THOUGHTS ON IDEAS: REFLECTION
Following week 4 and now week 5, there is one word echoing in my mind – “manipulation”. To what extent do I as a designer think of myself as Berne described, a game player looking for the upper hand when in discourse with potential clients (Molesworth et al, 2018) or moreover my position as a studio manager of corporate design – am I part of what Marcuse described in the 1960’s as part of the shadowy corporate world that manipulates and reinforces false needs? In a provocative form, this proposition reveals the political aspects of the prevailing technological rationality.
“The productive apparatus and the goods and services which it produces “sell” or impose the social system as a whole. The means of mass transportation and communication, the commodities of lodging, food, and clothing, the irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers more or less pleasantly to the producers and, through the latter, to the whole. The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood.” (Marcuse, 1964) Again, today’s session further encapsulated this idea at parts – McGilchrist’s talk of the left hand side having an almost Machiavellian way of thinking again made me consider my role as a designer in the overall capitalist system – as my first project indicates, as a designer for a corporate studio I think of what I do as at times soulless and reminiscent of something much more sinister – an example I think of is John Carpenter’s dystopian film from 1988, THEY LIVE!
Carpenter, J (1988) THEY LIVE!
The multiple mention of Machiavelli had me looking further into his work – I had often heard the name and thought of it just as a term for “scheming”. However, looking further into the context I can see why it would be relevant to the ways of thinking as discussed above.
Machiavelli considered his politics and how he interacted with others as not anything more than a board game, with established rules that one can best and beat if you know them, to crush your opponent. This was considered controversial because he viewed his position as an elected politician not through a lens of morality, but rather a game to be won using whatever means necessary (Mattingly, 1958) If we as designers are trying to solve a communication problem, the solution will be the best communication that the client is asking for. But how often is the solution just another word for “BUY, CONSUME, OBEY”?
If we take the double diamond approach and look at the “define” and “deliver” phase, who are we trying to manipulate? The client or their consumers? Could it be both? I prefer to think that instead it is not as overt as Machiavelli’s schemes, nor as conscious as could be inferred without reading more closely into Berne’s work. Berne (1964) identified that the transactional “games” that people play with one another in discourse is not one that can be won or lost, as Machiavelli suggested – rather Berne suggests that there is a zero-loss in the games people play in their transactional conversations. If we think of this in terms of the double diamond, at the define stage we are looking at selling our pitch, and our client is looking at accepting a pitch. There are only wins in this game, as an outcome will be met. It is however in our best interest as designers for the client to engage with our preferred pitch, as this is the one we have developed and have put our thoughts into. This is where it becomes interesting to switch the word “manipulation” to “empathy”, as McGilchrist outlined in his video. We cannot create a true bond or understand a brief without having the ability to take our own lived experience of being with others to
understand the client and the consumer – this is not understanding the “rules” of a person, rather having a basic understanding of people and emotional intelligence. My own thought process when it comes to design has to be a mix of the two – whilst I feel that once I begin my process which largely instinctively follows the four steps outlined in the double diamond, I believe that industry experience and learning process from others guides my own process. I think of design as a learned skill, a trade and one that is passed from designer to designer. There does however have to be an innate and intuitive passion for
design and being able to use the right hand side of the brain extensively – to see the bigger picture of where it all fits together. In summary, I believe that it would be easy to look our place as designers in the world as agents of consumerism and capitalism, facilitators of a society that sets the consumers up to fall as highlighted by Marcuse and also McGilchrist – the paradoxical idea that more money leads to happiness as you will be able to afford the newest consumable, thus giving yourself more value. I however choose to view our place as designers as communicators – ones that can communicate whatever we need to. There is room there for not only creation of beautiful design, transparent relationships with clients but a responsibility to design with the understanding of the ethical responsibility we have as the face behind the brands. Again, this seems like a privileged position to be in – the aim for myself would be to earn a wage in which I could pick and choose which briefs my company or I accepted, but this
would take an immense amount of capital in order to be that picky with who you accept. If I look at this on a smaller scale, I think of an example where one of the designers I work with who is vegan did not want to work on a brief for an artisan butchers company – is this our small way of showing our own moral and ethical code when accepting briefs as a growing company, as we had the room to accommodate the client with a designer who did not share the moral objection.
Berne, E. (1964). Games People Play – The Basic Hand Book of Transactional Analysis.
New York: Ballantine Books.
Carpenter, J. (1988) They Live (Still from the film). https://www.slantmagazine.com/film/they-
live/ Accessed February 2021.
Marcuse, H. (1964) One-dimensional man: studies in the ideology of advanced industrial
society. Boston, Beacon Press.
Mattingly, G. (1958), “Machiavelli’s Prince: Political Science or Political Satire?”, The American
Scholar, 27: 482–91
McGilchrist _ unsure of video ref
Molesworth, M., Grigore, G. F. and Jenkins, R. (2018). ‘Games people play with brands: An
application of transactional analysis to marketplace relationships’, Marketing Theory, 18(1), pp.