First Things Next

!!All the below to be further developed in following assignments into a clearer framework for my ‘voice’ within the context of discussions about feminist and post-modernist design. With more articulated references to other illustrators and designers.

Rick Poynor’s ‘First Things Next’ (insert Harvard ref) on the legacy of Ken Garland’s First Things First re-iterates the need for designers and visual communicators to think about the types of messages they are communicating and how their work can make the world a better place. The diagram text extracts above attempts to contrast the different positions he discusses.

My own work, if not always overtly political, does come from a set of underlying subjective values : a concern with human rights, gender, cultural diversity and democracy together with environmental sustainability. These values however often involve difficult trade offs, conflict of interests and difficult choices. This means messages – like life – are rarely simple or straightforward.

In the diagram below I start to map out some of the possible approaches I might take.


Direct messaging and campaigning can often lead to resistance from people with very different underlying values because they start from different premises. Over-graphic representations of horror and suffering can also lead to compassion fatigue unless there is a clear message on what people can do to address what they are seeing. (!! Insert refs from documentary photography eg Sontag ‘the pain of others’ etc. Although I find some of the work of feminist and anti-racist collage artists and graphic designers effective, I prefer work that takes an indirect messaging approach, aiming to present different questions and approaches for the viewer to think about and make up their own mind.

Much of my previous work on OCA visual communications courses has been of a personal/psychological/aesthetic nature. I am interested in relationships between people, and the internal struggles that relationships and social engagement involve. Particularly from a feminist perspective and negotiating conflicting cultural influences in my life. I also have a strong minimalist ascetic streak, behind the excesses, a strong belief in the spiritual value of the natural world and that human beings do not have the right to destroy it. I believe there is great value in producing work that makes people happy in simple ways, emphasises and reasserts beauty – as long as that concept of ‘beauty’ is not stereotyped, manipulative or leading to overuse of the earth’s resources.

This means I am very drawn to work of writers and illustrators like Shaun Tan, Antoine Saint-Exupery and Sarah Fanelli as well as more overtly political work of Marjan Satrapi, Gerald Scarfe and Art Spiegelman.

i would like to work further on imagining and creating images of alternative ways of seeing and doing things. Based on showing what is already beautiful in our world if we just open ourselves to see it.

In terms of career options, given my age and other professional activities, I am not likely to get work in the mainstream design world as such. My main options are:

  • to improve my visual design skills as part of my consultancy work on participatory development.
  • to engage in non-commercial campaigning work in my spare time.

Much of my work is done in a spontaneous way for pleasure as a way of switching off from the ‘serious work’ in my consultancy, I can continue to produce work that I enjoy, in media I enjoy, as self-generated work and consider more carefully how that can indirectly or directly promote my values. For example:

  • Landscape photography and printmaking that raises issues about human relationship with the environment in some way – beauty and sublime in the everyday that deserves more appreciation and protection.
  • sketching people and relationships in ways that raise issues of stereotypes, misunderstanding and misrepresentation
  • seeking to understand and communicate the history and power relations underpinning spaces and places.

To be continued….