Let's hear your Voice! This discussion board is a place to Voice your feelings about the conference and, more importantly, to discuss how you will take that experience and transform it into action. Let's come together to inspire each other and make a difference.

Nathan Shedroff, San Francisco, CA, 15-Jun-02
What Israelis and Palestinians do or not is not the problem with the "Don't Say You Didn't Know" exhibit and to dwell on it misses the point. There can be no doubt that it was one-sided and emotional because it was meant to be. Ms. Bartelt’s statement that Mr. Heller’s (and others’) outrage “demonstrates the effectiveness of visual images of human suffering and injustice” is, frankly, bullshit and no better than a suicide bomber’s rationalization of his or her act in the name of publicizing the plight of anyone. Inciting people to emotion is easy—too easy, as any terrorist or propagandist knows. Design isn’t supposed to be about creating easy solutions, it’s about creating appropriate, informing, and valuable ones. Simply raising people’s heart rate is not a measure of successful communication if the message itself is vacuous and devoid of journalistic integrity. To think that our responsibility stops at making posters and plastering in front of people just because that’s the easy part is ethically and professionally immature, if not bankrupt.

As Ms. Bartelt stated in her rebuttal, “The theme of the conference was, in fact, to encourage designers to find their voice in the pursuit of social good and it was within this context that the exhibition was presented.” Is this the voice we want them to have? Loud, shrill, uninformed, confused, overly simplified, and at times horrifyingly ignorant, inappropriate, and appalling?

The bigger problem is with the legitimacy of this kind of public expression. These weren't pieces that were meant to inform for they reduced an incredibly complex and difficult situation to one-dimensional slogans and emotional one liners that are no better than the advertising and other messaging that many activists point to as the contributing to the destruction of our global societies. Sure, designers can "appropriate" the same techniques and "culture jam" the big corporations, but to what end? To increase the amount of disinformational shouting in the public space?

I was not only appalled at the exhibit in question, but also very disappointed in Steven Heller's breakout session about political design. Both suffer a very narrow understanding of design and the same approach to design that we designers are appalled at when it is foisted upon us my marketers and other business people. Surly, are skills can help us do more than simply contribute to the noise. Is design no more valuable than as graphic decoration, however emotional?

I'm not saying that there isn't some value to public protest. Robbie Connal was wonderfully honest when he stated in Mr. Heller's session that he neither expected nor considered that his work actually brought about any change. Instead, the value to him was that it was personally cathartic. Fair enough. That makes it a personal design project. Very few of the pieces shown by Teal Tiggs and Sian Cook were actually "informing" in any way, but at least there were some.

I realize that there is a long history of propaganda and political art, but very little of it has ever actually caused change or accomplished anything. As designers, we like to fool ourselves into thinking that a strong "image" will "galvanize a movement" and accomplish important social change but this is, mostly, a bankrupt notion. Sure, graphic design can help support a movement but it is the actions and behaviors of that movement within the system itself that, ultimately, cause change. Holding these examples up for designers (young and old) and affording them celebrity status is exactly the wrong message to send to designers interested in social change. It is no better than promoting design as a kind of chic, rock-star lifestyle that is no more substantial and whose work is no less shallow.

Instead, it is the work of people like Susan Harris and Patrick Ball (http://hrdata.aaas.org/kosovo/policyorpanic/) that are really causing substantial and real change to happen. For example, the team responsible for redesigning the Nutrition Facts label have done lightyears more to change the state of nutrition awareness and empowerment in this country than any poster designer could have dreamed.

We should be promoting the "informing" aspects of design and it's ability to clarify conflicts and promote real change rather than turning up the emotional volume, and simplifying complex issues into hopeless, shameful caricatures. At the very least we can highlight the salient issues so others can get involved at a useful point, and not just the emotional ones. It might not be as glamorous as the notoriety heaped on some designers, but if designers are truly interested in making change and not just seeking attention, it won’t matter to them because the reward will be in the accomplishment itself.

Nathan Shedroff

Sue Vessella, Woodbury University, Burbank, CA, 31-May-02
Sylvia Harris inspired me to examine examples of poor design in public
information contexts. While in Washington, I visited the Arlington National
Cemetery and discovered an informational brochure in need of design
attention. As a graphic design professor, I will task my students to
redesign the piece this fall. We'll send the new designs to Arlington and
who knows, perhaps Sylvia will have provoked a new look for a National
Thank you Sylvia for the inspiration.

Steven Heller, New York, 17-Apr-02
Dana is right. Human RIGHTS should be protected at all costs. No right-minded human being can look to the mideast wihtout being angered and saddened by the violence -- the murder on both sides. ON BOTH SIDES. This conflict started almost a century ago and...

