Voice essays
Our call for essays generated a tremendous response, with hundreds of designers from all over the country writing in to share their responses to the following statements:

-How information design can strengthen citizen participation
-How I fulfill my desire to do socially responsible work without going
- How I find my voice as a designer
- The most powerfully socially or politically motivated piece of design that I've ever done or seen

We've included a small selection of these VOICES for your enjoyment.

Brigitte Anders-Kraus

Washington, D.C
How I find my voice as a designer? I've been a designer for 11 years. Only after three years, however, did I start my training and education. The previous years I spent traveling to Brazil, learning the language, enjoying the color and vibrancy of two carnivals, exploring remote cities and their people. I took pictures whenever I could trying to capture the simplicity of life and yet the richness of the people. I learned the corruption of the government and helplessness of the country and I saw poverty like nowhere else before. I indulged in the unique world of Australia; koalas and wallabies, rainforest and desert, surfers and outbackers, Aborigines and Japanese, modesty and abundance. I witnessed sex tourism in Thailand and hated it; I took part in a Buddhist garden blessing in the central part of the country and will treasure the memory forever. I spent traveling the world, learning new languages, working odd jobs, smuggling gemstones and reading many, many books. I still consider that time and all the things I saw and did and learned essential to shaping my voice as a designer. Those experiences actually let me realize that I want to be a designer. That I want to incorporate the cultures and their colors and their styles into my creative work. That every movie and the various music I listen to are waiting to influence a cover design. Living and noticing and indulging. No major traveling is required to experience new things, however. But in order to find your voice — not just in design — living and an open mind are absolutely essential.

Rachel Christensen
Seattle, WA

On April 14th of my junior year in high school I was shocked to discover that all the rumors about filing taxes were true. The ironically named 1040EZ (there is nothing easy about this form) sent me on a looping journey through pamphlets, backwards graphs, dotted lines, and greasy paper that left me wishing I had never earned my two paychecks of $250. After filling out the form for the third time I finally got ti right, and rushed to the Post Office with fellow procrastinators. Since then, I have felt that it might be possible that the majority of tax evaders are simply avoiding the headache involved with reporting income. Designing an intelligent and articulate tax form might just be the solution to citizen non-participation and procrastination when tax time rolls around every spring.

Laurie Churchman
Raleigh, NC

I read a wonderful book once in which a character, who was a dwarf, described her method for being heard by others. She said she often whispered when speaking, which caused people to consider her statement important and also invited them down to her level to hear it. I thought hers was an ingenious solution to making her voice heard that involved neither high volume nor drama. (I should also note that she was careful not to use this technique in a cavalier fashion and always made sure that her statement was worthy of her listeners attention.) Since then, I have used her communication method as a metaphor for creating voice in my own design. I believe that small gestures can accomplish as much as large ones and that drawing in an audience by bringing them to your level encourages them to listen.. I try to concentrate on delivering a message that creates curiousity while respecting the recipient.

Diane Godzinski
Brooklyn, NY

The strong graphic black, white and red of the nazi flag with its implacable energetic swastika is still a potent symbol; more than 50 years after the end of the war it still arouses strong feelings in people who see it. That these feelings are mostly negative doesn't detract from its power. A strongly conceived and executed symbol can motivate people for good in the same way. I believe there's a collective unconscious and it is from this that symbols are invested with power (also from this that good design springs). The challenge is to find what is beneath the surface, the everyday hum; finding it requires clarity.

Lauren Goldberg
Kansas City, MO

As I stood, impatiently, waiting to order my bagel and coffee, I saw him walk in the door and I knew it was love at first site. He was wearing a t-shirt I designed over a year ago for a 5K run benefiting Alzheimer's and when I saw it I knew I loved being a designer. The t-shirt was faded from the wash, and sweaty form his run, but it was mine and it had a VOICE. I knew each time someone saw the words they would think of Alzheimer's, which had taken my grandmother from me just weeks before. Each of us is empowered with an opportunity to be heard. You just have to use your VOICE.

