Image-makers have the unique ability to make currently invisible ecological processes and relationships visible. Within the context of an increasingly visual culture, images have potential to nurture the development of new perceptual capabilities and encourage relational perception. Graphic design is well suited to facilitate ecological learning since it can draw on a wide variety of visual strategies to display specific geographic spaces, ecological patterns and processes, abstract concepts and future scenarios. Julie Doyle argues that photography records circumstances of the past, so its usefulness in communicating ecological messages is limited to displaying damages already done (2009). My own work proposes that graphic design has greater potential to respond to environmental communication challenges due to its ability harness the communicative potential of maps, charts, diagrams, graphs, timelines, illustrations, network visualizations, data visualization, information graphics, controversy maps, giga-maps and systems oriented design to make complex information accessible, comprehensible and alluring. With design strategies, image-makers can reveal relationships, patterns and dynamics in complex systems. For these reasons, graphic design has exceptional potential to support relational perceptual practices and the ability to ‘see systems’ – nurturing both relational perception and ecological literacy.
For more information please see my Design Research Society 2014 conference paper.Download the paper here.
The Mapping Climate Communication project offers an overview of how climate change is communicated in the public realm by visualizing actors, events, strategies, media coverage and discourses influencing public opinion. Two large-scale maps and one Poster Summary Report were published on-line October 2014. The project uses two visualization methods: a timeline and a network visualization. The Climate Timeline (CT) visualizes the historical processes and events that have lead to the growth of various ways of communicating climate change. The Network of Actors (NoA) illustrates relationships between institutions, organizations and individuals participating in climate communication in Canada, United States and the United Kingdom. Together these two visualizations contextualize events and actors within five discourses: climate science, climate justice, ecological modernization, neoliberalism and climate contrarianism. Since communication happens at the level of rhetoric as well as the level of action, discourses in this project include explicit messages and also messages that are implicit within political, corporate and organizational activities and policy. This approach reveals tensions and contradictions in climate communication.
This Saturday 4pm workshop at The 2015 Conference on Communication and Environment in Boulder ‘Bridging Divides: Spaces of Scholarship and Practice in Environmental Communication’will start with an illustrated theoretical introduction that will display and describe specific visual strategies to communicate environmental information. The session will be followed by an design critique. The design crit is a foundational practice in design education for developing creativity, visual literacy, communication expertise and design skills. It will provide a setting for evaluating and refining individual samples of visual communication design in response to the objectives of each particular piece of work. It will give participants an opportunity to discuss specific examples of visual communication on the environment. The examples for discussion can be submitted by email by anyone interested in participating in this workshop.
Image-makers have the unique ability to make invisible ecological processes and relationships visible, tangible and accessible. Within the context of an increasingly visual culture, images have potential to nurture the development of new perceptual capabilities and encourage relational perception. Graphic design is well suited to facilitate environmental learning since it can draw on a wide variety of visual strategies to display specific geographic spaces, ecological processes, abstract concepts and future scenarios. With design strategies, image-makers can reveal relationships, patterns and dynamics in complex systems. For these reasons, graphic design has exceptional potential to support relational perceptual practices and ecological literacy.
This article argues that designers are currently not able to effectively address contemporary environmental and social problems due to the systemic priorities of the design industry. Despite the fact that emergent cognitive and perceptual capacities enable a greater understanding of complexity and design practice evolves creating potential for social and technological innovation, the structural dynamics of the design industry reproduce conditions of deep unsustainability. In this article,“design” is theorized as the professional practice of creating new products, buildings, services, and communication. This is a broader practice than the work that is produced within the “design industry.” The design industry operates according to highly reductive feedback generated by capitalism that systemically ignores signals from the ecological and social systems. The exclusive focus on profit and quantitative economic growth results in distortions of knowledge and reason thereby undermining prospects for the design of long-term prosperity. Redirected design practice could be an antidote to this dilemma by transforming the system that determines what is designed. This article provides an overview of the political and economic dynamics that are relevant to designers concerned with sustainability.
