2012 6th International Conference on Design Principles and Practices. Los Angeles ‘Not Anarchy in the UK: How Can Designers Promote Social Values?’ Paper Published by The International Journal of Design in Society Authors: Pete Nevin & Mikel Horl

2012 6th International Conference on Design Principles and Practices. Los Angeles ‘Not Anarchy in the UK: How Can Designers Promote Social Values?’ Paper Published by The International Journal of Design in Society Authors: Pete Nevin & Mikel Horl


Not Anarchy in the UK: How Can Designers Promote Social Values?

Mikel Horl, Teesside University, UK
Pete Nevin, Universitas Siswa Bangsa Internasional, Indonesia

Abstract: Design has a great responsibility in society. It is one of the most important drivers in our culture, yet it often goes unnoticed or unrecognised. To affect positive change we have to stop peddling “drugs” in the form of eye-candy and designer façades and set about establishing a value system, providing constructive services to society. Design needs to be people-serving and to operate within society, not without. As educators directing design curricula in a changing world, we have to ask ourselves significant questions about the role of designers in this society and as a cultural force. The summer of 2011 in England saw scenes of people looting the latest consumer commodities, leading to a sense of despair at a society that values hollow consumer objects above real values. As the Arab world riots for democracy, our children riot for sportswear and KFC. Our current obsessions with celebrity and achievement, often unmerited, are only symptoms of a greater malaise. We believe that human values provide the key to happiness and a balanced society. First and foremost it is essential to value the self. This requires opportunity for genuine reflection and growth as an individual with a sense of one’s attributes and abilities. It is also essential to value one’s relationships with others, to value friendship and family, to be rewarded on merit and to work for the good of others. However, to truly value the self, one needs to feel valued. Here is the fault-line, disenfranchised people, most notably young people who feel they already have been discarded, pursue magpie baubles: material trophies from a meaningless crusade. This paper explores the role of design within a social context.

Keywords: Creative, Design Curriculum, Responsibilities of Designers, Social Design, Human Interaction, Future Design, Service Design, Information Design, Desire, Human Needs

The background to this paper is a period of social unrest, in the summer of 2011, in London, Manchester and other cities in England. The events, described in the English media as “UK Riots”, have been viewed in the context of public disorder in other cities

around the world in 2011, raising questions relating to design’s responsibility to society. The main concerns have been to consider the contribution of design and designers to this breakdown in a normally stable society: to question the roles and responsibilities of designers and consider the consequences of creativity, aesthetics and ingenuity. This paper asks if designers can be held responsible for public disorder, and how designers might be employed to address some of the social issues that have arisen. th

The riots are said to have started in Tottenham, London, on 6 August then spread to other parts of England. This was an expression of English discontent, only lasting for a few days. BBC News, providing maps and a timeline of events, announced:

“Riots in London and around the country saw widespread looting and buildings set alight. Dozens were left homeless after a night of riots on the streets of Tottenham after a peaceful demonstration on 6 August over the death of a man who was shot by police turned violent.” (BBC News 2013)

Understanding the riots, the causes of the unrest and the ways in which it spread, caused a media feeding-frenzy, with constant streaming news and commentary followed by months of discussion and reaction. The Daily Mail launched an attack on the parents of rioters: “We are not merely up against feral children, but feral parents” (Phillips 2011). The Mail also appeared to endorse special measures introduced by the government including extra police powers, the very thing that many felt had started the trouble.

The Daily Mirror presented a view of a divided society, with divisions exposed in family units and suggesting a kind of technological retribution:

“One by one, the rioters and looters accused of rampaging across the country were hauled before the courts yesterday. With their hoodies and bandannas no longer hiding their faces, the thugs who left us in the grip of anarchy for four days were finally exposed – and most of them were teenagers. Some were as young as 11 and had been shopped by their mums. Others had been hunted down by police sifting through CCTV and Facebook.” (Parry 2011)

The Telegraph reported that the police were using Twitter to send messages and attempt to monitor communications:

“16.51 West Midlands Police have released a statement on Twitter. We are aware of unsubstantiated messages on Twitter, Facebook and BBM about disorder at 6pm in Birmingham this evening. We have not seen any incidents, but we will have extra officers on patrol in the centre and suburbs this evening” (Holehouse 2013)

Events became perplexing and disconcerting, as it emerged that disturbances were occurring around the country for apparently different reasons. Many people had the means to express and even publish their view, instantaneously, along with rumours, conjecture and “factual” information. Reportage was in the hands of the protagonists, spectators and bystanders.

