Milton Glaser and the designer as citizen (by Claire Manibog)

via the MANIBLOG

It’s always a thrill to hear Milton Glaser speak. As the brain behind the iconic identity I Love New York and as co-founder of New York Magazine, Glaser has become a legend in American graphic design. It’s Glaser’s experience and intellect that always make for his refreshing and grounding insights into the design field.

That’s why I was curious to hear his opinion of design entrepreneurship – what it is and isn’t – so I asked for his thoughts on designers’ unique role in addressing social change. Glaser’s answer was that designers aren’t any more special or well-equipped to do so. Designers are citizens, first and foremost: “My interest is not about the designer’s responsbility, but more the citizen’s responsibility.” Relating this to his own work, Glaser summarized: “I really feel stupid when I do work that does harm.”

Glaser’s primary concern was the unexpected result of a design product. “A big truth in life is unintended consequences,” he emphasized. As our class works through social change issues – and as I’m developing one on outcomes measurement – it’s difficult to swallow that truth, but one can’t deny that some of the most well thought-out humanitarian design projects do end up with unexpected (and even harmful) results.

The biggest takeaway was Glaser’s emphasis on avoiding the obvious messaging route: don’t talk to your audience directly ’cause they won’t listen. “Often to be effective, you have to be oblique. Hit them sideways.” The irony of messaging is that in order to be understood, you have to make it a little difficult to understand. Your audience has to work a little if you want your message to stick.

One example of how direct messaging can fail is the recent TIME magazine cover of an Afghan girl whose nose was cut off by order of the Taliban. Similarly, the image of an African child with a swollen stomach surrounded by flies is one we’re all familiar with – but what does it really do? These types of hyper-direct images actually deactivate the audience rather than galvanize them around the cause. The horror is a deterrent.

Just a few nuggets of wisdom from Milton Glaser as we progress through our projects…