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Design as a Catalyst for Change

guy clasping hands as dangle legs over edge of stairwell
guy clasping hands as dangle legs over edge of stairwell

Kids today believe that violence is a justifiable means of resolving when they feel reduced in self confidence by another classmate, as recent studies suggest that retaliation against bullying is the major factor behind school violence. Parents, teachers and other adults are often outside the scope of influencing the students, so in most cases it is difficult for them to affect the situation before the events. The media, however seems to reach kids. Whether it’s the smart phone, billboards, movies or tv shows — students are exposed to these images and pictures, making them vulnerable to conflicting messages. Perhaps it is within the remit of media designers and visual communicators to create an antidote for this problem…

A change in perception and attitude among kids would have a far greater effect than the best metal detectors and security conditions being employed. The power of a visual message should not be underestimated. [Check this video]

Children, teens and students are the largest, most profitable audience for advertisers. And kids are affected by what they are barraged to seeing in the media. Seymour Chawst, founder of the Pushpin Group acknowledges

“… we know they respond to things that are visual. Good design and illustration can benefit them socially and culturally…”

Why can’t we use the same medium that may have increased violence to reverse these affects…?


Whilst the concept of tolerance may have been taken for granted or dismissed as political correctness, it has recently been accepted as the key catchphrase among adults around the world — as is evidenced in the campaigns in advertising. It’s not enough… This message needs to be communicated to children as well. And though recommendations to address the issues of violence in schools proposes the prevention of it escalating, for example, showing that hate is not a solution to anger or that all people need to be treated with fairness and respect, the use of media generates a greater influence and reach due to its broadcasting capabilities.

Though some may argue that design and visual communication may not solve the problem, and that the traditional forms of personal counselling and community involvement are necessary, why can’t design be part of the solution?…

If design in the media is grabbing kids attention in ways that are not accessed by conventional means — and this is used to turn the philosophy among them, it could well be a mode of communication that cannot be ignored. As Seymour Chawst adds

“… If designers can ‘speak’ the same language as young people, they can have an impact.”

Sources: Citizen Designer: Expelling School Violence, Visual Communications as a Catalyst for Change, Carolyn McCarron — Steven Heller and Véronique Vienne (Allworth Press 2003) | Sue Flemming, “Bullying Seen as Key Factor in School Shootings”, Reuters/, August 28, 2001 | Michael Josephson, “The Ethics of American Youth: Violence and Substance Abuse, Data and Commentary”, April 2, 2001 | Ellen Goodman, “Turn on Channel One, Turn Off Values”, Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1999

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