Mark Biddle, Audra Buck-Coleman & Ann McDonald
Sticks + Stones
Bilkent University (Ankara, Turkey), Northeastern University (Boston, Massachusetts USA), Shandong University of Art and Design (Ji’nan, Shandong Province, P.R. China), Universität der Künste (Berlin, Germany), University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland USA), Weber State University (Ogden, Utah USA) and DesignTransfer Gallery (Berlin, Germany)
Sticks + Stones
Sticks + Stones, a collaborative project, gathers graphic design students from diverse geographical regions to explore their similarities and differences, to examine their perceptions and misconceptions of the “other,” and to create a greater understanding of their responsibilities as creators of visual messages.
Mark Biddle, Audra Buck-Coleman, Ann McDonald, Ulrich Schwarz , Charlotte Driessen, Anna Cains, James Ellison, Karolina Halatek, Catherine Kirk, Rotem Peleg, Philipp Tögel, Thomas Zimmermann, Xingzheng Jin, Brittany Atkinson, Katie Friedgen, Shai Goller, Talia Hillman, Christie Liberatore, Jaimie Mertz, Todd Nelson, Joanna Shieh, Anna Tulchinskaya, Jessy Weiss, Lilian Yu, Kate Terrado, Christie O'Laughlin, Britni Howe, Chrissy Barney, Jennifer Hadley, Jeff Madsen, Chanel Lichfield, Sam DeMastrie, Shi Zengquan , Hou Liping, Wang Xiaofeng , Zhang Xiaojuan, Li Yang, Kang Kai, Yang Shuai, Liu Mengdie, Ma Wen, Liu Xinkun, Zhang Xiao, Xu Yichen, Li Lingjun, Sun Lu, Sera Cakiroglu, Güclü Aydogu, Basak Gokce
Sticks and Stones met our evaluation criteria of having a clear pedagogical and design philosophy, content that built up students conceptual thinking, making and communication skills as well as social and environmental awareness, and could demonstrate clear outcomes for the students and participating communities. What push it to the top of our list was how it promoted cultural awareness by working WITH cultural diversity as opposed to working on or about cultural diversity. It is collaborative in terms of listening and talking, not just being in the same room. For the judges, Sticks and Stones hits a chord in the current global climate of racial and cultural tension while helping graphic design avoid the habit of stereotyping. Its philosophy of social democracy has the potential to foster transformation through the promotion of empathy, mutual understanding, and justice.
Sticks + Stones
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
Stereotypes and prejudices are not easily overcome. They are ingrained in us from an early age and from a place of security and comfort: home. The tendency to stereotype, which is present in all of us, is frequently reinforced by social customs, our education systems and the media.
Race, religion, socio-economic class, lived geographic locations, and personal beliefs all contribute to the unique perspective we take as creative professionals. The need to understand how these differences shape who we are and thus our approach to visual messages is an ethical component of the graphic designer’s professional duties. The need for graphic designers is urgent: for if these differences and the potentially skewed perspectives are not recognized, then slippage between accurate and faulty messages will occur into design works that can potentially influence the greater population.
Sticks + Stones is an iterative collaborative project that applies this purpose to design education. During the June 2010 iteration, students from China, Germany, Israel, Russia, Poland, England, Turkey, and the United States assembled in Berlin, Germany for a two-week symposium. During this time these students participated in discussions and symposium activities focused around the topics of culture, immigration/migration and representation. Project leaders deliberately challenged students to evaluate their beliefs of the “other,” recognize the limitations of their knowledge, and realize the need for professional research. Students collaborated on a series of corresponding design projects that were exhibited at the DesignTransfer gallery in Berlin.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
Sticks + Stones project leaders aim to propagate knowledgeable, culture-savvy designers who have learned first-hand from an extraordinarily diverse group of peers about the insulting and potentially harmful effects of image misuse. For the 2010 iteration, the project leaders deliberately gathered design students from diverse geographical regions across the globe in order to provide first-person learning opportunities. Students who learn in a diverse curriculum not only gain a broader perspective and appreciation for other cultures, but they also develop a higher level of critical thinking skills. Even within the United States, natives of Boston bring ethnic makeup, religious orientation, and cultural heritage that differ sharply from those in Odgen, Utah. The innovative curriculum requires ethnic profiling and stereotyping as well as reflection, conversation and collaborative design making on the way to multicultural understanding.
