In the theory seminar of the bachelor’s degree in design, visual communication students learn about the dimensions of identity and what these mean for their own practice. Reflections on the responsibility of design, exclusive design and a great desiderata.
We are all shaped by design. Design powerfully influences how we perceive things and class our impressions. In the Bachelor in Visual Communication, students become the designers of tomorrow. As designers working in advertising, in graphic design offices or as artists, they will have a say in how we “see” the world in the future. This is where the theory seminar on “identity” at the Bachelor in Visual Communication comes in. The seminar is taught by Mayar El Bakry, a lecturer at the Department of Design, and by Sophie Vögele, an art education lecturer at the Department of Cultural Analysis. Together, they introduce students to the social dimensions of identity. They build bridges to practice by questioning common patterns and norms and by exploring the distribution of privileges and marginal positions.
Knowing one’s responsibility
“Design is exclusive, and is so by design. Design can never be neutral, but is always related to social change,” says Mayar El Bakry. “As a designer, it is therefore important to deal with identity,” adds Sophie Vögele. “Every design decision can be seen politically.” The future designers taking the seminar work their way through basic texts and critical theories on feminism and postcolonial perspectives. They discuss dimensions such as gender, race, nationality, social origin or intersectionality. The aim is to reflect on their own work and to recognize and understand their own role in campaigns, products or their own art. “It is important to make myself aware of my own responsibility for how I represent something,” says El Bakry. “For example, how do I make design accessible to those suffering from colour blindness?” For their seminar papers, students develop topics that take up their own interests and questions, following the seminar discussions. One paper asks how Adobe Cloud & Co. influence how we design and addresses the so-called unconscious bias. Another explores the anchoring of design in capitalist structures and addresses the differentiation of ethical and unethical practice.
“What role do gender and social background play in a designer’s self-image and her creative work?” asks another paper. “The questions in our seminar open our eyes to our own identity,” observes Sophie Vögele. Students engage with questions such as “How privileged am I and what does this mean for my design practice?” One student is reflecting on his gender identity, as a “cis male,” and is approaching the concept of allyship from a feminist perspective. At the end of the seminar, the papers will be gathered in a booklet.
Identity questions in design education
The seminar gives students the tools needed to create anti-discriminatory, anti-racist and anti-sexist design. They learn to design more empathically and inclusively and to recognize what their aesthetics can achieve. “Our understanding of design has long referred to the Bauhaus and therefore to this school of thought. But that is changing. Our society is becoming more inclusive,” says El Bakry. The two lecturers share the vision “[…] that social dimensions of identity as a topic gain a lasting foothold in design education. Social discourse is very lively and we are seeking to build a bridge from teaching to the real world.”