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Fresh Dialogue 6: Friendly Fire

Volume 6 of the AIGA’s Fresh Dialogue publication puts two contrasting design entities into a battle royale. The 62 and Crye Associates each have differing political agendas, and they discuss what design means to them with moderator James Victore standing in between to shed light on the “gray area” that separates the two.

Dialogue Of the direct quotes that open the book, two opposing statements give the best indication of how each studio’s characteristics and ideals differ: Hubert McCabe of The 62 states, “Yes, I’m a farmer,” while Caleb Crye of Crye Associates says, “…one day we just called the army and asked if they needed help.” Crye Associates takes pride in being “industrial optimists,” who design cell phones and office systems, but their bread and butter are military contracts such as the redesigned Multicam camouflage pattern. Crye Associates “Use Driven Design” to service industries such as the military, transportation, outdoor equipment, small arms, and information display. But the work portion of their website has an overabundance of military goods, leading one to believe that they rely on those contracts for more than 80% of their income. On the other hand, one would characterize The 62 as a lab where its constituents are eco-friendly, aware of sustainability and global issues. A simple (albeit labored) analogy would be The 62 as Adbusters to Crye Associates as Halliburton.

One is ideal driven, while the other is industry based. The 62 is a political design think tank, a “super-amazing cultural garage” composed of a graffiti artist, some political renegades, and one organic farmer. They use design as a weapon, but not in the militaristic sense that Crye Associates operates. The 62 seems to follow in the footsteps of Victore, who believes that graphic design is a “big f&@$ing club with spikes,” best used for social and political agendas (as stated in the Hillman Curtis video link). The 62’s exhibited piece The Art of the Possible or How I Learned to Build a Sled Out of Trash, best summarizes their philosophy of innovation and imagination, covered with a creamy do-good-or-die-trying frosting. The Trash event invited guests to make sleds out of garbage and race down a hill; not something Crye Associates would spend their time with between weapons development and military contracts.

Reading about these two different design studios will compel you to consider your values, loyalties, and patriotism. Would you be willing to design a product, good, or service that in some way contributed to wartime violence and despair? For those of you leaning towards the artistic and experimental arena of design, could you sustain yourself and your practice doing whimsical and innovative work alone? The entire lecture was recorded and translated into this Sixth Edition of the Fresh Dialogue series in June 2005, and it’s still relevant one year later. With ongoing reminders about arms development, the military, and Iraq, AIGA’s Friendly Fire reinforces the fact that designers have to consider ethics. Good or bad, the choice is up to you.


Book Information
Fresh Dialogue 6
by Princeton Arch Staff with host James Victore
Paperback: 112 pages
9.0 x 6.5 x 0.4 inches
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
ISBN: 1568985827
Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Jun.13.2006 BY Jason A. Tselentis
Armin’s comment is:

I attended this event last year, and it was pretty good. In contrast to this year's Fresh Dialogue – which was closer to a monologue by three people – Crye Associates and The 62 really showed polar opposites of practice based on similar creative impulses.

Not that one had to choose, but I did choose and I sided with Crye Associates. Their products solve a very real problem that needs to be addressed whether you want war to exist or not. No single designer (be it graphic or product or fashion) has enough influence to stop countries from going to war, so the best they/we can do is choose to make a difference for those that are put in that situation. And Crye Associates has decided to use their skills and creativity to make these people's jobs (and lives) a little easier, more effective and even better designed. A lot of people might say/said that they are pro war and supporting the government (whatever that means) by doing what they do... Which just seems to me to be pretty stupid. They simply are pro-humans.

On the other hand, I am always skeptical of the do-gooder, tortured, anti-consumerism, street-art-will-save-us, can't-we-all-just-be-happy-and-not-worry-about-money? design mentality and The 62 did not dissapoint me on that end. While I appreciate their ideas and all the fun they have with what they do, I just find all of it a little inconsequential. Some people may dig this kind of stuff. I don't.

And I would never relate "political design think tank" to their work. One exhibit about gas masks does not a political design think tank make.

On Jun.14.2006 at 09:12 AM
Randy’s comment is:

Not to pull too far away from the text and Jason's commentary, but I'd like to bridge what Armin has said a bit with my own experience. I've worked on building momentum in a focused career that would, in theory, align more with what The 62 is doing than Crye Assoc. Not knowing The 62 or their work, I'm only using them as a conceptual springboard here.

Armin's words may come off as heretical among the herd, but I must say that these are often the voices that need to be listened to, for a few reasons:

1) Very likely, though I wish it were otherwise, such opinions are likely shared by many, many other people. I for one, want to hear them, evaluate them, and attempt to understand the past and future influence these perspectives will have.

2) In a an effort to work toward a utopian ideal, it is easy to fall into a sense of self-righteousness. This should be checked, corrected, and avoided at all costs. The end goal is go make the largest positive impact possible; if the culmination of all of one's efforts is the repeated broadcast of the intention to do good, without real tangible action, then the potential to actually motivate change is carelessly wasted.

Now, back to the blue skies...

On Jun.14.2006 at 11:56 AM
designislikethis’s comment is:

armin, i agree that the do gooder street thing can be a bit annoying/onerous/who really cares, but while i was looking at the 62's web site, i couldn't help but think that they really were committed in a way i haven't seen too many times before, and that they ahd some crazy (in a good way) ideas. i'm just saying...there's room for everything, right?