Berlin is a vibrant yet historically conflict-ridden city—an excellent backdrop for a curriculum addressing individual identity, propaganda, and the perpetuation of stereotypes, especially those as related to immigrants. A school in Berlin school agreed to host the project. Students visited the House of World Cultures, the Jewish Museum, and the Bauhaus-Archiv, and took a guided tour of Kreutzberg, a neighborhood in Berlin that historically has a large percentage of immigrants, many of whom are of Turkish ancestry. (Germany’s strained relationship with Turkish immigrants is similar to the United States’ strained relationship to Mexican immigrants.) The information learned from these scheduled activities as well as the informal participant discussions influenced the overall exhibit.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
The rhetorical strategies in visual communication strongly influence how we think, vote, spend and live. In a global information culture where designers assume the responsibility not only to serve client interests but to be pro-active, ethical citizens we all are the beneficiaries. The principle axiom driving Sticks + Stones is that the more communication designers know about our similarities and differences, whether real or imagined, the better we can shape responsible expressions for increasingly diverse populations. Our first, and most critical constituency is the project’s student body. Even amid the complexities of inter-cultural relations and the large scope of the Sticks + Stones agenda, it’s vitally important to begin at the level of existence for the individual student and to build a model of the designer/citizen who is able to distinguish the universally ethical from that which is relativistic and culture-bound.
Audiences to the exhibition and project website form an important, extended constituency. As faculty coordinators disseminate project results at academic and professional conferences, other schools and the larger design community join the project as audiences.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
To create a foundation for the Berlin symposium and exhibit, student groups were given lectures and assigned readings prior to travel. Pre-Berlin activities included student interviews of first generation immigrants in their home countries, research of their home countries’ immigration history, and in-depth consideration of their homelands’ stereotypes. In addition, students researched and discussed stereotyping and xenophobia content including historical and contemporary design examples that vilifying immigrants; France’s outlaw of the burqa; Nazi propaganda; current immigration conflicts in Germany and the U.S., and the human brain’s natural predisposition to stereotype.
Students then worked in groups to create a series of exhibit pieces related to this content. One project called upon a group of to venture out in Berlin streets wearing a t-shirt asking “What would people call me behind my back?” Students approached random people to write descriptions of the t-shirt wearer. This project made visible the otherwise invisible but potent stereotypes we hold of others. (Refer to uploaded video.)
A second group created a series of typographic posters using quotes from interviews with immigrants. Quotes such as “Your mind will never be in peace;” and “I want to go back.” added specific, first-person perspectives on what it is like to be an immigrant.
A third group created interactive pieces that integrated input from exhibit visitors. One project, a mural-size world map, asked visitors to denote where they live now, where they want to live and where they never want to live. Visitors wrote comments on the map to explain their choices. This project revealed geographical stereotypes of global locations.
A fourth group sought to dispel stereotypes with posters of some of the symposium participants. On one side the posters listed the common stereotypes associated with this student, given his or her home region, religion, and assumed customs; the other side of the poster revealed which of these stereotypes were correct for that person, if any. This series of posters was both playful and informative, challenging visitors to reconsider not only the stereotypes in front of them but others they might hold as well.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
First, in the educational context, S+S seeks to establish the need for communication designers to adopt standards of thought and action that require intellectual humility, empathy, integrity, and the courage to think independently. Project coordinators hold the view that this is not adequately covered in most university design programs and is better addressed in concentrated, event-oriented projects and symposia. Because of the unorthodox and often confrontational pedagogy, student participants in the Sticks + Stones project have acquired first-hand experience on both ends of stereotyping and irresponsible communications.
The challenge of preparing effective, ethical messages increases as global culture continues to grow more ethnically complex. It is important for the future architects of our communication environment to experience first-hand that the designer is an agent of social influence. Sticks + Stones Berlin 2010 advances the following notion: design education should emphasize that the end goals of our work, whatever the immediate intent, must also be responsible to the larger societal context.
Opportunities for awareness and learning about ethical considerations of the design profession are limited outside a university setting. If college students are not exposed to these issues, then they will most likely conduct their professional career unaware of this essential knowledge. If students can learn to make a difference, the collective positive effect might also be felt globally.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
If feasible, we would have expanded the amount of time the students had to get to know and collaborate with each other in Berlin. Unfortunately the academic schedules of the different participating universities combined with the added expenses of extended stays and limited student budgets have not made this possible.