In September 2011 The Guardian, in association with London School of Economics, launched “a data-driven study into the causes and consequences of the August riots” (The Guardian 2011).

This included a highly detailed, interactive timeline, outlining the key moments, places and victims. The commissioning of this extended information graphic led to the presentation of “factual” events in an interactive form we would normally associate with a game, or recreational online activity (Blight 2011).


The expression “Anarchy in the UK” was widely used by several media sources: a catchy phrase with some resonance in the public psyche. Anarchy in the UK was a song released by the Sex Pistols in 1976 and represented an alternative view to established conventions of the time. The song was a defiant rallying cry, but it offered no direction and no solutions to any problems of the age. It encouraged expression and protest without the need to establish a cause or desirable outcome. The expression itself was deemed to be enough.

In 2007 a BBC magazine article revisited the title and looked into its possible meanings. The article noted use of the phrase by David Cameron, then Leader of the Opposition, to build an image of a “nation under siege”:

“But just when you thought it had become little more than a neutered music hall turn, Mr Cameron spoke of Anarchy In The UK in a spate of interviews. As a result the phrase regained its shock value and its place in the tabloid headlines.” (BBC News 2007)

2011 saw public unrest in many other parts of the world and by comparison the events in the United Kingdom may seem insignificant. So why was the story consumed so voraciously by the UK media? Was it because stories are bigger if they are closer to home?

The people of Japan coped with earthquakes, tsunamis and major nuclear power plant leaks requiring enormous security operations occupying the emergency services but there were no reported incidents of opportunistic looting, or disrespect to the property of others.

In 2011 there were uprisings in Egypt, Syria and civil war in Libya. In Iran in December there were violent protests outside the British Embassy. In cities around the world there were protests against inequality and demands for justice on behalf of “the other 99%” (Stolarik 2013). By the end of the year the most commonly used English word on the internet and in print was “occupy”, according to a survey by the Global Language Monitor, a media analysis company (Wardrop 2013).

“Occupy Wall Street” spread to many other cities around the world, including London.

In Egypt protest was for basic democratic rights and to remove a despotic ruler. In Greece thousands of people took to the streets in response to the crisis in the Euro Zone, protesting against the way that the economy was being handled and against extreme austerity measures


imposed by their government. In Russia the disturbances and public protests were as a result of an election that was alleged to be fixed. So what were the English rioting for? Material goods? Kudos? Peer esteem? Some found it very difficult to see any sense of purpose or any particular cause for protest:

“This was zero-degree protest, a violent action demanding nothing.” (Žižek 2011)

To the participants however, rather than “demanding nothing” this was about simply taking everything. Instant access to material goods, regardless of the ability to pay the asking price, driven by desire rather than need. It was noted by one blogger that “The discerning looters in JD Sports were trying things on before deciding which pair of trainers to take home” (Void 2011). Perhaps this was the most shocking realization: that large groups of people had been driven to lawlessness out of boredom, hopelessness and desire for “things”, and that shopping had become the focus of discontent and a vehicle for expression.

Protest had initially been against oppressive police practices in Tottenham but the vast majority of “protesters” in other locations appeared to have little interest in the incident that triggered the disturbances. The UK summer riots were all over after a few days, but they brought fears of repetitions, intensified by the knowledge that the eyes of the world would be on London for the 2012 Olympic Games.

So what was the role of design in this year of unrest? How might spatial, fashion, graphic, product, web and other forms of design have contributed to problems either through their presence or absence? Consequently what can design and designers do to promote social values and improve interpersonal relations?

Social Issues, the Media and the Role of Design

“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” (McLuhan 1964)

Much has been written and discussed about the role of the media in public disorder. However there has been less consideration of the parts that designers may have played and may be able to play in the future, in addressing the arising issues.

Journalists, commentators, police and designers were all very busy as a result of the riots. Information graphics, web pages, apps, newsfeeds, newspapers, journals, special supplements, all needed to be designed and, as always, there were plenty of designers on hand to help out.

Mobile communications were said by the media to have played a role in the organization and planning of riots. But the ubiquitous smart phone was also used by the media to broadcast events as they happened. Outside of the mainstream, media sub-groups were broadcasting their own action via Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Blackberry messaging. Many of these “broadcasts” were a call to action.

Media coverage was expansive and detailed. There were great moral debates and some extraordinary stories and pictures published. But was the media helping the situation or encouraging more discord?

Were the events designed to happen? Or did they just happen in haphazard fashion over a period of time? Many reports claimed that the police were out-manoeuvred by groups who were “connected” via mobile communications. The Blackberry messaging system has been designed for secure business networking but this appears to be ideal for organising events in closed groups. The police, trained to identify the ring-leaders and rabble-rousers, found it impossible to establish the source of the messages.

