Design for Place, Placemaking through Design

September 7, 2017

This is a summary of a presentation of branding concepts developed by grassroots movements in Tel Aviv.

Design always is political. There is no unpolitical action. There is no design without context.

As people engage with their world their decisions define the political and cultural agenda and, of course, how people take and make place. During my research project in Tel Aviv, I was lucky enough to be invited to a presentation of communication design and branding projects aiming to strengthen a liberal political approach in Israel.

I want to thank Ada Rothenberg who invited me to this session. Ada is a designer working in branding and communication herself and a teacher at The David and Yolanda Katz Faculty of the Arts. I got to know her through my preliminary research for my research trip to Israel. I was intrigued by her openness to discuss matters of design and life and wish her all the best for her future projects.

Design for Place, Placemaking through Design

During the presentation, four projects were displayed. I will try to do my best to recap these projects. The session itself was held in Hebrew. Ada kindly translated words and content for me.

The first project was about giving refugees from Africa a voice in Israel, the second project dealt with the rising influence of orthodox views in secular education, the third one played with the notions of *Peace* and *Occupation* in context of the Palestinian conflict, and the fourth aimed to strengthen politically left viewpoints through humour and satire.

Projects I: Refugees at the Bar

Migration and especially migration of refugees is a tense topic in many places. While the numbers of people that flee and resettle are variable and often minimal compared to the total amount of inhabitants that are residents at a certain location the unknown gets exploited by political discourses and media for either more power or profit. Having said that, images people have in mind about migration are often faceless. Many people are merely dealing with numbers that are sometimes incorrect but not with individual human fates. The project of Refugees at the Bar aims to this direction.

The designers around the project came up with an event design that allows people with migration background to tell their personal stories. In their first communication attempt, a campaign was created that showed the individuals’ faces and illustrations of the journey they had to take to get to Israel. In a combination of illustration, photography and storytelling the visual language focuses on the intimate experience of flight and place making in an uncertain environment. The yet to be held event will create a space in which these eight people will tell their own stories in their own voices. Design in that sense was aimed to be used for branding purpose up-front but not to tinker with experiences made on the way to Israel.

Projects II: Secular vs. Orthodox Education

Dealing with rising religious influence in education in recent times most Western-oriented education systems stick to a secular road. Yet I remember that the Christian symbol of the cross was always a part in my class rooms during primary and secondary education. I guess it still is there at the very same spot. There is, however, a difference in symbols that are kept tolerated due to certain cultural codes and the active indoctrination of religious views aiming in strengthening political power.

As an attempt to counter the gradual process of an increase of Orthodox viewpoints in education the second project came up with a two folded strategy. Firstly the initiators created a branding strategy that allowed people to mark themselves as associates of secular viewpoints. Secondly, the initiators came up with several 5 to 10 minutes long sketches that dealt with the daily business of religion in Jewish life and their expression in education. The movies showed kids being taught to stick to Orthodox behaviour and restricting their parents when breaking certain codes of orthodoxy.

Project III: Peace and Occupation

What do notions mean anyway? Different concepts attach to different words. Various truths are possible depending on context.  In an attempt to deconstruct the meanings of “Peace” and “Occupation” the designers of this project played with notions and terms typographically. By creating a visual language around possible meanings the team created a visual system including a set of poster and flyer designs that put Israeli identity on the verge.

The logo itself consists of a combination of the two words (peace and occupation in Hebrew) being morphed into one term. While peace and occupation, at least for me, do not feel like antonyms, the fragmented logo certainly held an interesting approach and showed how Israeli identity is connected to and torn in the socio-political context.

The designers further created a set of statements like: “Occupation is what you can see from your rooftop. It is only 5 kilometres away.”, or “Occupation took God from me!” The designers pushed in towards a strategy of disturbance.

Project III: Proud to be Left

In the region of the Middle-East Israel is considered as the only established democratic republic. Freedom of speech is an essential and not deniable asset of a system considered to be democratic. However, there is a vast landscape gap between applied and potential freedom of speech.

The project Proud to be Left presented a branding campaign in favour of strengthening leftish discourses in Israeli politics. The designers created a visual language in which people with politically left associated ideas were given a platform to strengthen their viewpoints. The posters showed portraits of people expressing their Israeli heritage and their leftish political viewpoints arguing that there is a strong and long ongoing left discourse that is currently under distress.

Creating is tough. Being a critic is easy. I was amazed by the projects being presented. They are still, in an early stage, but they showed potential, energy, and critical ability. All four projects were driven by a diverse conglomerate of people. I was lucky enough to get to know their approaches. Thank you.