Post A: The Relevance of Design Activism

‘A global approach to a local issue’ (Vital Strategies Team, 2018)

We immediately intuit in today’s world that matters look different when analyzed at global, continental, national, regional, local, or personal scales (Harvey, 2000) and although the need for tobacco control sits at a global scale, it isn’t until you focus on a specific society that you recognise the magnitude of the issue on a personal level, allowing you to understand how tobacco consumption effects not only an individuals health but the community surrounding them. Banjarmasin, Indonesia has a growing rate of youth smokers as a result of economic affordability and pressurised cultural expectations amongst men. As a result of cultural history and expectations of masculinity, young Indonesian men feel that they are not real men if they don’t smoke (Nawi, 2007) 

Design responds to the needs of the people and environment it exists within (Roderiguez, 2010), allowing the public to relate to the issue itself, drawing on factors that are relevant to their daily lives. This process required a lot of observational research, allowing us to adapt our knowledge to a suitable focus in order for the message to be clearly and successfully communicatedOur spatial behavior, which is defined by and defines the spaces around us, is an integral part of our social existence (Madanipour, 1999) and for this reason, we focused on how the space of Banjarmasin could be used to promote messages of health and anti smoking.  

An example of geographic specific design is the wheelie bin sound systems (2012) which were created as a response to the ‘Reclaim the Lanes’ protest in Inner West areas of Sydney (Taylor, 2017). Local creatives collaborated to create these speaker bins as a result of an observation they made as to how people were using their space on the street at the time. This allowed locals the freedom to use these bins to express their opinion and had successful feedback as the object of the street bin itself is relevant to everyone’s daily routine. 

Reclaim The Lanes Article (Inner West Courier, 2012)

Similarly, the festival work of Vital Strategies was focused on the river as an observation of it being the focus of spatial existence in Banjarmasin. The collaborative Indonesian/ Australian workshop process was also a response to the multilingual society of Banjarmasin and the process in which they collaboratively carry out their daily tasks. Strategies for cultural sense making are not just usefulthey are essential (Bird, 2005) 

Cultural conflicts in collaborative efforts give rise to sense-making behavior as individuals notice events and assign meaning to what they notice (Weick, 1995) and in this instance, the input of a different culture in Indonesia was highly effective as we made observations that may have gone unrecognised by those who live in the city.  

Design activism has deeply influenced the way design cultures originated and developed in response to social and economic change (Kaygan, Julier, 2013), therefore the Vital Strategies campaign have the potential to influence and change the smoking habits of those in Indonesia through relevant content and publicity. Design should always be a direct response the context it sits within in order to be successfully communicated and to overcome the challenge of being enrolled to promote the creative economy (Markussen, 2012) and maintaining a sense of purpose.  


This was a successful campaign as it was a response to the contextual values of vanity and femininity of the time, which was contrived from the superficiality of the American Dream. (American Cancer Society, 1964)


Boellstorff, T. (2002) Ethnolocality, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology. Routeledge Group. 3,1. Pp.24-48.

Rodriguez, D. (2005). Why Design matters, Embracing risk to learn, grow and innovate. Rotman Magazine, pp.55-58.

Kaygan, H. Julier, G. (2013). Global Design Activism Survey, Design and Culture. Bloomsbury Publishing. 5:2, pp237-252.

Madanipour, A. (1999). Planning and Design. Newcastle University England. 26, pp.879-891.

Bird, A. Osland, J. (2005) Making Sense of Intercultural Collaboration, International Studies of Management & Organisation. Routledge Publishing. 35:4, pp.115-132.

Taylor, J. (2018). DIY Urbanism; Sydney Reconsidered. Sydney: The University of Sydney, Sydney, N.S.W, pp.47-51.

Weick, K. (1988). Enacted sensemaking in crisis situations. Journal of Management Studies, 25:4, pp. 305–317.

Osland, J. A, Bird. (2017) Building Research & Information. Making Sense of Intercultural Collaboration. IGB Network Company. 35:4, pp. 115-113.

One thought on “Post A: The Relevance of Design Activism

  1. I found this an interesting read because you evaluate how designers have to be able to design for different environments or spaces. This is a great point because every city in the world is different. For example as we learned, Banjarmasin (known as ‘the city of 1000 rivers’) is built around their narrow river whilst in Sydney we are built around one large Harbour. Although both are surrounded by water, designing for each city would be completely different due to their different sizes. In Banjarmasin the routine is to get around on small boats because that is all that fits under their short bridges and between the tight rivers, whereas in Sydney because the Harbour is so large, we get from one side to the other via Ferry. In comparing different environments or spaces, there is clearly a contrast, thus it shows the changes in design to suit the local context.

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