There appeared to be a strategy: not to be in the same place as the police at the same time. Enabled by technology we saw collaboration, social interaction and vernacular design, as an emerging, destructive force. These were not people normally considered to be designers but were they not responsible for designed activity?


Alistair Fuad-Luke proposes that “Design is the act of deliberately moving from an existing situation to a preferred one by professional designers or others applying design knowingly or unknowingly” (Fuad-Luke 2009). The “preferred situation” may not be clear to any lawful citizen but that does not mean that it was not clear to the “others” involved in these events.

The designer and writer Adrian Shaughnessy suggested that the design profession may have some responsibility:

One group has so far escaped blame: designers. Hardly surprising — who could possibly think that we mild mannered individuals are somehow responsible for murder, theft, arson and civil disobedience on an apocalyptic scale? And yet, a salient feature of these riots has been the fact that the main target of the attacks has been the shops of the major retail brands of British commercial life.” (Shaughnessy 2011)

Designers can be said to have supplied desirable products and services at the centre of much of the disquiet. This revolution was truly accessorized. Designer labels really seemed to matter as symbols of status and power: even the food and drinks stolen indicated strong brand loyalty. This association with brands to promote self-identity to one’s peers is exploited by designers and advertisers on a daily basis, maybe without ever fully appreciating any possible negative consequences or side-effects.

Services, commodities and brands have built in “desire” buttons. What happens when these buttons are pressed? Designers have long practiced the arts of illusion, deception and persuasion, affecting moods, emotions, desires and actions. Commodity culture has encouraged growth of this need to manipulate the behaviour of individuals and of large social groups.

“They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They’re on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are the advertisers and they are laughing at you.” (Banksy 2005)

How does one deal with the emotions that are a consequence of advertising, acquisition of material goods and the associated desires and aspirations? Apple’s success in making us love their products has a flip side. The emotional designs of Jonathan Ive may have side effects that we are yet to see. For the moment most designers are only seeing the positive:

“Products designed for more relaxed, pleasant occasions can enhance their usability through pleasant, aesthetic design. Aesthetics matter: attractive things work better.” (Norman 2002)

However, to create the desire and then deliver the products to market has an ethical dimension and presents a dilemma that entrepreneurs, innovators and producers, as well as designers and their paymasters, now need to address.

Designers as Agents of Change

The designer’s job can be very rewarding, and the results of creative project work can be gratifying on several levels. However, when designers are given time to stop and think about the consequences of their actions they often feel very uneasy.

In 1964 the designer Ken Garland published the “First Things First” manifesto, a reaction to the commodity culture that had grown out of mass production and corporate growth. Designers were feeling a sense of futility about the work they were asked to do and were also developing


the confidence and assurance to raise it as an issue, not only with their employers and clients but also with the general public:

“…we are proposing a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication.” (Garland 1964)

As the last century closed First Things First was rediscovered and revisited by a group of leading design professionals, mainly working in the Graphic Design and Advertising industries. These were prosperous times but the updated manifesto revealed a growing dissatisfaction:

“…The profession’s time and energy is used up manufacturing demand for things that are inessential at best. Many of us have grown increasingly uncomfortable with this view of design. Designers who devote their efforts primarily to advertising, marketing and brand development are supporting, and implicitly endorsing, a mental environment so saturated with commercial messages that it is changing the very way citizen- consumers speak, think, feel, respond and interact. To some extent we are all helping draft a reductive and immeasurably harmful code of public discourse. There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills. Unprecedented environmental, social and cultural crises demand our attention. Many cultural interventions, social marketing campaigns, books, magazines, exhibitions, educational tools, television programmes, films, charitable causes and other information design projects urgently require our expertise and help. We propose a reversal of priorities in favour of more useful, lasting and democratic forms of communication – a mindshift away from product marketing and toward the exploration and production of a new kind of meaning. The scope of debate is shrinking; it must expand. Consumerism is running uncontested; it must be challenged by other perspectives expressed, in part, through the visual languages and resources of design…” (Poynor 1999)

The Massive Change project established by Bruce Mau in 2004 addresses a number of the same concerns as First Things First but runs deeper into environmental, interdisciplinary, collaborative directions. The project was launched with a challenge:

“We must ask ourselves: Now that we can do anything what will we do?” (Mau 2004)

The design professions now appear to be evolving and promoting awareness of their social impact and responsibility. In November 2010 the American Institute of Graphic Arts amended its Standards of Professional Practice, to include two additional clauses:

“7.2 A professional designer is encouraged to contribute five percent of his or her time to projects in the public good-projects that serve society and improve the human experience.