Mapping Climate Communication offers an overview of how climate change is communicated in the public realm by visualizing and contextualizing actors, events, actions and discourses influencing public opinion. Since communication happens at the level of rhetoric as well as the level of action, discourses in this project include explicit messages and also messages that are implicit within political, corporate and organizational activities and policy. This approach reveals tensions and contradictions in climate communication. The public is told that climate change is a serious threat but the same institutional actors continue to support carbon intensive development. The discursive confusion that results from contradictory communication on climate is theorized as central to the ongoing deadlock in climate policy. Explicit and implicit communication is at odds in the neoliberal discourse. This discourse often uses the language of the environmental movement to gain and maintain legitimacy and public trust. The danger here is that the climate movement’s work in creating awareness and policy opinions responding to climate change is simply used as convenient rhetoric and public relations messaging for continued and indeed exacerbated carbon intensive development.
Since the ecological modernization discourse is open to the use of market mechanisms to regulate climate change, this discourse often unwittingly erodes capacity for regulation as responsibility for a responding to climate change is captured by corporate interests and thus possibilities for climate regulation become even more remote. Despite green intentions of actors in the ecological modernization discourse, when this discourse fails to challenge neoliberalism, it is easily appropriated. It then serves to facilitate neoliberal processes, which in turn enables contrarian discourses, since neoliberalism transfers power from the public to the corporate sphere, where contrarian power is most concentrated. The historical appropriation and political neutralization of green movements is a dynamic that needs to be considered when theorizing climate communication.Continue reading →
Abstract: The green economy is an emergent approach to sustainable development launched at Rio+20. Herein environmental decision-making is increasingly achieved through economistic processes and logic. The natural commons are quantified and managed as natural capital. This paper summarizes the trajectory of the project and its ideological framework. It examines various conceptualizations of economic approaches to the environment and considers philosophical, methodological, and political problems associated with the green economy project. In the face of very different definitions of what constitutes a green economy, environmental communicators face a situation characterized by discursive confusion as the complexity of natural capital accounting processes conceal new political configurations. Counter movements argue that the green economy program is performing ideological work that uses language of environmentalism to obscure an intensified agenda of neoliberal governance and capital accumulation. The concept now has contradictory meanings. Environmental communicators have an important role to play in exposing the contested nature of the project and in helping to define the emerging green economy. Published March 13 in Environmental Communication. 50 free downloads here (until they are used up – please do not use if you have institutional login)
The Mapping Climate Communication Project illustrates key events, participants and strategies in climate communication.
1) Climate Timeline visualizes the historical processes and events that have lead to various ways of communicating climate change. Key scientific, political and cultural events are plotted on a timeline that contextualizes this information within five climate discourses. These reveal very different ideological, political and scientific assumptions on climate change. A clearer version of the timeline is available here.
2) Network of Actors displays relationships between 237 individuals, organizations and institutions participating in climate communication in Canada, United States and the United Kingdom. A clearer version of this graphic is available here.
Details about this project can be found in the Mapping Climate Communication: PosterSummary Report. This report can be downloaded here.
The maps reveal how specific details in climate communication are contextualized within complex debates. For example:
How does a climate march impact the volume of media coverage of climate change?
How does the work of the climate denial industry potentially impact climate policy?
Do popular movies and books on climate result in activity in the climate movement?
What are the relationships between organizations active in climate communication?
By illustrating key events and actors over time and within five discourses this work makes links between disparate factors and reveals dynamics that contribute to public understanding of climate change. The project also explores politicised issues in climate communication by using a discourse approach to analyse the various strategies and ideologies held by those organizations, institutions and individuals participating in climate communication in the public realm. This report describes the impact of neoliberal dogma and modes of governance on climate communication as one of the central problems preventing a global response to climate change. Theorizing the impact of neoliberalism on climate change communication and policy is key to an understanding of why emissions continue to rise despite the significant work by the climate science community and the environmental movement over the past four decades.
This series of three posters maps climate communication by means of a timeline, a network visualization and a strategy map. The work illustrates
relationships between climate discourses, prominent actors and major organizations participating in climate communication including science institutions, academic institutions, media organizations, think tanks and government agencies – along with the interests and funders linked to these organizations. Various discourses are mapped including climate science; counter-movements (contrarianism); ecological modernization, neoliberalism and corporate capture; and social movements (climate justice). The timeline visualizes the historical processes that have lead to the growth of various ways of communicating climate change. The network visualization illustrates relationships between actors and prominent discourses. The strategy map displays methods used within four discursive realms.
