Design is Political

Everything around us is designed. Design shapes cities, gives form to houses, sketches and connects spaces; designers define our environment, our things, bodies and minds. Design is political.

Nine years ago, a young man walked into our office in Harajuku and presented himself as an Obama online campaign manager. “The guys on my team read your articles and follow your work. I came by to meet you and thank you.” Holy cannoli!

Once in a while we learn who uses our work and this comes like an electric jolt. Stephen Fry, Augusten Burroughs, and yesterday, Hillary Clinton was citing Martin Luther King in a screenshot from iA Writer:

“Hillary Clinton uses our app to write. Holy cannoli!” Designers can be difficult to work with, but we are easy to please. Seeing our work come to good use is all we need. “Imagine we had someone in the White House, using our tool to think and shape a clear policy—instead of all the distractions we are confronted with now.” We get it. You may not be a Hillary fan.

Once in a while, someone tells us to shut up about politics. If you want to avoid trouble, stay away from politics. Politics is a hot potato. You can’t sell things to people that are upset.

But then again, what is wrong with a web designer going out and taking a stand for Net Neutrality? Well, this stand may end up in a public discussion with a telco client. So be it.

If you can not disagree, you can not work with them. Design is change. Change needs courage. All design is political. If you take a stand, person A might get offended. But maybe person B will identify with you even more. Unless you sell chocolate bars, washing powder or extension cables, it is alright to have a bit of a profile.

Designers question categorizations and borders. Design requires care and love for detail, but all of that has to happen out of the box. You can’t think properly, speak clearly, write comprehensively, and you can’t design at all if you are scared to upset people.

“Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces material artifacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new sales plan for a company or a social welfare policy for a state.” –Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial

When we built our writing apps, we wanted them to be a tool for the brave. A clean space to help them focus and write in peace. We believe sitting down for five minutes every day to truly think can make a huge difference. Those who think and speak clearly will ultimately brighten our minds.

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