7.3 A professional designer shall consider environmental, economic, social and cultural implications of his or her work and minimize the adverse impacts.” (AIGA 2010)

Although they may be considered small gestures these are significant steps towards a true understanding of the value of design practice. The AIGA’s Design For Good (AIGA 2011) project is one of many proactive initiatives that now give designers a place to act upon their instincts and concerns.

Structures and directions for proactive design activity can also be found within the Five Capitals Framework (Forum for the Future, 2011). This framework defines five areas of capital value that can be attained in order to enable sustainable growth: Natural, Human, Social,




Financial and Manufactured. These capitals can challenge designers to develop understanding of value and worth, together with a greater appreciation of the ethics of fabricating desire.

So what can designers do about the monsters they have helped to create? Adrian Shaughnessy is perplexed but sees some hope:

“What is to be done? Interestingly, for some time now, I’ve watched the emergence of a generation of design students and young designers who don’t want to become the agents of commercial seduction. They are looking for a new role — one where social value is the new capital, not the sales charts of brand owners. Suddenly, they seem like the only acceptable future for design.” (Shaughnessy 2011).

Shaughnessy stops short of saying what these young designers will or can do, he just says they are looking for a role. How might this role present itself and is it compatible with the world of the commercial artist?

In January 2012 a group of postgraduate Design students were asked for their thoughts on public disorder and designers’ roles and responsibilities. Aristotelis Mavropoulos, a 21-year-old graphic designer, thought that the best approach would be people-centred:

“We are here to make the future function better by asking people what they actually need. We must help them understand what is quantity and what is quality; what means ‘I need’ and what means ‘I want’.”

Shirley Wells, a textile designer and community arts leader, suggested harnessing natural human attributes of knowledge, experience and emotion:

“We can say we ‘know’ when we have experienced something and we can empathise with the experiences of others. Artists/designers are ‘feeling’ people and take others’ emotions into account.”

Communication tools and online environments were of particular interest to Costas Kyriacou, a graphic designer from Cyprus:

“…I think the most powerful tool for social change is the internet, especially in the case of regressive societies. It is the positive side of globalisation. Consequently, web design has a role to play. The online environment can be designed more easily and is more flexible, bearing fewer practical limitations than the physical world.”

These views and others expressed seemed to indicate that hope and salvation could be found by thinking of people first and by more sensitive, empathic use of technology.

At the beginning of the 21st century it became apparent that “the power of graphic design to cross borders and join cultures in solidarity has never been more pertinent” (McQuiston 2004). This is a view that has gained substance with the development of a more social use of the internet, utilising broadband, wi-fi and mobile communications technologies.

Designers and others, working together across disciplines, could now take positive action and see activism as an important part of their practice. Learning from the events of 2011 and other examples of agitation, social disorder and protest, designers can take a more active role in developing social and cultural capital for their own communities, “motivating, activating and transforming people” (Fuad-Luke 2009).

By adopting co-design as an approach, designers can connect, create, contribute, facilitate and transform. Working together they can find their own individual means of expression and apply this to the creation and establishment and of new, evolving, societal values.



“All design is social, as design is the enactment of human instinct and a construct that facilitates the materialization of our world.” (Fuad-Luke 2009)

Although not solely responsible for the public disorder in the UK in 2011, designers can clearly be seen to have played their part in creating desire and communicating contributory memes. The violence and unrest was exceptional in some ways but could be seen as a natural consequence of our fascination with material goods, our rapidly accelerating communications systems and our less than advanced abilities to share the world’s resources and to communicate with honesty and integrity.

So how might designers be employed to address some of the social issues that have arisen? The design industry and individual designers need to recognise that they have responsibility to world society and that their decisions can have global impact. The world now needs to be capable of taking more objective views to reach rational and workable conclusions. Designers also need to recognise that their abilities can be applied well beyond the perceived parameters of their design subject area, to all aspects of planning, organisation, systems, operations and services.

Alice Rawsthorne notes that designers are now being consulted on a broader range of issues:

“There have been few moments in history when design has faced so many challenges and opportunities, and when the rest of the world has been as amenable to allowing designers to tackle them.” (Rawsthorne 2011)

The circumstances of our age can best be met by developing social values and a sense of personal and collective responsibility: lifelong learning; appreciation of public and personal property; respect for others; partnership, collaboration, achievement of common goals; positive social behaviour and human interaction; respect for the self and one’s value to others; honesty, integrity and responsibility.