Jennifer Horn
Boston, MA

The most powerful socially or politically motivated piece of design I have ever seen... Many years ago, I worked as an administrative assistant for a company that manufactured military missile heads. One day, I was at the copy machine and noticed a poster hanging in the cubicle of one of the engineers. The poster was a picture of a garbage truck, up on end with rocket fire emitting from the bottom. The slogan at the top was "What Will We Do With Our Space Garbage?" The descriptive paragraph spoke of the increasing amount of miscellaneous items (missile, rocket pieces, satellites) floating out in space that are no longer functional and what can be done. I found the design of the poster so graphically stimulating it offered much more impact to the message it was relaying. It has stayed with me since the beginning of my career as a graphic designer and something I share frequently with both designers and clients.

Catherine Ishino
Duluth, MN

Nelson Mandela was being released from prison in SouthAfrica after 27 years of captivity. I was the video designer working with Charlayne Hunter-Gault who was hosting the live event for PBS. We no budget to access to high end imaging capabilities, so I worked prudently. Using the only available photo of Mandela, I created prison bars over his face, then placed his collaged image frame left. Reiterating the colors of the ANC Freedom movement: black, gold and yellow, I stacked ŽCompacta' type, frame right, to reveal my title, žFree at Last!Ó. Watching Mandela walk out of prison, my title graphic went toair ( for all of 5 seconds). At that moment, I saw design could help to make a positive change in the world. I was assured, after years of contributing my skills to the anti-apartheid movement, design had helped right a wrong.

Ethel Kessler
Bethesda, MD

Fortunate, does not begin to describe the experience of being the Art Director of the country's first semi-postal stamp. The public nature of the project was daunting...Congress passed the bill, the President signed it into law, first day ceremony at the White House, appearance on the Today show, radio broadcasts on NPR. Normal design jobs don't usually get so much publicity. They certainly don't give the media attention to the designer. But I also represented the Breast Cancer survivors. I was no longer the designer/art director, I was now The Voice of the stamp. People didn't really want to know the creative details as much as they wanted to be heard, and to tell their story to someone who could relate to their pain. And I shared my story, and they shared theirs, and they bought stamps, stamps and more stamps. From a thought that a doctor had, who shared his voice with his congressman, who shared it with the senator, who spoke it to Congress. And the American people responded. From 6 cents a stamp, so far we've sold over 300 million stamps and raised over 20.2 million dollars for breast cancer research. Fortunate--all the way around!

Sheri Koetting
New York, NY

How information design can strengthen citizen participation? We live in a society that demands instant gratification. Human effort has grown increasingly rare, and patience has become obsolete. Studies show more than 20% of Americans read at or below a 5th grade level and have an attention span of approximately en seconds. Encouraging today's society to participate has become close to impossible. It has become the designer's responsibility to engage society. Understanding social trends and audience needs can help information designers to communicate with the average citizen. This understanding enables designers to breakdown complex information into small increments to accommodate the user. Though this may appear simple at first, the process of determining what and how much information to include is often very complex.. Careful attention must be paid to wording, typeface, color and imagery. Ultimately, the average participant should be able to effortlessly navigate through information. The advantage of increased social participation are innumerable. The benefits range from imp, such as increasing voter and census roving the life of one person, to a more widespread impact, such as increasing voter and census participation. Society depends on citizen participation, and information design holds the key.

Joseph Lemarre
Denver, CO

how i find voice it was only when puberty was completely over that i would finally realized what the hell i had gone through. it was amusing how the hormones forced me to forge comical one-liners, regurgitate PETA perspectives and audaciously deliver come-on attempts that wouldn't go. it's even more amusing now, being that those days continue to serve up healthy portions of humble pie. what enables me to find voice today is furnished by the wisdom inherent within hindsight's capacity. you have to look back in order to provide a current context to look forward. this is neither a new nor hackneyed discovery, instead it is as essential as it is personal. today i realize that money could be substituted for hormones just as easily and therefore could deliver similar repercussive states like communicating by clever one-liners, passing on other peoples' agendas (that aren't familiar), and selling concepts by way of shameless seduction. i've come to the conclusion that voice, when considered as audible expression, personal philosophy or as client, needs to be built on a stable understanding of its own past in order to entitle the participants involved to mature comprehensively without blemishes.

