Design as a Weapon — Reflections.
Design is a weapon of mass destruction.
Yes, you heard me.
-But how can a form of thinking and creating be equivalent to a nuclear bomb that can kill thousands?
As an Interaction Design student, mental models and metaphors are things that I think about daily. Part of our experience as interaction designers and creators is to constantly evaluate the way I think, we think, and the way society thinks. Design psychology is part and parcel of what we do, and our work heavily involves the use and investigation of visual, psychological and literal language. As part of these investigations, we study the contexts, cultures and histories that are so inextricably tied to these ideas of language and identity, so we can better gauge their relation to how they are used in design and communication. After all, to communicate effectively, you must know what to say.
However, this is where the danger comes in. As designers, we have learned to speak a language. A very dangerous language. A language that allows us to seduce, to encapsulate, to lead, to persuade. At times, these commands are visual, explicit.
-But sometimes, they aren’t.
Yes, we’ve learned a language that can be hidden to the eye, to the mind, to our colloquial sight. We’ve learned a language that can be used to subversively and subconsciously propagate our ideas. We can spread poison through our visuals just as people can use language to spread hate. We can change mental models, influence and create entirely new metaphors, and use these to corrupt and change the course of nature.
-But how can these subversions propagate danger or destruction? Language that has hidden or double meanings can eventually be revealed — exposed. We would assume that the same can be done for design, no?
Yes, I thought so too. Yet, the answer already lies around us. Design is capable of doing all the things policy and literature can do, and more. Design can influence the very ways we live our life. From the products around us, to the landscape, to the art we make, the music we hear, the writing we read and the movies we watch. After all, Design is a reflection of society and our will. But it can also be used to control our will and guide our society. I’ve mentioned this before. The more I think about it, the more it becomes apparent.
Look around you. Waste in the ground, in the sea. Smog in the air, poison in the lungs, debris surrounds us like an aura of guilt and shame. We have destroyed what we had. Why? Because we were not careful, not vigilant. We did not see until it was too late. Until consumerist capitalism had cast its icy cold hand upon our hearts, and driven us to great evils upon our mother nature. This is not leftist propaganda, or fatalist doom preaching. This is fact. We let capitalist design blind us, and we paid dearly. Other evils, both greater and lesser, have been accredited to the pervasiveness of propaganda and design. What we have lost, it may never be regained.
All that remains is a shadow of our former glory burned in our mind.
Perhaps this is our destiny, our great fate, our meaning — to explore, to expand, exploit and finally exterminate. We have finally found it. Or perhaps we have time to change. I find my mind drifting back and forth — is this where we should be going? How can we change? Should we? Do we not deserve this? The answer is that I do not know. I do not know if we are doomed. I do not know if my generation will be the one to guide us to our final resting place in this reality, or to revive and save it. I do not know what the next generation will do, what it will wreak. I do not know what answers the future holds.
So yes, design is a weapon of mass destruction. When nuclear technology became a reality, it was used both to the detriment of man, and to the benefit. It all fell the to who wielded it. The same applies to design. It may not be as destructive as a nuclear bomb, it may not take lives in the thousands within a second, but it the capability to poison our minds and claim millions more. In the right hands, design is our cure. In the other, it is our death.