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Emergent Graphics: Graphic communication as a systems change agent

Format: Papers, RSD12, Topic: Cases & Practice, Topic: Sociotechnical Systems

Simon T. Downs

Graphics, whether you call it design or communications, is a system that has emerged at various times from various societies and through various media, but with a common mode of practice. We communicate using visual means (oh, so many diverse means). And we carry out these communications in ways that are diverse in the visual codes that are applied, but commonly with a small range of intended outcomes: to explain, to demystify and to reduce the complexity of socio-cultural systems too baroque for the citizen to operate without help. Sometimes, these systems are markets, sometimes cities, but graphics are there to help.

While these operations have frequently been exploited to explain the ways of government to the governed and then to sell merch’ to them, too, it doesn’t have to be used that way. The practice of graphics is a process that is agnostic as to the thing being communicated: in 1919, El Lissitzky promoted the Russian Revolution, and in 1924, it was Pelikan Ink. The practice of graphics can move beyond servicing vested interests and be a powerful tool in engaging in dialogic design to address global problems.

The paper uses Meadows’ (1999) Leverage points, Places to intervene in a system, as a structure to consider the clustering of graphic communications practice around certain functions of communication and control, with the intention of using its accumulated practice as a lever for large-scale social change.

KEYWORDS: graphic communication, leverage points, emergent social systems, complex adaptive systems

RSD TOPIC(S): Cases & Practice, Sociotechnical Systems




Citation Data

Author(s): Simon T. Downs
Year: 2023
Title: Emergent Graphics: Graphic communication as a systems change agent
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Washington DC, USA
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 30 September 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404
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