Spills, Triggers and Movements
So, we do have to talk about the spill, but what about the role designers might play in determining what the spill will mean? Those who are directly affected by it already know what it means to their lives, of course, but what will the spill mark in the walk of history? And will the attitudes and actions of designers have any influence on the societal shifts that occur after this ordeal, if shifts occur at all?
In his book, Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements, Bill Moyer sets out a number of helpful structures. One of them is the placement of “trigger events” along a continuum of social change that is preceded by three stages (“normal times,“ “prove the failure of official institutions,” and “ripening conditions”), and followed by 5 other stages (“take off,” “perceptions of failure,” “majority public opinion,” “success,” and “continuing the struggle”). Moyer has placed himself on the front lines of the major social movements in the last half century, so when he lays this framework out he does it from the vantage point of a front-line warrior.
Each of the eight stages mentioned above is equated to a passage from the I Ching, and the stage that follows key trigger events, “take off,” is coupled with the I Ching’s description of critical mass: “It is a momentous time of excess of strong elements. One takes courageous acts not by force, but by seeking true meaning to accomplish the task, no matter what happens. Maintain alliance with those below. It is floodtimes, which are only temporary.”
Moyer also defines roles that individuals play when they are committed to a social movement (sustainability is a social movement or it is a charade). The four basic roles are “citizen,” “rebel,” “change agent” and “reformer.” The book does a fine job defining effective and ineffective behaviors for each of these roles, but what’s important here is his suggestion that anyone involved in any movement, if they are true to the cause, will not only have the will and the capacity to play each of the four roles, but will choose the role that is most necessary for the times. In our Sustainable Design classes, we use Moyer’s framework to inform us not only of the roles that designers can play, and the effective ways in which to play those roles, but of how awareness of these roles can guide our behaviors with an understanding of the larger flows of change. We also discuss what a designer as citizen looks like; a designer as rebel; a designer as change agent; and a designer as reformer. Imagine these roles defined both within the framework of your career and your personal life, and you start to get a sense of just how many creative ways we can perform in our efforts to nudge the world toward true sustainability.
If graphic design is all about perception, and I believe it is, than let’s get to shifting some of them already. Whether or not this spill is the spill that shifts our society’s understanding of our relationship with nature once and for all will have at least something to do with how much energy designers can muster to perform not just as designers, but as citizens, rebels, change agents and reformers.
The BP spill is a trigger event to be sure. But whether the lasting impact of this particular trigger is akin to a ripple in the water or a ridge in a mountain range will be determined by nothing more, or nothing less, than individual choices—a flood of individual choices. Have we reached critical mass in rejecting the outmoded Industrial Age model of production? Are designers ready to provide visions (and demonstrations) for the way toward a regenerative economy? I’d like to think that venues like this are proof of an affirmative answer to that question, but until the traffic for this site nears the traffic for People magazine, designers interested in sustainability will have to define their roles on their own terms, and take action in arenas and in ways that perhaps they are not used to.