Why it’s time to fight Barbaria

If populists try to run our world, then pop culture should be ready with a forceful response, says Mieke Haase of Loved, a D&AD jury President for 2017

Cover of Loved & found: Nous Sommes Humains
Cover of Loved & found: Nous Sommes Humains

“When Barbaria is back, forget the beautiful chairs, forget the beautiful hotel, forget design, even – I’m sorry to say – forget art.” This quote is ten years old, but it’s even truer today than it was in 2007 when Philippe Starck gave a TED talk about Design and Destiny. My company’s editorial team used this quote as an introduction to a special issue of our employee magazine Loved & found that was published as a reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. In January 2015, we felt that barbaria was back. The issue was called “nous sommes humains” and it was a political statement, printed on newspaper, put together in two weeks. It was newsworthy.

I am a designer. As other designers, I officially belong to the caste of superficial marketeers. Normally, me and my team focus on fashion and lifestyle. Loved & found is an artsy magazine dedicated to beautiful and crazy stuff, to fashion and creative people. Our totally different Loved & found newspaper experience was a unifying and satisfying experience. Relevance was fun.

But the Charlie Hebdo killings were not the climax. They were the beginning. The Western world is in a terrible state. ISIS attacks, Brexit, Trump. News is collapsing, and so are the news networks. Classical media is distracted, publishers bemoan the loss of readers, money and power. Everyone is digging for gold in the abysses of digital publishing. Superstars don’t depend on media any more, they are publishers for their own Instagram or Facebook publicity kingdom. The ‘influencers’ count followers where we are desperately looking for readers. Cristiano Ronaldo has 117,000,000 Facebook followers. Why should he talk to a journalist from a magazine? That’s so not modern.

People pretend to ‘read’ when they scroll down their Facebook timeline. Marketeers are excited because they have discovered the goldmines of ‘storytelling’ and ‘content marketing’. Give people the stories they want. Feed the filter bubbles that are offering comfort and support for your opinion. Whether it’s left or right, liberal or conservative. Praise the algorithm.

In Germany, we are seeing the return of the Nazi term ‘Lügenpresse’. ‘Post-truth’ is the 2016 word of the year. Barbaria. The worst is yet to come, in 2017.

Let’s turn the tables. Creativity has always been the medium of choice when it comes to tricky situations. Participation is for designers, too. When we dared to interfere in politics in 2015, some of our competitors were suspicious, complaining that our intentions were not good, that it was just another marketing project. Funnily enough, journalists from public media supported us – they liked the idea of designers going serious. We should allow ourselves to harness our competencies in making magazines great again. With the tremendous stories that this day and age offers. With snappy ideas, entertainment and elegance. We should learn to love reality and the real problems of real people.

When Barbaria is back, forget interior boards on Pinterest, forget your dreams of being a Bikram yoga instructor, even – I’m sorry to say – forget vegan food blogs. If populists try to run our world, then pop culture should be ready with a forceful response: Pick a side, pile up your Pantone colour charts and join the battle. And make it look good. Because when pop goes politics, politics can be cool again.

Our new issue of Loved & found will be published somehow parallel to the inauguration of Donald Trump. It will be the “Listen and understand” issue. This issue aims to bridge our society’s ideological divides. Designers can do that? Yes. Because when the haters go low, the lovers go high.

Mieke Haase is Chief Creative Officer at Hamburg design studio Loved . She is also Jury President for Magazine & Newspaper Design in the 2017 D&AD Professional Awards

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