Graphic Design for the Real World? Visual Communication’s Potential in Design Activism and Design for Social Change

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Katrin Elisabeth Bichler
Sofie Beier


This article examines graphic design’s role within design activism. It outlines design activism in general and its relation to commercial design culture in a consumerist economy. Thereafter it discusses persuasive tendencies in graphic design and questions if its current contribution to design activism is limited to its predominant narrow role of persuading for “the good cause.” 

To illustrate the hypothesis that such a persuasive approach lacks activist potential and thus social impact, cases that represent traditional graphic-design activism are compared to alternative approaches with an informative rather than persuasive character. The latter cases exemplify how information design can challenge the status quo and range from conventional leaflets to interactive tools and data visualizations. The discussion explores how these cases work as a non-commercial service to its audience, rather than solely solving communicative problems for commissioning clients. It is argued that in this way visual communication can intervene into problems on a functional level, similarly to artifacts from design disciplines such as architecture and industrial or product design.

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Design Concept Issue