(Re)Becca Rapp, Jefferson LA 70121, 16-Apr-02
Allowing their personal agendas to interfere with an exceptional and unprecedented exhibition addressing the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, Mr. Heller and his supporter turn their backs on the recurring violations of human rights in Palestine. I was a participant...

Dana Bartelt, New Orleans LA, 16-Apr-02
My final response to Steven Heller's and Judy Kirpich's accusations concerning the "Don't Say You Didn't Know " exhibition are: This is not a Jewish issue. The exhibition dealt with human rights violations. Israel chose to use a powerful religious icon representing...

Steven Heller, New York, 16-Apr-02
Roger Cook's justification for using the Star of David is reasoned, but what this once again proves is the power of charged symbols to ingnite emotion and prompt reaction. I too think it takes courage to present unpopular ideas in a public forum, but I continue...

Scott Gillam, Winnnipeg, MB Canada, 16-Apr-02
I would also like to express support for the posting of this exhibition, although not having attended the exhibit myself, many of the comments here have raised many valid points. Many editorials posted here have noted anti-Semitism and a definite slant towards...

Roger Cook, Washington Crossing, PA 18977, 14-Apr-02

I want to express my support to Dana Bartelt and her courage to post the exhibit "Don't say you didn't know."

I designed the poster of the American flag wrapped around the star of David that was in the exhibit. I used these symbols to express...

Steven Heller, New York City, 12-Apr-02
Ms. Bartelt says this exhibition is responsible activism, and in her lopsided presentation of the Palestinian issue it is indeed responsible to the Palestinian cause. And frankly, I accept this subjective position as being consistent with the history of propaganda...

Dana Bartelt, New Orleans, Louisiana, 11-Apr-02
In response to Steven Heller's reaction to the exhibition "Don't Say You Didn't Know" shown at the Voice AIGA National Conference, I am pleased that he found the exhibition itself of high quality and am also encouraged that he agrees that the exhibition "had...

Judy Kirpich, Grafik, Alexandria, VA, 11-Apr-02
Trying to follow up Steven Heller's eloquent reaction to the display for Palestinian posters is a tough act to follow. I have spent the last few weeks since the conference trying to get a coherent voice for my outrage and hurt, and attempting to understand...

Tom Semmes, Bethesda, MD, 08-Apr-02
It seems to me that the material presented at Voice was so rich and challenging to absorb that it would make sense to have regional conferences where people can meet to discuss how to use this material and find out what designers are doing locally. Has there...

Steven Heller, New York, NY, 02-Apr-02
Responsibility and Propaganda
For the better part of my professional life I've supported the active participation of designers in political affairs. The designer's ability to create mnemonic images in the service of social critique is a right and responsibility. And the free exchange of messages is paramount in this process. Which is why I was happy to see a room at the AIGA National Conference in Washington, D.C., dedicated to exhibitions on various socio-political themes. Yet despite my professed openness, I nonetheless found myself enraged by one of those exhibits. A group of posters in support of the Palestinian cause took me by surprise, not because the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a taboo subject for designers, but because at this time when the suicide attacks are mounting, and Israeli military response is escalating, and people are dying, I think inflammatory visual messages are ill-conceived and destructive. The exhibition on view during the AIGA conference organized by Dana Bartels and contributed to by various American designers had every right to be mounted but was unfair in its lopsided attack on the Israeli position. Over the years I have seen exhibitions addressing the political tinderbox and human tragedy that is the Middle East, but most have addressed peace as a goal. In fact, both Palestinian and Israeli designers have contributed missives in the pursuit of a fair and equitable settlement. This was NOT that kind of exhibit. The graphic criticism levied on Israeli policies ignored any semblance of Palestinian complicity and provocation. One poster addressing the mind of a suicide bomber was actually an overt justification for such terrorist acts. Another showing the Jewish star wrapped in an American flag suggests the old canard that Jews run America and America is in the grip of Jewish influence. The posters were quite professional and unambiguous, a combination that is good under most circumstances. But in this case the code of sophisticated design is a biased and simplistic attack that pretends to be authoritative. Of course, good propaganda will inflame passions and will anger one side while giving succor to the other. The problem with these posters at this dangerous moment in Israeli/Palestinian history is that succor is given to those who are exacerbating the tensions. Why not posters that decry the suicide bomber, not justify his idiocy? Why not posters that say America is trying to broker peace, rather than restate the racist epithet that the U.S. is in the pockets of the Jews? How about propaganda that is responsible? Steve Heller

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