Design and Responsibility

Over the last few months, there’s been lots of talk about responsibility. With the brutal attacks on women emphasizing  the huge inequality of men and women in India, there’ve been lots of arguments all over the media about who should take responsibility: Indian men? Our government? Indian women? Parents? A lot of  what you read in the papers is enough to make you want to tear your hair out. But more and more, the contradictions I see everyday make me angrier… The Times of India chose to name the rape victim and write about her case every day. They started campaigns for women, campaigns to make cities safer. But when the same paper has an article perfectly complimented with a half page Ariel ad, in which cricketer ‘WAGs’ take pride in being able to provide clean clothes to the players, it makes me wonder what on earth they’re thinking. Or whether they’re thinking at all. Or whether they just don’t care.

Surely they can’t miss the connection. Surely they realize that with every ad they run that casts women in the same stereotypical roles as mothers who care about nothing but their children’s food habits or wives who get all their satisfaction from making their husbands white shirts whiter ( In the Ariel ad, Mrs. Prithi Lakshminarayan seems thrilled that every time her husband goes out to play her “performance” shows) they are just re-empahasing the age old roles of women as homemakers and men as bread-winners? Surely they realize this contradicts everything they say about the equality of sexes?

Over the past few days, Indian social media has had their knickers in a twist over JWTs scam ads for Ford. Indians are doing what Indians seem to do best, getting offended. I’m not here to discuss the dozens of stupid things about the ads thats seem to offend them, but it does strike me as odd that what hasn’t seemed to have offended anyone are the images of bound and gagged women in a car trunk! It doesn’t matter who they are, in the present context of women’s equality, it just seems ridiculous. I’m trying to put aside my opinion that the ads are in what I think of as, downright bad taste, and focus on the images we’re adding to our country’s visual vocabulary.

We say media is a powerful thing. We know this to be true. We know that the media has a huge impact on peoples behavior. And yet we take no responsibility for the images we put out there. I say ‘we’ because as much as I argue that advertising is different from design (which it is) the same brands I design identities for, the same brands I design packaging for are the brands agencies create advertising for. I’m not one to be offended by everything. I don’t take everything I see as a personal attack. I understand that people have jobs to do, products to sell. But every time I see packaging for a product that promises to make children smarter and has only little boys on the pack, every time I watch movies where the girl who prays and cooks gets the man, every time I think of my first standard text book where Ramu’s father was a brief case wielding, suit wearing, office going man and Ramu’s mother was a saucepan wielding, saree wearing stay at home woman,  I wonder why we’re surprised that Indian men continue to think of women as inferior. Why we’re surprised by all our politicians who say women should stay at home after dark.

I started thinking about my role as a designer. Who am I responsible to? At work, I’m immediately responsible to my Creative Director. I’m responsible to my colleagues since I work with them. I’m responsible to my bosses who hired me. But lets go beyond that… I’m responsible to myself, of course. But I’m also responsible to the community. Designers, film makers, advertisers.. we’re all responsible to our communities, our country and our culture. WE are responsible for the images and messages that we put out there. Every time we unconsciously fill our work with damaging stereotypes and dismiss it as ‘doing our jobs’ we’re adding to the country’s visual vocabulary and  failing our country. We’re failing the causes we tweet so passionately about, the causes we share on Facebook and comment on outraged. And by doing that, we fail ourselves. I’m not saying we should all quit our jobs or fire the first unfortunate person who gets made the scapegoat of each public issue.. All I’m saying, is that it’s time we took some responsibility.

The article on cricket WAGs and the conveniently place Ariel ad

The article on cricket WAGs and the conveniently place Ariel ad

One of Ford ads by JWT

One of Ford ads by JWT

Horlicks Pro Mind (that promises to make children- no, boys- smarter) And yes, I think putting a boy there and not a girl was a conscious decision.

Horlicks Pro Mind (that promises to make children- no, boys- smarter) And yes, I think putting a boy there and not a girl was a conscious decision.

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3 thoughts on “Design and Responsibility

  1. I have always suspected that by being part of Media these past two and and a half decades, I am pretty much at the cutting edge of all that’s wrong with the world. Anya, your take on it all is superb articulation of every ad-man with a conscience… Go on, push the envelope, you’ve got age on your side. Best wishes!

  2. Thank you Peter and Aditya! I have to admit though that I haven’t been confronted with a situation at work yet that has made me uncomfortable with imagery I’m projecting… I hope, if and when I do, that I’m able to deal with it in a way that stays true to all I’ve written.

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