As a progressive society we need to promote the value of projects and services rather than jobs and careers; develop environments where creative individuals exchange skills and knowledge towards the needs of others; manage expectations and desires beyond the individual and towards service of communities. The education of all designers should be less passive and accepting of the status quo. Standards of professional practice, as outlined by AIGA and other organisations, should be discussed by all designers and addressed through their own programmes of professional development.

As educators, leaders of academic programmes and as creative directors of design projects the authors of this paper are establishing a set of initiatives to facilitate social transformation. We are adopting approaches that will encompass participatory design, metadesign, transformation design and design activism. For this to be successful we need to involve people from diverse backgrounds and expertise from multiple disciplines.

The communications revolutions of our electronic and digital ages have enabled many successful developments in collaborative thinking and collective action. Crowd-sourcing, crowd- funding and crowd-writing are now allowing the shared ownership of ideas to flourish.

The tools and methods that are now available to us have arrived at a time when we need to be working beyond national and continental boundaries.

In 1947 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy proposed the establishment of a Parliament of Social Design (Kostelanetz 1970), advocating the practice of Social Design and collective decision-making regarding issues and human qualities that are highly relevant today: Creativity, Industry (diligence, determination, capacity and need to work), Instincts: personal survival, helping others in need, altruism, interaction and participation.

The proposal by Moholy-Nagy was made just after the Second World War. Initial support in the immediate aftermath dissipated as the reality of the Cold War dawned. The time was deemed to be wrong for political reasons but now we believe that the time is right for the world to catch up with the Avant Garde. The principles and goals are in alignment with many related initiatives, including Forum for the Future, Massive Change, Design for Good and First Things First, all discussed in this paper. A response is now proposed to Moholy-Nagy’s visionary plan. Designers on several sites in different parts of the world will now be invited to form and establish a Parliament of Social Design. They will work in consultation to develop a structure, interface and mechanisms for decision making. The remit of the “Parliament” will be to initiate projects and lobby for support and implementation of plans and ideas.

The participants will decide upon their own priorities, targets and goals and will develop mechanisms for the implementation of societal change. Connectivity provided by the internet will allow the organisation to function without the limitations of physical spaces and national or continental boundaries. Participating designers will be encouraged to see their work as meaningful and productive research that can be disseminated via conferences, exhibitions and other public events. Practical design research projects and enterprising activities can grow from this paper, to be investigated by interdisciplinary groups of researchers on multiple sites.

Through this project it is envisaged that the events of 2011 can be learned from and used as a catalyst for social change, demanding that designers step forward and see activism as an essential aspect of their professional development, engage in social design and capitalise on the work of the Avant Garde. Wake up Lazslo, your time has come!

“Imagine a better future. Find your allies. Share tools. Build it. Start now.” (Steffen 2006)


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Mikel Horl: Mikel Horl is a graphic artist, designer, publisher and educator. In London in 1994 Horl co-founded the Angels of Georges Braque (AgB) graphic arts collective with Pete Nevin. AgB exhibited and initiated numerous creative and educational activities in the late 1990s in the UK, the Baltic States and Canada. Horl has for many years explored the creative potential of sequence and the multiple in creative production and has made and shown graphic works in a range of traditional and digital media. In 2011 he delivered a paper to the Electronic Visual Arts conference in London, proposing new directions for creative publishing. Mikel Horl established the MA Future Design and the Digital Arts and Design Academy at Teesside University in 2008 and continues to co-ordinate Art and Design postgraduate study. Horl’s recent and current projects investigate social design, design activism and interdisciplinary art and design.

Prof. Pete Nevin: Pete Nevin is a designer, educator, art practitioner and writer. In professional design practice Nevin has collaborated with a number of high profile clients, most notably Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria. Nevin has been developing interactive and social approaches to art and design, utilising relationships between new and traditional forms such as “Pepper’s Ghost” and exploring the haptic nature of interaction. Works have been realised across a breadth of digital media processes and techniques including speech recognition, motion interaction, video works and large scale digital prints via 3D software. The development and installation of these works at venues including The Rotermann Salt Storage, Estonian National Art Museum, Tallinn, Estonia, the Darlington Railway Museum, UK and the Millennium Dome, UK, have questioned the conventions of arts and design expression and communication. Nevin’s teaching proposes new directions for graphic arts and design and he is particularly passionate about the role of the designer in society.


Volume 6, 2013, http://www.designprinciplesandpractices.com, ISSN 2325-1328 © Common Ground, Mikel Horl, Pete Nevin, All Rights Reserved Permissions: cg-support@commongroundpublishing.com

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