Out now from Valiz.

Design as a dis­ci­pline emerges at the same time as in­dus­trial cap­i­tal­ism (in the 19th cen­tury). The first in­dus­trial de­sign school were made to pro­duce a con­supm­tion mar­ket.

Early art schools want to ed­u­cate de­sign­ers to pro­duce for in­dus­try and gen­er­ate con­sumers. Design as a prod­uct of in­dus­trial cap­i­tal­ism. Design so­lid­i­fies in so­ci­ety with cap­i­tal­ism.

William and May Morris and the so­cial­ist league. Here was a de­signer who re­sisted the ex­ploita­tion of cap­i­tal­ism. From the be­gin­ning de­sign­ers have com­plained about their role in cap­i­tal­ism.

First Things First Manifesto, more re­cent: There is no such thing as eth­i­cal desing un­der cap­i­tal­ism.

This cri­tique had been around for a long time, but noth­ing has re­ally changed. Caps Lock: Designers can’t es­cape. Is eth­i­cal de­sign pos­si­ble un­der cap­i­tal­ism?

The book is a se­ries of dif­fer­ent dif­fer­ent looks at how de­sign­ers re­late to cap­i­tal­ism.

The de­signer as scribe

Rounded clay tablet on black ground with cuneiform signs.

Clay tablet record­ing beer given to work­ers, Mesopotamia, 3000 BC

The British Museum

It’s tiny, peo­ple who made this doc­u­ment had to be very pre­cise, there’s lay­out and de­sign go­ing on. This is­n’t writ­ing, it’s count­ing. When you have so­ci­eties and economies that are big enough, you need some kind of doc­u­ment to me­di­ate so­cial re­la­tions.

First stocks of the dutch East India com­pany, 1622. Here we see the same char­ac­ter­is­tic we say to­day in money. Has to con­vey trust, look of­fi­cial.

Swedish Daler, the first eu­ro­pean bank note. Graphic de­vices are be­ing used here to avoid coun­ter­fit­ing, grah­pic te­chiniques to con­very trust. Again: Mediating eco­nomic re­la­tions.

How do you make sure land is a prop­erty that can be owned? How do you make sure prop­erty in­her­i­tances are worked out right? Conscription, tax­a­tion, last names, all need graphic doc­u­ments.

Stock mar­ket in­for­ma­tion has­n’t re­ally changed since the 17th cen­tury, still dis­played in these big ta­bles. In large com­plex so­ci­etoes we need these kind of ab­stract rep­re­sen­ta­tion to make sense of things. But these big ta­bles have also be­come the de facto lan­guae of eco­nom­ics at large. The Excel spreadasheet is the same as the clay tablet.

William Playfair, Exports and im­ports to North America.

This is not a plea to stop us­ing ab­stract forms. Trading desk is a graphic in­ter­face. Numbers flat­ten the so­cial con­di­tions and hide the ma­te­r­ial con­di­tions be­hind them. In an ab­stracted eco­nomic sys­tem you can have home­less peo­ple and empty houses owned by banks in a way you could­n’t in a smaller so­ci­ety.

Gapminder from Sweden: Family in­come in the world. You don’t just see the num­ber, but you see the ac­tual peo­ple in this rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Becomes much harder to kick somone out of their house based on a graphic rep­re­sen­ta­tion like this.

The de­signer as worker

Designers agency as eco­nomic ac­tors. They don’t just make ob­jects, they work, spend money, make money. A lot of de­sign writ­ing dis­cusses the ma­te­r­ial as­pects of de­sign ob­jects, but not how they are pro­duced.

Dutch print­ing press in 1580: You could­n’t go to uni­ver­sity for de­sign, it was a trade (Note: There was no cap­i­tal­ism then). Printing of­fice from 1904: Now you get a di­vi­sion be­tween fac­tory work­ers and of­fice work­ers (i.e. print­ers and de­sign­ers).

In the typ­i­cal de­sign stu­dio you have to­day there is no trace of pro­duc­tion. The books get printed in China. You have some­one like Jony Ive who has acess to de­sign ed­u­ca­tion. But he’s never made an iPhone, they are made by Foxcon on the other side of the world, and the names of those work­ers don’t ap­pear on the phone. The Apple in­terns and pro­duic­tion de­sign­ers don’t ap­pear ei­ther. We still have this no­tion of the ar­ti­san soli­tary de­signer, even for gi­ant global pro­jects like this.

