Adbusters Media Foundations – Design for Change

The Adbusters Media Foundation is a Canadian-based not-for-profit, anti-consumerist, pro-environment organisation. It is  “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age” (Adbusters Media Foundation, 2010) – founded in 1989 by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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The organisation is also the promoter of a magazine with the same name, whose articles concern with corporate disinformation, global injustice and industries and governments who actively pollute and destroy our physical and mental commons. Their biggest aim is to challenge people to become “participants as opposed to spectators” and to create a world where economy and ecology can coexist in harmony. 

Their name is the result of two words “ad”, for advertisement, and “busters”. The organisation, in fact, started to become famous by distorting the language used by big brands to influence people’s choices and breaking down the “veil of Maya” of commercials by making spectators face the reality.

The Adbusters Media Foundations also the supporter of events such as “TV turn off week”, the week without TV, and “Buy nothing day”, a day without buying anything, which every year manage to have the participation of millions of people all around the world.

In 2004 the foundation started producing and selling vegan shoes: the “Blackspot shoes”, a brand that didn’t follow the logics of multinationals and that was inspired by ethical and environmental responsibilities. Adbusters and similar organisation have contributed and still are contributing to waking consumer’s awareness and also to stimulating companies in starting a new path towards sustainability.

In 2011, the agency created on Twitter the hashtag #occupywallstreet, a peaceful strike to protest against the influence of big corporations on democracy and the impunity of those responsible for the global financial crash.

The concept behind this organisation is defined by idealism, the movement which believes that design can and must change society for the best. In a society of symbols where everything is associated with images rather than to words, designers, who have the power to control those images and symbols, should be more aware of the impact that their art can have on people’s choices.

In a book called Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand, it is explained that “the designer must necessarily go through some sort of mental process. Conscious or not, he analyses, interprets, formulates. He is aware of the scientific and technological developments in his own and kindred fields. […] He unifies, simplifies, and eliminates superfluities. He symbolises — abstracts from his material by association and analogy. He intensifies and reinforces his symbol with appropriate accessories to achieve clarity and interest. He draws upon instinct and intuition. He considers the spectator, his feelings and predilections.” (Rand, 1947).

The words above exemplify the role of the designer as a figure in charge not only to imagine or to realise things but also to create an emotional link between himself and the consumer as well as “units of cultural transmission that elicit new behaviour” (Fuad-Luke, 2009).

Design has the power to completely change our way of defining things and our priorities.

The design activity must be considered not only a profession but also an attitude, something that can be accessible to and reproducible by everyone. Designers, organisations, companies, actually everybody has the power and should start to design our future with the awareness that the present cannot contain our current consumerist lifestyle anymore.

We should ask ourselves: “Once we realise that our trajectory has collapsed in upon itself in the most spectacular way, then the question arises, is there a way of rolling it back? How do we stop this march to extinction?” (Abdusters, 2015). This interrogative should be the beginning of design, the start of positive change.

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