GDE720 – Week 3: The Political Compass

For this week, I chose to look at UMK, the United Microkingdoms, a project by Dunne & Raby, as a case study for information design, and in this particular case, how the usage of a political compass can give us further insight into speculative design ideas.

The United Microkingdoms is a fictional future England invented for an exhibition at the Design Museum by Dunne and Raby. In this speculative exhibition, they don’t ask, “What is good design?”. Instead, they ask, “For whom might this design be good?” (Moore, 2013). That brings us to the use of the political spectrum in determining value and usability by sociopolitical desires. In the UMK, Dunne & Raby categorize their speculative design projects on a political spectrum or compass. 

http://unitedmicrokingdoms.org/introduction/

A compass is typically used to characterize and classify different political positions (Heywood, 2017). This compass is divided into four quadrants, Authoritarian and Libertarian, located on opposite ends of the Y-Axis. In contrast, Left and Right (an economic scale) are located on opposite ends of the X-Axis. 

Dunne & Raby’s Digicars is an electric self-driving car that can efficiently optimize its navigation, constantly calculating the best economical route. (Dunne & Raby, 2013) It is classified as a Digitarian invention, closer to the authoritarian right on the political spectrum.

http://unitedmicrokingdoms.org/digitarians/

Train is a Communo-nuclearist speculative project that uses nuclear power as a source of unlimited energy and requires a safe and controlled environment for their exclusive population. (Dunne & Raby, 2013) They are classified as authoritarian left on the political compass.

http://unitedmicrokingdoms.org/communo-nuclearists/

Biocars, a project devised by the imaginary Bioliberals, is an organic vehicle reliant on sustainable forms of fuel. However, the invention is described as “bulky, messy, and smelly.” (Dunne & Raby, 2013) It is best suited to be placed along the Libertarian left part of the spectrum.

http://unitedmicrokingdoms.org/bioliberals/

Very Large Bike, the last project in this series, is classified as an Anarcho-Evolutionist’s dream. This vehicle relies on group travel, assigning roles suited to each individual on the bike. Those who cannot pedal, such as the elderly or young and weak, provide other forms of support, such as entertainment and motivation. (Dunne & Raby, 2013) Dunne & Raby see this as a Libertarian Right invention.

http://unitedmicrokingdoms.org/anarcho-evolutionists/

However, where their projects might measure on the political scale can be a different story than what they have graphed in this exhibition. Digicars, for example, can be better classified as a libertarian capitalistic endeavor rather than an authoritarian one. Its fluctuation based on speculative market movement is not rooted in governmental regulation and serves the purpose of effectively maximizing capital. It can even be argued that Digitarians in this imaginary world can be classified under the same economic and political leaning.

Another noticeable change to the graph is Very Large Bike/Cyclist, Balloonist, Pitsky, and Hox, belonging to the Anarcho-evolutionists. Dunne & Raby describe this society as one that takes evolution into their own hands, while very little is regulated, and citizens can do as they please, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. (Dunne & Raby, 2013) Under the assumption that evolutionary technology is an exclusive discipline, rigorous study and practice must be done to achieve the desired results effectively. It is more accurately sorted higher up on the Y-Axis with a certain level of control that a regulatory authority must maintain. This is especially true in America’s current political sphere, where liberalism wielded anti-intellectualism to protect its political power and social standing. (ATAO, 2020) The project and society in question may be better described under Eco-transhumanism.

Finally, the last change made to this graph was to label Biocars as a Libertarian Right invention. With little reliance on the state but focusing on individualism rather than collective engagement, the resulting invention is a clunky vehicle that is not available to those without adequate means.

In summary, the practice of defining speculative design projects on a socio-economic and political scale may allow us more insight into the possible pitfalls of our imaginations.

Workshop Challenge

I have to make it clear that in my previous statement, I am not as educated on such political and economic matters as I hope to be, so a lot of my assumptions might be based on biases than facts.

In this challenge, our goal is to create a piece of editorial design. Since the focus is on the inventions rather than the societies, as well as their place on the spectrum, the idea I had in mind is to superimpose the two opposing graphs in a style similar to a risoprint or overprint.

In April 2021, the Smudge released a special Beirut Issue with guest editors Perrin Drumm & Tala Safié. The publication featured a sociopolitical take on the current situation in Lebanon, with contributions from a host of Lebanese designers and creatives. The overall aesthetic of the magazine took on a nostalgic theme.

Tala Safié – https://www.instagram.com/p/CNh43xLM5rm/

Another piece of inspiration for the design is Bananatopia, a project in the form of a one-off publication designed by Egyptian designer Farida Khaled. Each page of this publication maps out Cairo by its availability of banana variations sold in local markets. Depending on which type of banana is sold, information about a particular city district’s social and economic wealth could be revealed.

Bananatopia – Farida Khaled

The publication pages resemble vintage magazines from the region, with elements of local or vernacular advertisement practices.

https://risographlab.wordpress.com/submit/

Because I’ll be producing this piece digitally, it’s important for me to understand how Riso printing works. In the diagram above, the overlap of colors creates a third color. There is a slight bleed or blurred edge to shapes and lines. There is also a texture of the paper or fading from ink not providing full coverage. This is the effect I will try to recreate.

For the font, I chose Mint Book, a “sturdy, no-nonsense sans-serif with some 19th-century Grotesk quirkiness.” It’s suitable for both the title and body of the editorial, where the piece requires a bold enough typeface without overshadowing the contents of the political compass.

I converted the imagery of the designs by Dunne & Raby by processing them into bitmaps on photoshop and overlaying them with the color palette of choice for this editorial.

I used the chart on the right to determine what combination of shades and tones can be used to create colors, just as one would in a Riso print. Applying a gaussian blur, grain, and a light inner glow completed the finishing to make it look less digital.

Finally, for the main feature of this editorial, the political compass is sorted by colors, with the X and Y axis in yellow, Dunne & Raby’s self-analysis in purpose, and my corrections in magenta.

I edited the final outcome as a magazine mockup, to contextualize where a piece like this might be found:

Reference list

ATAO, S. (2020). Understanding Anti-Intellectualism in the U.S. [online] Studio ATAO. Available at: https://www.studioatao.org/post/understanding-anti-intellectualism-in-the-u-s.

Dunne & Raby (2013). Digitarians – UMK. [online] unitedmicrokingdoms.org. Available at: http://unitedmicrokingdoms.org/digitarians/.

Heywood, A. (2017). Political Ideologies: an Introduction. Open WorldCat. Basingstoke.

Moore, R. (2013). United Micro Kingdoms – review. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/may/05/united-micro-kingdoms-design-museum-review.

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