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Stop, Think, Go, Do by Mirko Ilic, Steven Heller

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The language of advocacy has a common goal: alter behavior
and act upon instincts, whatever the outcome may be.
ADVOCATE
Designers create messages that rouse audiences to
support, and therefore engage in, an issue or event,
cause or mission—or anything else that falls under the
rubric of advocacy. Doing so is a large challenge. How
these messages are framed can mean the difference
between action and inaction. Activating the conscience
of an otherwise information-saturated segment of the
population is not as easy as it sounds. Beautiful typography
and elegant imagery are not always the most effective
motivators. Pleasingly designed compositions may lull
the viewer into acquiescence rather than spark the flame
that steams the engine. The right balance of “good” and
“appropriate” design is required, and this cannot be
predetermined with a one-size-fits-all template. What
pushes our buttons or not is situational and contextual.
Behavior is not impacted by design alone; other envi-
ronmental, emotional, and social factors contribute to
whether a targeted message hits the mark.
Arguably, the most effective advocacy missives are the
ones that use surprise—even shock—to draw attention
and impart a command. “Help Hunger Disappear”
(page 58), with the six-foot-tall word hunger made from
stacked Campbell’s soup cans, is a textbook example.
Graphically it employs familiar labels, but the cumu-
lative impact of seeing hundreds of cans forming the
word hunger is surprising enough to demand more than
a second look. The fact that the cans are meant to be
removed, thus disassembling the word, provides an
interactive component that most printed billboards or
posters cannot achieve. It is surprising, commanding,
and demanding all at once.
Not as cleverly designed but just as smartly conceived is
the campaign titled “I’m Sorry. We Could Have Stopped
Catastrophic Climate Change . . . We Didn’t” (page 61),
demanding action at the Copenhagen 2009 climate
change conference that uses ironic prescience to move
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the masses. By aging the faces of today’s world leaders—
including Barack Obama and José Luis Zapatero—to
appear as they might look in 2020, the campaign sets
up the possibility that by not acting on climate change
today, they made the planet worse off over a decade later.
Apologies do not help, so the viewer is asked to “act now.
Although “I amsterdam” (page 56) is not political in
tone or content, it is advocating for citizens to take own-
ership of their city. I am in red and sterdam in white as
six-foot-plus-tall letters is as in-your-face as a statement
can get with as minimal means as possible. The street
installation advocates ownership while allowing for
interactive play. The slogan “I amsterdam” is memorable
and empowering.
Street objects as agitprop are effective advocacy tools.
The “Make Trade Fair” (page 57) protest against the
World Trade Organization uses the idea of equality
among trading nations as its basic message but
underpins the sentiment with messages emblazoned
on colorful shipping containers that catch the eye and
leave a mental “cookie.” What says trade better than
these ubiquitous containers.?
The “Climate Change” (page 52) campaign transforms
everyday objects, flora, and fauna into letters that spell
out the words in question. Rendered in a storybook
representational drawing style, these posters are an
interactive game that invites the audience to play and
learn, while absorbing the message.
Change may be an amorphous thing to advocate for
or against, but it is a charged word. It suggests a new
beginning or it can be a tired bromide. When it is posted
on the street to announce that “Victoria is Changing”
(page 69), it implies the command that the people of
Victoria should embrace whatever is to come. Or if
cynical, it could mean “spare some change,” but even
that sentiment provokes a certain kind of behavior.
Possibly the most poignant example of advocacy is the
send-up of the typical cardboard homeless sign—which
has become such an urban streetscape fixture. For the
“= Less Poverty” campaign (page 73), the ironic statement
“Hungry. Will Work For Dignity, Respect, Human Rights”
speaks to more than just a hot meal—to more than
mere survival. In this vernacular scrawl, these words
have powerful meaning that reminds everyone that
there is more to life than just living.
The images and campaigns under the Advocacy um-
brella demand attention. Designed to trigger response,
passivity is not an option. Whether the design advocates
social change or consumer engagement, the language
of advocacy has a common goal: alter behavior and act
upon instincts, whatever the outcome may be.
stop, think, go, do
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