this situation has got to change, partly through desperation, partly through disgust at the lack of morals that this has highlighted and the falseness of living in an economy based on borrowing money that doesn’t exist. We’re a stage on: many people are sick, unhappy, looking for an answer. I’m not saying we have the answer – because we don’t know where the world is heading – just that we, along with the whole Occupy movement, are at least providing an open forum to talk about it. Personally I don’t just want to treat the symptom, I want to help find cause.”

Occupy Design launches tomorrow at The Rag Factory, 16-18 Heneage Street, London E1 5LJ. For more details, see occupydesign.org.uk and the Occupy Design Facebook page, here.

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