Mike Lizama
Minneapolis, MN

The Most Powerfully Politically Motivated Piece of Design that I've Ever Seen. I can't say that the piece I am about to describe is necessarily the most powerfully politically motivated piece that I've ever seen, but for me it certainly is the most memorable. The piece I'm talking about was a poster designed by Semour Chwast in the late sixties featuring Uncle Sam with the slogan žEnd Bad BreathÓ printed at the bottom. I was in 5th grade in Hawaii in the late sixties and as an Army brat I had spent my life growing up on military bases. Being a schoolchild on a military base was a unique situation to be in. On base you are completely engulfed by military soldiers, equipment and procedures. We rode in military trucks to school driven by servicemen; past the columns of soldiers running alongside the road every day. Sometimes we would have to stop to let tanks lumber by (really cool to watch for an 11 year-old boy). From the time the canon fired in the morning to raise the flag, to rubbing shoulders with camouflaged soldiers in the commissary at lunch, and then playing baseball or basketball with the soldiers at night, all I knew was the military way of life. Too young to really grasp war; I noticed activity beginning to change on base. Outside our school playground the army was using the great field to stage mock wars with soldiers dressed as Viet Cong. We would stand at the fence and point them out to žourÓ soldiers laughing at ruining the surprise attacks. At night helicopters flew up and down the mountain range doing target practice; tracers coming down like strings of Christmas lights. My parents started shielding us from the evening news more and more. Each news report always summed up the day's body count for both sides, human lives reduced to a tally contest. And I saw that poster. It looked funny at first, Uncle Sam with a green face and airplanes in his mouth bombing which at first looked like his teeth but upon closer view were houses. He looked comical; a crazed clown juxtaposed in front of a blue sunburst like the flag of the Japanese Imperial forces. That was the first time I remember anything negative about war, particularly our žconflictÓ in Viet Nam and I was shocked. I quickly discovered that there were 2 sides to every war. Here in the United States the political powder keg fueled by anti-war sentiment was about to blow. With the ability to visually articulate ideas and beliefs, what an exciting and powerful time it must have been for a graphic designer.

Tim Moore
Brookine, MA

The most powerfully socially or politically motivated piece of design that I've ever done or seenIn the eighties I was working in my home town of London, England, where I was introduced to a filmmaker named Phil Agland. Phil had produced 4 brief award winning films for British TV on various nature topics. I was particularlyimpressed with one of them. He and his team had built a series of tree camps in the rainforests of the Cameroon, to film the forest canopy, high above the trees. I suffer from vertigo ,so I was impressed!Phil was preparing to leave for Korup, another of the national rainforests in Cameroon, where for the next four years, he would document life with the pygmies who lived in those remote jungles. He asked if I would design a piece that would help educate the public about deforrestation, as well as generatefunds to help protect the Korup rainforest from further destruction. Together, in conjunction with the Cameroon government, we devised a sponsorship program .I designed a poster which was a map of the Korup area with 600 squares on a it, each square representing 1,000 trees. For ten poundssterling you could cover the cost of a 1,000 trees. When you made your contribution, a little yellow dot was added to the poster to cover your square. The poster was both a record of your contribution as well as a keepsake commemorating the project.In designing the poster ,my intention was to educate the public about how life on earth depended on the rainforests; to regulate air;to house the millionsof species of wildlife and plants and to provide sustainence for more than abillion people. Without the rainforests we knew that the earth would not survive, and yet within 40 years the oldest and richest expressions of life on earth would be gone if we didn 't do something to save the rainforests.The project offered a way to raise the consciousness of a broader public. We launched our campaign at a time when environmentally conscious individualswe e limited to radical hippies in sandals .But the poster helped each more ofmainstream culture. And what started as a poster developed into an 86 page color magazine! It was rewarding to see our grass roots campaign to raise money as well as national awareness, grow into a major political issue.

