I already told of my ambivalent feelings about the subject I do my bachelor thesis on. Of course the topics chosen by the students of each year are diverse. Some do the completely applied projects like a corporate design. Others do the more analytical works as a reflection on design through design.
But there is always the small group of people who choose a more socially relevant field to explore. One of my fellow students does a project on social values, another one on the historical phenomenon of the so called «Verdingkinder», orphans who were given to families which had to care for them. But this care in the end was a status free of any personal rights and dominated by hard work for the foster home. These projects – as well as my own one – were chosen with the idea of starting an examination on a truly relevant subject. The intention to use the powerful possibilities of visual communication to get a complex topic across to an audience which possibly represses or denies its knowledge of it, enclosed by a wall of prejudice that determines the topic's perception, is definitly an honorable one. But one of my fellow sufferers asked me some days ago when we had a desperate conversation about our projects, whether we always had to try to save the world. A good question.
In view of the research done in the context of visual communication about how the society in general and everyone of us individually is influenced and led by images and visual signs, the people who deal with the image as a medium seem to deal with a kind of weapon. We know that the written word can be powerful – as even some people believe the world was created through words. But the image is much more invasive. It is perceived unconsciously and affects us before we become aware of its content. But just the fact that the image is consumed that fast and unknowingly, makes it such an extremly complex task to formulate a particular message unmistakably. I think the greatest ability of visual communication is to initiate the overcoming of established versions of truth through stimulating a process of reflection. That's the real first league! But a great philosopher called Spider-Man once came to the conclusion: With great power comes great responsibility. Does this apply for us designers, too?
The last days I spent at school sitting in front of my desk that is covered with papers, essays and books on my thesis' topic. It's not the stuff someone would expect on a desk of a design student as I can't remember any great graphical works by Marx or Bourdieu! Maybe that's why I was – like my «social topic» coleagues – asking myself again and again why I had to choose this topic of social decline and exclusion. Is it because I think that a kind of responsiblity can be actually deduced from the skills I've learned? Or is it only a try to exaggerate a craft by constructing a moral meta level, by defining a kind of categorical imperative? Is there a responsibility we designer have to fulfil? Or is it just a sadistic trait of a few students which forces them to do such complicated and sensitive projects now and for evermore?