Anthony Burrill: Work Hand & Be Nice to People

There’s a prob­lem with over work in the in­dus­try. People pride them­selves on work­ing nights, leads to un­healthy work­ing con­di­tions, un­healthy re­la­tion­ship to com­pe­ti­tion.

The quick shall in­herit the earth. The promise of the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion was that we’d have to do less work, but now all our lives are full of work. You need to check emails, up­date your Instagram etc. day and night.

Hunters and Gatherers work way less, a cer­tain tribe in Namibia spends 15 hours a week find­ing food.

Disconnect be­tween pro­duc­tiv­ity and a typ­i­cal work­ers com­pen­sa­tion, 1948-2014: Co-development un­til about 1970 when lib­eral eco­nom­ics come in. Where is this work go­ing: CEO com­pen­sa­tion. We’re work­ing to line the pock­ets of a tiny group of bil­lion­aires.

Nike does­n’t ac­tu­ally make shoes, they’re made by sub­con­trac­tors in Bangladesh. Nike still pro­jects this im­age of be­ing an eth­i­cal com­pany. Exlploitative prcat­ices in Europe aren’t gone, they’re just else­where.

The point about do­mes­tic labour: Man is ex­ploited in the fac­tory be­cause he ex­ploits the wife at home. Work that you can’t put on your re­sume.

The de­signer as fu­tur­ist

Speculative de­sign is a way to cri­tique cpi­tal­ism. Speculative Everything (2013). After 2008, the au­thor said spec­u­la­tive de­sign was way for de­sign­ers to be more than just scili­iary to in­dus­try. Why don’t we imag­ine other sce­nar­ios that are a dif­fer­ent kind of fu­ture.

Speculative de­sign has an en­ter­tain­ment value: It has eman­ci­pa­tory po­ten­tial, but we can also con­sume it as en­ter­tain­ment. Industry also takes ad­van­tage of it, see vi­su­al­i­sa­tions of as­ter­oid min­ing by en­ergy com­pa­nies.

We have all kind of an­t­i­cap­i­tal­ist imag­i­nar­ies in hol­ly­woood dis­as­ter movies.

Fisher: Anti-capitalist fan­ta­sists per­form our anti-cap­i­tal­ism for us. We see peo­ple like Shell Oil do­ing spec­u­la­tive de­sign on a fu­ture in which they do the op­po­site of what they’re do­ing now.

NIUN: Saudi Futures. We’ve had su­tain­able de­sign for 20 years, but global em­mis­sions haven’t re­ally gone down.

The de­signer as phil­an­thropist

Social de­sign. Papanek (1973): Design for the real world. Here’s a guy who was adamant about de­sign­ers mov­ing away from in­dus­try and do­ing more so­cially use­ful work.

Philanthropy in it­self is rich peo­ple help­ing peo­ple with less money. CZI Covid-19 is Zuckerberg’s thing. Promises to get rid of all dis­eases by 2050. These tech com­pa­nies try very hard not to pay any taxes. The sil­i­con val­ley idea is that rich peo­ple are bet­ter than gov­ern­ments at solv­ing prob­lems. In Colonialism you have the idea that white peo­ple should bring cul­ture, struc­ture, cul­ture to the colonies. you still get ideas like this: you get sup­port but you have to be sober.

What Design Can Do: Refugee Challenge

Designers fom the global north de­sign­ing for peo­ple from the south. These are power re­la­tions rooted in colo­nial­ism. Social de­sign is be­com­ing an in­dus­try in it­self. (Red) is the idea of sav­ing the world by buy­ing prod­ucts. Designers soak up a lot of money that’s meant for ac­tual aid.

Social de­sign is­n’t in­her­ently cap­i­tal­ist, see the Black Panthers free break­fast pro­gramme. Covid mu­tual aid pro­jects.

Yes, the planet got de­stroyed. But for a beau­ti­ful mo­ment in time we cre­ated a lot of value for share­hold­ers.. Getting rid of cap­i­tal­ism is­n’t about choos­ing moral high­ground but sur­vival of the species.

The de­signer as ac­tivist

Even ac­tivism is re­ally eas­ily ap­pro­pri­ated, see Nike Black Lives Matter. Designers work col­lec­tively, why can’t we unionise. Designers cul­tural work­ers union in England: Open source pub­lish­ing.

Design as a com­mons

If we just make free fonts and free PDFs, multi-na­tion­als will ap­pro­pri­ate it and make money off it.