What can design do? How can design accompany social challenges and why is the role of young talents from the design industry important for our future?
All these questions are addressed by designxport, which is part of Hamburg Kreativ Gesellschaft, the city's initiative to promote the creative industries in Hamburg. As a venue at HafenCity, designxport is a space for exhibitions, events, workshops, experiments, discussions and interdisciplinary exchange on the topic of design. Currently, designxport is exhibiting the statements of around 40 designers in the heart of HafenCity until mid-July. Under the title Das kann Design! / What Design can do! they all answer the question "What can design do?" via a designed poster. Linda is part of Das kann Design! and will present her final project at designxports exhibition 20 out of 20 that will show twenty of the best final projects from Hamburg's young designers from July 15 to August 1. She is a communication designer, design researcher and founder of the online magazine FURORE, which makes climate protests visible. We talked to her about her work and the role of designers in the climate crisis.
Why is it an exciting time to be a designer right now?
We are facing great social transformation processes, as well as the huge challenge of creating awareness and solutions for the ecological crisis and developing attractive ways of living. Design plays an important role because it can generate attention for issues and give actions for specific behaviors and lifestyles.
How do you think the design industry is responding to the ecological crisis?
Unfortunately, a large number of designers still contribute to ecological destruction and social injustice with their work, in that their design encourages selfish, decadent and irresponsible behavior. I am not suggesting that the design industry is fundamentally destructive. Rather, many designers find themselves dependent on clients whose business models are based on an expansive and destructive economy. In order to fight the climate crisis, we need to develop sustainable alternatives to this economy. At the same time, the question remains how designers can free themselves from this dependency. Climate-damaging business models are currently still profitable and pay many designers adequately. This results in the impression that design primarily strengthens climate-damaging products. Of course, there are designers who prove the opposite and work for sustainability and social justice - but there are fewer well-paid jobs in this field. Many can only do responsible design if they initiate projects themselves and often do without payment.
What changes are needed so that more designers can get involved in combating the climate crisis?
I think that the design industry needs more incentives that enable sustainable and social design. For example, through more financial support programs and design prizes that are awarded primarily with regard to ecological and social criteria. At the same time, I believe that design associations have a duty to open up competitions to non-profit projects at low cost and to stop awarding prizes to works that promote products that are harmful to the climate.
You've already mentioned the climate crisis. What is the relationship between design and politics?
Design exercises political influence because it strengthens certain actors and contributes to the distribution of power. Design doesn't happen in a vacuum: design never stands alone with its aesthetics and functionality. It always tells something about life and society. Design can inspire ways of living that may be shaped by different political ideas. For example, it can make egalitarian, elitist, libertarian, authoritarian, collectivist, individualist, progressive or conservative thinking and acting attractive. It is always political, since it promotes ideas from which certain actors benefit. Design always takes sides and shapes power relations.
What does that mean for your work?
As a designer, I am aware of two points in particular. First, I ask myself: What ideas and social narratives are associated with my work? No matter how aesthetically successful my design may be, it can still reference a narrative that I do not want to represent politically. In addition, I ask myself whether my design can be discriminatory, for example, by conveying a patriarchal, sexist, or racist narrative. This second point concerns the question of who benefits from my work.
What exactly do you mean by that?
I reflect on the current political power relations, look at which voices are over- or underrepresented and how my work could influence the power structure. For a functioning democracy, an equal struggle between diverse voices is fundamental, so I would not strengthen voices that want to displace others. I make myself aware of which actors also represent my interests or with which I would like to ally myself.
You've already mentioned the climate crisis. Why is this topic so important to you and how do you position yourself as a designer?
I take sides with climate activists through the online magazine FURORE, which I founded in early 2021. I am concerned about my future and how the climate crisis will change my life in 20 years. Public discourse is dominated with downplaying of scientific facts, and there is still underreporting of the threat posed by the climate crisis. Many have not recognized the problem. It is into these asymmetrical conditions that I would like to intervene with FURORE. I would like to use my work to shape the social discourse with critical voices and to create awareness for the climate crisis.
About Linda Rammes
Linda Rammes is a communication designer and design researcher. In her master's thesis at Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften Hamburg (HAW), she investigated the political potential of design and developed the concept of "responsible design" - a design practice that creates impulses for democratic processes of becoming responsible. In 2021 she founded the online magazine for climate justice FURORE (https://furore-magazin.de/), which discusses topics around the climate crisis.
designxport is the interdisciplinary and internationally oriented center for all topics and activities related to design in Hamburg. As a network, incubator for
new ideas, venue for debates and concrete projects, designxport is the place in Hamburg where design can be experienced. With around 12,000 designers living and working in Hamburg, the design industry not only shapes the face but also the character of the Hanseatic city. designxport supports the design industry in its growth, further development and transformation processes. designxport is part of Hamburg Kreativ Gesellschaft (https://kreativgesellschaft.org/), the city's initiative to promote the creative industries in Hamburg.
The interview has been carried out by Isabel Neuendorf. Photo credit: Linda Rammes