On Jun.14.2006 at 12:21 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Frank, that is right. But, as I said, it just ain't my thing. I know it's someone's thing, and that's alright.

On Jun.14.2006 at 02:36 PM
Jason A. Tselentis’s comment is:

. . . true, Armin. Not all of us have the higher calling to work for the man, or firms that do work for the man.

Furthermore, I like your stance on the design/weapons argument. Making a difference doesn't mean that you support the political agendas, so much as it means that you're a valuable problem solver, who respects design as just that—Use Driven, as Crye trademarks it.

On Jun.14.2006 at 04:26 PM
felicks’s comment is:

I've done alot of things for people i wish I could take back. Shameful as it is, I unwittingly oblidged Greenberg Traurig, LLP with a hard bound recruitment book last year. Who are they?

The law firm that represented W in the 2000 election and the former employer of Jack Abramoff. While youre laughing it up, I did ExxonMobil's sales kit too. One more and I'm going straight to hell with Crye MeaRiver Associates.

I guess theres nothing wrong with taking from the rich and giving to the poor, considering how poor I am.

On Jun.15.2006 at 12:50 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

It would be foolhardy to ever condemn a designer for the agenda of their clients. You couldn't possibly be guilty for ExxonMobile stuff. (unless namedropping and bragging are big sins.) Perhaps if it were truly repulsive that would be grevious. But we live in a wicked world already and we make a living in the service of others. It's the degree of service to wickedness or goodness that either condemns us or saves us.
But if you go to hell anytime soon, bring the hot sauce: Zarqawi is roasting over the pit.....

On Jun.15.2006 at 10:14 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Zarqawi is roasting over the pit.....

Pesky, if by some fortune, you get a job that requires you to illustrate that, please, please share it with us (or at least share it with me so I can laugh away with my own sick self).

On Jun.16.2006 at 08:17 AM
Joshua Ray’s comment is:

"On the other hand, I am always skeptical of the do-gooder, tortured, anti-consumerism, street-art-will-save-us, can't-we-all-just-be-happy-and-not-worry-about-money?"

I have to agree on this one. Let's face it, the world is veritably lousy with activist designers that are attempting to make a progressive and positive change in the world. They are overwhelming the circuit boards there are so many. We now have enough energy efficient housing, sustainable agri-business, eco-friendly factories, excellence driven educational institutions, nutrition focused food companies, fair pay oriented businesses, quality product minded corporations, and holistically motivated pharmaceutical companies to feed the world, heal the sick, educate the ignorant, and reverse the effects of global warming for millenia to come. And its all thanks to the regurgitation inducing glut of principle powered designers that are swarming the planet like flies on a buffalo chip.

On the other hand, the world is suffering from a practically pandemic shortage of designers willing and able to execute useful designs for the military, the automobile industry, defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, and Boeing, major oil conglomerates like OPEC, Exxon Mobile, Royal Dutch Shell, multi-national pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson, etc. Our culture is fanatically and radically antagonistic to these necessary designers. If we continue eradicating their kind from the face of the planet the human race will rapidly be facing extinction. Mark my words, the world can not continue to hurtle headlong in this direction. Just like a drunken sailor chasing drunken nookie with his drunken sea legs on solid sober ground we're eventually going to run head first into a big brick wall.

As an example, imagine Africa if we had more of these GOOD type of designers. Over the past few generations we have witnessed horrendously inhumane genocides perpetrated using dull, ragged machetes, and brutally inefficient homemade weapons all over the "dark continent." Why, if we had just 10% as many "pro-human" designers in the mold of Crye Associates as we do "do-gooder, tortured, anti-consumerism" designers like the 62 those millions could have been annihilated so much more humanely and efficiently, and in half the time, at worst. The noble warlords ruling most of these African nations could have seen their troops exposed to so much less contamination from gory blood spattering caused by multiple hacks with machetes if they had more ergonomically designed armor and cheaper more efficient assault weaponry. Not to mention they could have doubled the killing, further complementing the aforementioned hunger solutions those dirty hippy designers we have so many of came up with. So, in actuality, people like Crye give us the best of both worlds. It really agonizes me to think of how irrationally hateful of these potentially world changing designers we are as a culture. If only we can band together and spread the word, perhaps we can look forward to a day when our children will be born into a world where "use driven" designers aren't in such painfully short supply.

And in regards to the 62 specifically, I don't care what kind of reasoning you use to try and convince me that bio-diesel engines, and composting for fertilizer, and recycling bicycles for "under-priveleged" youth is practical, and even practicable, it smacks of idealistic ideology as far as I'm concerned, and I'm having none of it. Why don't you communists with your values and your magnanimity go back to Canada where you came from? You make it hard for the rest of us to feel comfortable about being satisfied just trying to get by. Didn't you hear? The war is over, and as the Big Lebowski said "the bums lost!"

On Sep.11.2006 at 08:43 PM
Charley Vu’s comment is:

That was extremely poor satire, Mr. Ray.

At least you fell partway into the stereotype. Please continue doing so.

On Jan.15.2008 at 02:46 PM