The advertising industry is at the heart of today’s culture of consumption. Glossy magazine spreads convince us that we’ll be respected and envied if we drive a new car, seductive billboards tell us that a new perfume will transform our relationships, and televised juice adds make us believe that a happy home lies in the purchase of the right beverage. We see advertisements for products everywhere every day–from the sides of cars and the windows of storefronts to napkin dispensers and the stickers on our fruit. But what would happen if we could turn the powerful arm of advertising around? What if, instead of advertising for the consumer mindset that has led us to exploit the Earth’s resources, we advertised instead for a new mindset of care, community, and sustainability?
Helmut Langer, an internationally-recognized graphic designer (and creator of the DMI logo!) has begun to explore that very question. He recently worked with 190 graphic design students at twenty universities across five continents to create posters that advertise for a healthier, more sustainable world. The posters, all designed around the theme “Climate Change,” were originally to be displayed at the United Nations World Climate Change Conference in Mexico, 2010. Although the event was canceled, the posters are now on view at the Musashino Art University Museum & Library in Tokyo.
Although a single poster exhibit is not enough to counteract the immensely powerful pull of today’s advertising machine, it is one example of a new awareness in the graphic design industry that includes books, conferences, and entire studios dedicated to designing for sustainability and social value. More importantly, it’s an example of how people–designers, teachers, engineers, business owners, bankers, lawyers, anyone!–can use their talents and skills to promote a healthier world instead of eroding it.
Someday, hopefully, we’ll live in a culture where people would rather look at the sky than sell it for billboard space. But, until we get there, wouldn’t you rather see posters like these ones in place of advertisements for sodas, shampoos, and SUVs? What other ways can we use our collective talent to promote a new mindset?