Label a Designer

If you would ask me what I call myself, I would say “a human being – just like you”.

I don’t like labels and I remember that, on my first business card, I titled myself as an Illustrator. My second contained Illustrator, Designer and Artist. I was trying to identify tags that could explain the kind of work I do – or at that moment did. I was struggling to find my place in the Design – Art World. I was considering to have all round designer on the next one, but I realised that it actually didn’t say anything. Nobody would understand what I actually did by calling myself all round. On my current business card, there is no title. I do have 3-4 web links on them, which I hope explain or cover my field of work.

During my post graduate study, I designed another card, to use for my project. Here I had a different approach. On the front it simply says “YOU ARE GREAT”  and on the back of the card there is a web link to my project. The approach, in this case, was to focus on my receiver and use positive affirmations. Instead of explaining what I did, I attempted to provide him/her an experience.

Recently, I was asked to teach the 1st year students of my former academy. Showing my graduation project, tell about Relational Design and what that means in a SRVD ( Socially Responsive Design) context. There were two things that struck me. 1) even though quite some of the students knew about my work from before, it was still very odd and new to them. 2) they didn’t understand what I did or how I could make a living out of ‘my way of design’. Questions as “So what do you call yourself?” “How do you earn money?” ” How do you approach organisation and institutions, when you want to work for them?” were asked. I felt my answers didn’t satisfy them in the sense that, it didn’t fit their reality of what a designer does, what a designer is and how a designer works.

At that moment, I found it quite surprising. Apparently my work was so accepted during my studies, that I saw it as something so natural and obvious, that I stopped questioning the label it should have. I just didn’t see the necessity of it. Now, I see that for certain groups it needs an explanation and every group needs a different language, a different tone of voice wrapped around the same arguments. Arguments yes. Sometimes it feels like I need to defend everything I stand for, even though I use design for the social good. These students were new to this field of Design and I know that, in their BA education the notion of  more traditional design departments prevails. When you are not exposed to other ways of thinking and working, you can’t know. When you are not encouraged, stimulated and incited to explore every kind of boundary there is – and dare to cross it – you don’t look further. Another experience related to this, was working – voluntary – for I was asked to help and organise actions and events for this cause. I found out, that I was perhaps thinking too much in my own language and forgot that I wasn’t working with people who have a creative background. All well hearted people, coming from fields as biology, economy, environmentalism, activism, ecology, etc.

We all had the same aim.

We all had ideas about how this should be done.

Our ideas didn’t align.

I felt and feel that I have some expertise in this. Studying and experimenting on how to reach, engage and empower people, for over 2 years in theory and practice. Though, in the end of this collaboration between various fields – something I like to see as THE solution for many issues – I felt left alone. Likely, because I wasn’t explaining my arguments and reasons in the right way.

Back to my starting point: I still don’t like labels. But I understand the need to be able to explain what I do, to various kind of people. Preferably short and concise. So what am I then? Let’s try some terms and see how that feels and what it says:

Social Designer

Conceptual Designer

Meta Designer

Process Designer

Queen of Creativity



Fast – Slow – Society

Would we know what joy is, without having experienced sadness?
What does a solution mean without a problem?
Can happiness exist without desire?

You need one to appreciate the other. Opposites are odd pairs: they help us to acknowledge what we have, and they require the right interface to find balance. If we are just focusing on one and ignoring the other, we become meaningless.
The industrial revolution has put mankind on a high speed train and we had to adapt ourselves to the demands and possibilities that came along with the system. Now, global problems surround us, but we don’t seem to respond. The rules and patterns we live by seem so natural and logical, that we don’t question why they are there, how they came into existence and if they are necessary.
Are we captured in a bubble, oblivious to the truth of our history and our own being?
If we are disconnected from ourselves, then how to reconnect?
It seems that individualism rules in our society, where we drift around on solitary islands avoiding contact with any other. I believe that the confrontation from which we are escaping is exactly what we need in order to reclaim people’s sense of place and retrieve the patterns of memories and experiences.

We think and behave according to the cultural system with which we have grown up and we tend to assume that everyone has the same behaviour and logic as our own. In fact, logic happens to be an invention of Western society and isn’t used in the same way in other parts of the world.

We are all different and the first thing we need to do is accept each other’s differences, instead of judging them. Possibly we could overcome this, by placing ourselves more often in intercultural situations to learn to see ourselves as others see us, in order to get more understanding about our own being and the other (Hall 1989).

Our own culture -as any culture- has flaws, but we accept them, because that is what we have grown up with. The educational system of Western society is linear and therefore limits us in how we think. We are taught that the rules and schedules we have matter. The system requires us to specify our talents and emphasises status and competition before freedom of expression and diversity. This limitation in creativity and talents, also restricts our capacity to find solutions.
Our fast society might need a different pace to engage oneself and another. People get more inventive when they are challenged and placed in unknown situations (Fuller 1981). Designed interventions in our daily life, could bring a pause & reflect.

What is happening now in the Design World, is that business is being exposed to art expressions and art is being commercialised; this creates new situations, interpretations and interfaces. I have chosen to use this occasion to design forms of social engagement. I can’t change people and I can’t change behaviour. However, I can create places in space, and I can create exercises that convey learning moments, stimulate reflection and activate awareness. All of these, I hope will bring about positive behaviour and empowerment to the individual.

In times like these, when a worldwide economical crisis has suddenly emerged, it is an opportunity for us to open our eyes and genuinely see what is there; it is a chance to reform, rather than hastily attempting to take control by way of old patterns. There is a reason why things accumulate – it is time for change.

Hall, ET 1989, Beyond Culture, Anchor Books Editions, New York.

Fuller, RB 1981, Critical Path, St Martin’s Press, New York.


Pedestrian Project

The other  day I found this great performance in the public setting called The Pedestrian Project by New York artist/designer Yvette Heijne. The performers are acting out every day life, but it has a great impact because of the costumes they are wearing which resemble the traffic light icons for pedestrians. Brilliant!!

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Street Art

Banksy isn’t he brilliant!? This street artist has profund and insightful work.

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No protest

This is the brilliant work of Jean Jullien. I think he makes a very clear and strong statement in a protest-form, about our state of reflection and action in society nowadays.

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