Close your eyes. We’re going to play a game.
I’m thinking of a person. This person has political power and a knack for language. They can have enormous responsibility for human lives and even entire cultures. And nowadays, they are inadvertently very, very good at playing a psychological game with everyone around them.
Finished guessing? Now open your eyes. The mystery person is…
Not what you were expecting, was it? I didn’t think so. See, most people don’t think that designers are anything more than the clever minions who sit behind computers and come up with your company’s latest logo or advertisement. But in reality, designers have an intense amount of power. But with great power, as the old cliche goes, comes great responsibility. And the exhibition Designer. User. Maker. at the London Design Museum explains just that.
The exhibition highlights several instances of designers and designs being responsible for cultural improvements, both individual and on a larger scale. While visiting the space, I was tossed from one piece of fascinating information to another in an intellectual yet conversational way. There was never an overload of information, though there was always something new to discover in every nook and cranny, and every caption hinted towards a larger meaning behind the piece it exhibited.
Yet the message was never lost: design is important, and it can achieve good on every level.
However, while every piece carries its own meticulous story, a few pieces really did catch my eye. Each of these have their own way of expressing design good and design responsibility, and it left me reconsidering the possibilities of the visual world.
One of these was an explanation of the Kohinoor font, which computerises several Indian languages, including Tamil. With the hundreds of languages in India, digitalizing these unique writing systems allows the languages to stay alive. In this way, the designer has a responsibility to the culture; by creating this typeface, people can continue to speak, write, and use the languages in a modern society.
Kohinoor Multiscript by Satya Rajpurohit. This is a compilation of many of the languages which Kohinoor digitalizes.
This also showcases the artist’s power to influence these changes in a changing, and often digital world.
The idea of designers being responsible for people is heavily present throughout the exhibition, and especially in the London Tube Map, which finds itself at the very front of the area. The Tube Map, originally designed by Harry Beck in the early 20th century, seeks to make the maze of the London Underground easy to navigate and to understand. By using different colours for different lines, with the stations and lines arranged in a circuit-board format, the map, while geographically inaccurate, makes it much easier for the common worker or traveller to find where they are going and how to get there.
However, while this exhibition is heavily focused on the good, both culturally and personally, it also takes turns towards heavier responsibilities. Take the AK-47 hanging from the wall. Think about it. As horrible as it is, the efficient killing machine was designed. This, among other items show the intense and dark responsibility that can lie behind design, both to improve lives and to take them.
As a design student myself, I appreciated how this complex and heavy topic was brought to life, and found the exhibition in itself a fantastically designed work of interactive art: legible, clear, and engaging. It makes design accessible and understandable to everyone, presenting the intriguing facets of social design and design responsibility, and bringing it from backstage, where it normally resides, all the way to centre stage.
With its interactive elements, the exhibition brings this to life, and lets you see for yourself the minute details involved in the greatest of social design.