8 Exhibition Catalogue Covers

If design needs to be long-term, can we, and should we, as designers, strive to be apolitical? What might that look like?

José dos Santos, Head of Design Americas, Signify


“I believe the best long-term solutions that may create the desired impact on people, the planet, and profit should be split from ideology and strive to build bridges between political sides. This might sound counterintuitive for designers who believe so many important issues seem to align better with one side of the political spectrum, and it might be impossible for anyone to be truly apolitical, but if we need to change from short term, political-term based programs and solutions (and corporate quarterly revenues…), design must find a different way to co-create, co-implement and co-own a different future.” 

Jennifer Rittner, Assistant Professor, Parsons School of Design


“Let’s start with asking why we think design needs to be long term. Design, like politics, needs to respond adequately to the needs of the time and not remain beholden to mythologies of originalism. In that sense, all design is political in that it concerns itself with the politics of space, of interaction, of ethics, of care, of order, of justice, of shared values. So no, design should not be apolitical because it needs to respond and reflect the politics of our time. Reparative and justice-oriented design must concern itself with the body politic—the systems, policies, and institutions that form the foundation of civic life and global existence.

That “politics” is distinct from “Politics” in the sense of political parties, which is frankly up to
the designer or design firm to determine. But how can you disentangle politics from design in any real and meaningful way?”

Shagufta Hakeem, Interdisciplinary Researcher


“This is a really important question during a time where many designers are examining the role of politics and how projects are funded. If the design involves the betterment of society there should be a balance of thought across all disciplines. What should be avoided is identity politics, which creates more polarization among communities. In the long-term, designers should strive to exit silos instead of be apolitical.”

Erin Narloch, Founder, PastForward


“Political affiliations and meanings are contemporary. Throughout time, these perceptions
and interpretations are evaluated and reevaluated by different sets of individuals or groups through their own unique and temporal lens. What lies beyond politics? What’s the least common denominator among us—our humanity.”

George White, Principal, Orange Octopus


“Exactly the opposite! Design is always political, whether the designer intends it or not. The nature of design is to make deliberate choices about the shape of a thing, and those choices determine who is included with the envelope of a design and who is included. But there’s another question embedded here, which is this: should designers seek to be explicitly political in how and what they design? Again, I think the answer has to be yes, especially if we want our work to have significant impact, today and possibly into the future. Design has to be relevant, and therefore aligned to the needs of people, and the context in which they exist. For example, a designer who chooses to make a product out of sustainable materials (when it might not have been made that way previously) is acknowledging and including political considerations into their design. They are making a statement and a choice and passing that along to the users of that design.

Design has often been a tool used to shape opinion and transmit culture. If designers attempt to separate themselves from politics, to pretend that there is some “ideal design” that is somehow divorced from our broader context, they will ultimately end up creating something that is useless, or worse yet, may be misused by someone who understands the nature of that design and can exploit it in ways that were never intended. Politics is as much a part of design as craft, aesthetics, and innovation.”

From Design Museum Magazine Issue 023