Evolving Graphic Design from Serving Industry to Fulfilling Fundamental Human Needs

By: Gareth Fry  

In the same way that discussions about critical issues in our society’s past were once buried and eventually found a foothold in public discourse, graphic design must be shaken from its hypnotic focus on serving industry and refocused on the fulfillment of fundamental human needs. Graphic design has the potential to achieve highly-positive outcomes, but we need to initiate a dialog through which designers and educators examine the impact our work has on others, and then refine our practices. Research of design psychology and anthropology reveals that the heart of the problem is our natural propensity to view the world in terms of “us” and “them,” and to divide our loyalties accordingly. For designers, our clients are our “us,” whereas our audiences are a distant, passive, and easy-to-forget “them.” Previous scholarship that expounds ways to lift graphic design to a higher plane has tended to focus on superficial and transient factors such as industry issues, political agendas, and cultural trends. A far more powerful approach to finding a solution, however, is to re-code our “us” and “them” thinking, build a framework for graphic design that rests on the bedrock of our humanity, and make enlightened changes to our practices and output. No doubt we can all think of numerous reasons why we should maintain the status quo, but maybe we should be brave enough to ask ourselves why we should not. What, or who, are we afraid of? What do we stand to lose? What do we stand to gain?

Dialog, Industry, Human needs, Target audiences, Us and them
Design in Society
Virtual Lightning Talk

Gareth Fry

Assistant Professor, Art & Design, Utah Valley University, United States
UT, United States

Gareth Fry is a design anthropologist and educator. His research includes ways in which the human propensity to view the world in terms of “us” and “them” affects the graphic design industry, and how designers and educators might refocus their practices on the fulfillment of fundamental human needs. He earned an MFA in graphic design from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and currently teaches graphic design at Utah Valley University.