Post A: Design – Both the Villain and the Saviour

Although designers may often like to view themselves as unattached to the products and purposes they serve, they must also recognize the inherent responsibility and power they wield when engaging in wide-reaching design campaigns. Particularly when interrogating the power of the tobacco industry within Indonesia, the unfettered influence of advertising and designers is altogether too apparent. Lacking proper legislation, the Indonesian government allows a myriad of heavily designed and planned cigarette advertising to adorn its cities, with the all-too-familiar words, “pro never quit,” feeling like Yogyajakarta’s city slogan (Reynolds 1999). Design activism presents a promising avenue for accelerating the decline of smoking culture, as it has the ability to “generate different ways of looking at the world” (Crosby 2019). However, in Yogyakarta, this space has been captured by the Tobacco industry, and it is up to designers and culture makers to begin to counteract its negative effects. 

(Hammer 2019) Heavily designed and saturated imagery advertising cigarettes.

Indonesia is one of the few countries yet to ratify the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which is a major reason that its prominent advertising and influence remains unchecked. In the words of Sampoerna, “Indonesian companies have almost total freedom to advertise their products in any format” (Nichter Met al 2009). However, it is not just through their billboards that they reveal the malevolent influence of design. They also piggy-back on the success of creatives and culture-makers via sponsored events such as the Gudang Garang Java Rockin’Land 2010, which is described as the biggest rock festival in Southeast Asia (SEATCA 2010). This continually aligns tobacco with design and creative culture, a link that must be eroded in order to change the culture.

Design’s situation at the core of the issue.

As the tobacco cessation initiative Project QTI recognizes, smoking is often perceived as “cultural” with positive social connotations. This group seeks to use design to create a new culture within Indonesia that distances itself from existing tobacco advertising. To accomplish this, they are seeking to promote new cultural themes such as willpower as a virtue of masculinity, and family responsibility as a “value that eclipses personal pleasure” (Nichter Met al 2009). By drawing on themes of self-control deeply integral to Javanese culture and religious holidays (fasting during Ramadan) as a form of masculinity, as well as raising family values and health to be promoted over momentary pleasure, QTI is tackling the tobacco crisis by rebranding the culture that supports it. 

This presents an interesting opportunity for design activists to collaborate at different levels throughout Yogyakarta and Java. These designers may also be able to tap into the excessive visibility of existing advertisements in order to relocate the social culture surrounding smoking, by creating profound and provocative messages via culture jamming that subvert the tobacco industry’s typical messaging (Milstein, Tema. & Pulos, A. 2015). 

References ———————————————————————————————–

Crosby, A. 2019, ‘Design Activism in an Indonesian Village’, MIT Design Issues, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 50-63, viewed 19 December 2019, <>.

Hammer, R. 2019, Gudang Garam advertisements, viewed 19 December 2019 <;.

Milstein, Tema. & Pulos, A. 2015, ‘Culture jam pedagogy and practice: relocating culture by staying on one’s toes’, Communication, Culture and Critique, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 395-413.

Nichter, M., Padmawati, S., Prabandari, Y., Ng, N., Danardono, M. & Nichter, M. 2009, ‘Reading culture from tobacco advertisments in Indonesia,’ Tobacco Control, vol. 18, no. 2, viewed 26 November 2019, < >.

Reynolds, C. 1999, ‘Tobacco advertising in Indonesia: “the defining characteristics for success”’, Tobacco Control, vol. 8, no. 1, viewed 26 November 2019, <>.

Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, International artists performing at Indonesian tobacco-sponsored rock festival despite protests, Bangkok, viewed 19 December 2019, <>.

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