The posters are still work in process. They will be presented at the ‘Changing Climate Communication’ conference in July 2014. Feedback from this presentation will inform a final stage of the visualizations, to be completed in September 2014.
No.2 Network of Actors, USA and UK Based Organizations and Individuals. Version 1. July 2014
The poster illustrates relationships between prominent actors and major organizations participating in climate communication. These include: science institutions, media organizations, think tanks, government departments, non-governmental organization (NGOs) and individuals – along with some of the more significant funders. Actors are situated within four discursive realms: climate science; counter-movements (contrarianism); ecological modernization (often neoliberalism); and social movements (climate justice). These four discourses are mapped on a framework wherein actors are colour-coded according to where they are situated. In this first version the colour, the size of the circles and their positions are all speculative. Subsequent versions will use different methods for plotting the actors and linking the nodes.
Design/Ecology/Politics describes a powerful role for design making sustainable ways of living – but only once informed by ecological literacy and critical perspectives. Instead, the design industry normatively perpetuates unsustainable development. When design does engage with issues of sustainability, this engagement typically remains shallow due to the narrow basis of analysis in design education and theory. The situation is made more severe by design cultures which claim to be apolitical. Where design theory fails to recognise the historical roots of unsustainable practice, it reproduces old errors. New ecologically informed design strategies hold promise only when incorporated into a larger project of political change.
Bringing design, ecological and socio-political theory together, I describe how power relations are constructed, reproduced and obfuscated by design in ways which often cause environmental and social harms. Communication design can function to either conceal or reveal the ecological and social impacts of current modes of production. Revealing these dynamics creates new possibilities for transformative practice. This change-making potential of design is dependent on deep-reaching analysis of the problems design attempts to address. Ecologically literate and critically engaged design is a practice primed to facilitate the creation of sustainable and just futures. With this foundation, designers can make sustainability not only possible, but desirable.
This talk will introduce the many ways that images work to communicate environment issues. With the rise of data visualization, new mapping strategies, network visualizations and other types of information design, images are increasingly being mobilized to support environmental learning. Images can be powerful tools capable of supporting public understanding of the environment while also potentially influencing behavior and social norms. Images can work to make complex information accessible in ways that are especially well suited for environmental communication since they have the unique ability to reveal relationships, patterns, dynamics and causality in complex socio-ecological systems. On the other hand, within the politically and ideologically loaded terrain of environmental communication, images are also capable of concealing tensions, complexities and interests behind environment problems. Images are regularly used to reproduce the perspectives of powerful interests, often in ways that obscure environmental circumstances and the consequences of various types of industrial development and consumption patterns. Visual representation of the environment embodies political and philosophical assumptions about the capacity of the natural world to sustain continued abuse along with other associated notions of human-nature relations. This talk will examine how images are used to both reveal and conceal environmental circumstances with examples of particularly effective, politicized and/or disingenuous visualizations of the environment.
Image-makers have the unique ability to make hidden ecological processes visible by revealing relationships, patterns and dynamics in complex socio-ecological systems. This paper describes how communication design can support relational perceptual practices and even nurture ecological perception. It presents specific methods to harness the latent potential of graphic design to communicate the context, causality and complexity of ecological processes and systems. Visual metaphors function to establish meaning. Furthermore, aesthetics experiences can provoke deep perceptual insights supporting new ways of perceiving our relationship to the environment. In these ways, graphic design has the potential to nurture the ability to ‘see systems’ – supporting both ecological perception and ecological literacy.
Design can be understood as a practice that evolves as new cognitive and perceptual capacities enable a greater understanding of complexity, context and system dynamics. These emergent capacities create greater potential for social and technological innovation. This paper will argue that despite emergent skills, designers are not able to effectively address contemporary problems in a sustainable manner due to the systemic priorities of the design industry. This paper theorises ‘design’ as the professional practice of creating new products, buildings, services and communication as a broader practice than the work that is produced within the ‘design industry’. The design industry operates according to highly reductive feedback generated by capitalism that systemically ignores signals from the ecological and social systems. The exclusive focus on profit results in distortions of knowledge and reason undermining prospects for the design of long-term prosperity within the context of the current political/economic regime.