Melissa Niederhelm
Tempe, AZ

I find my voice as a designer by writing about design. Design has long been assumed to be a visual exclamation rather than a vocal argument. For most of designhistory, passive observation of a metaphor, message and meaning has been a substitute for rhetoric, criticism and reflection. But in order for design to become more central to people's lives in the future, greater articulation of what design is and what it can contribute is required.By writing about design I hope to create a more identifiable context for the discipline in the eyes of non-designers. We need more writing about design that will examine who it affects, how it makes a difference and the role it plays in everything from politics to profitability. Through this effort, I believe we will further the message that design is not only important, but that it is also democratic and a benefit and tool for all people.

Barbara Nwacha
New London, NH

As a graphic design professor I am aware that newly emerging design professionals must decide where to position themselves within business, culture and community. Through assignments that address current social and political issues I try to shape design experiences in the classroom that raise student awareness. We cover topics that deal with voter awareness, habitat for humanity, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, City-Meals-on-wheels, WIC, Pro-Choice, and Elder Abuse. Through the design process students learn to do the research to determine the purpose, the audience, and the message. The goal for these assignments is to raise social awareness in our college community. As a graphic design professor I believe that it is my responsibility to help further design students to be active, globally conscience members of society. It is my hope that this class of assignments will encourage emerging designers to build their own sense of self within the context of social responsibility.

Bennett Peji
San Diego, CA

How I fulfill my desire to do socially responsible work without going bankrupt. Our AIGA chapter in San Diego has evolved from a professional organization to a service organization whose mission is to utilize design for the public good. I volunteer 20 hours a week and run my business the other 20. I serve on the boards of 5 non-profit organizations such as CityMoves.org. CityMoves is an after-school, elementary school arts program. The key to truly affecting any groups design perspective is to affect change by serving on the board, not just being a pro bono vendor. I prompted the renaming of the organization (from San Diego Dance Institute to CityMoves), a new mission statement and graphic identity. Organizations like CityMoves, who have never been in a position to work with high-level graphic design professionals, are awakened to the power of design. Next month they'll be putting on their first major fundraiser because of the new identity and are able to recruit higher-level board members because of the enhanced image. For relatively so little of our design time, we can make such a huge impact to these non-profit organizations. And, frankly, my business is more profitable because serving on all these boards has taught me to delegate truly effectively and focus on my core competencies. That is, I work only on the highest profit margin areas of projects and delegate or subcontract the rest which frees me to focus on more important things. Imagine one day seeing headlines like "The American Cancer Society and the AIGA raise $10 million dollars to fight lung cancer" or The Muscular Distrophy Association and the AIGA raise $20 million to help children stricken by the disease." Design is not the end goal. Design is simply a tool to help us connect to our communities and make a difference. When I became president of the San Diego chapter of AIGA in 1994 we had less than 100 members and were completely broke with no funds for even the smallest events. Within 2 years, we tripled membership, had over $50,000 in reserve, established scholarships, educational programs and the AIGA-SD Y Design Conference. We rallied a complacent design community into supporting city urban art programs led by the AIGA to enhance blighted neighborhoods and created the largest graphic design conference in our region (600 attendees last year). Now, with our enhanced strength, we are establishing significant alliances with creative groups including photographers, illustrators, architects, web developers and environmental designers to truly build a creative community with political clout in San Diego.

Michael Williams
Something I feel should be addressed, but does not fit into the 4 categories for the 150 word essay: There has recently been a resurgence of activists trying to help the earth in many various ways. In most cases, they have dedicated their lives to their causes, and expect no reimbursement. They make up for their lack of any financial support through living simpler lives. Our design is part of what many of the above activists are fighting against. Our processes and tools cause pollution, and as their efficiency rises, so does consumption. With every new identity package and annual report we create, we are promoting corporate interests. Advertising creates more consumption and a dependant society. Is design, by its nature, good or harmful? Even if we produce positive messages, it the process undermining them? These are hard questions to ask, but I feel it is important not to overlook them at VOICE.

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