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the role of the designer...

Nurul and I had a chat last night:

her title is something like;
The role of the communication/graphic design in the shaping/disseminating/construction/development of the national cultural identity (NCID) of Malaysia...

we started talking about Wokar and how her research had been encouraged to go in the direction of western cultural theory. Nurul's research is also connected to the identity of an 'eastern' nation. Her research can easily be discussed along the lines of post-colonial theory, or national v's cultural identity. One thing that her research really IS about though is the role of the communication designer in this national cultural identity. It is not yet clear (to me at least) whether this is relating to the contribution comm designers have to changing the perception of NCID, or constructing that NCID, or whether there is something about defining 'what' their comm design activity brings about or 'allows' to happen.

The Nation has some sort of NCID

The Government has an idea of the sort of NCID it would like to be perceived to have; this might be modern, high-tech, inclusive, thoughtful towards tradition, youthful, confident, etc... this is pretty much the same for any government of any nation, even outside the east/asia...

The marketing people for Malaysia have some sort of idea of the way they would like 'Malaysia' to be perceived.

Malaysia is jockeying for prominence within 'asia'... in much the same way as Italy might jockey in the EC... and this might help create the need and presence within the community of Malaysia, especially the business community, of a strong 'buy-in' to Malaysian Nationalism and connection to the NCID going around.

The marketing people for malaysian telephone companies might jump onto this bandwagon (in the same way Telstra does in Australia) and connect through to the current Malaysian NCID myth/narrative that they see.

Where exactly the NCID of Malaysia 'comes from' is complex. Is it created consciously? Is it the result of history? Is it something that 'comes from' the people of Malaysia?... all three perhaps?

Since 1957 Malaysia has been trying to find its Nation-ness

Many products reflect this developing idea of Malaysian-ness

When a marketing person comes to a design studio to get some work done they might have decided that it is important to connect to this Malaysian-ness in the ad.

Even if they don't want this, the ad (or the visual material) will exhibit something of the current state of the perceived desire for (or current mythology of) Malaysian-ness

One might track the change in Malaysian-ness through examining the visual material produced.

In the same way one might track the perception of the role of women in Australian culture by looking at the advertising material of the last 50 years.

This would reveal that the work (any work?) is directly related to the place it comes from, both temporally (1957 or 2007) and spatially (Melbourne or KL).

This seems obvious, one could compare the depiction of Indians in Malaysian women's magazines over the last 50 years, and assume, to some degree, that it reflected something about the changing state of Indians in Malaysia. One could also look at depictions of religious beliefs to track the rise in visible Islamism, or the presence of personal transportation ads to look at the changing state of transport.

However, how do all these things relate to the communication designer? If we take the communication designer to be the person actually sitting at the drafting table (1957) or working with InDesign (2007).

The comm designer has taken a brief, either directly from a client or the clients' marketing person, or has been briefed by their account executive/manager or creative director. They have ascertained who the client is, who they want to talk to, what the key points they want to get across, what information needs to be included, if there are visual standards to follow. They might also have ascertained other info by meeting the client directly; about what they might be looking for in a piece of visual communication, based on how they look, what they say, what they respond to, how they interact, etc. They might have even been given a scamp/layout to follow. The comm designer works with this information. They come up with some alternatives.

In doing their work there is a certain amount of training, visual acuity and skill. They know how to focus the viewers eye, they know about visual hierarchy, they know about colour, they have a developed sensitivity to the composition of type and image, to create various desired reactions in the viewer; stability, dynamism, excitement, surprise, a visual pun. They have a memory of visual cultural work and can reference this work to achieve a desired result and have the work 'situate' itself in a particular place; socially, culturally, sub-culturally. They are sensitive to these aspects.

The comm design uses all these skills and sensitivities to construct the work. They gauge their work based on what the client 'has asked for'. They also base it on 'what the client will like' and also 'what the client really needs (in order to achieve the effect they want)'. They will try various options; type, colour, image, composition, etc, until they feel they have it 'right'. The judgement of this is not black and white. The designer needs to both predict the clients reaction, try to give them what they want, try to give them what they need. They will sometimes miss this mark. The client might not like it, the audience for the work might not 'get it'. The creative director might not 'get it'. The designer might not have a enough to go on, might not get a feel for the job, might feel uninspired.

It is a complex process of trying to get the work to 'work'.

As far as Malaysian NCID goes, the designer is hooking into 'something' that exists, part of this is the NCID narrative. They 'connect' to the clients wishes, project the 'future-self', the 'self-that-could-be' or the 'self-that-we-want-others-to-perceive' of the client, whether that client is Malaysian airlines or Malaysian makeup. The designer needs to be perceptive to the clients wishes, who they are, and what they should have to achieve their desired effect.

This process involves a materialisation of expression. A self-expression made by an(other). The self-expression of the client, not as the client, but as the client 'would be perceived'. The designer negotiates these desires within the client, they might not be conscious. The client cannot generally tell the designer how they want to be perceived in words, they will rely on the designer being able to pick this up. It is also through their interactions with the designer that the client may, in an effort to 'put into words' latent and/or nascent tendencies and concepts, gain knowledge into themselves. The process of having the design done, is also the process of concretizing (at least for this moment in time and space) the nature of who the client 'would wish to be'.

The work produced directly by the 'Department for the development of the Malaysian NCID' (which does not exist) might be put together in a deliberate attempt to change the idea of what 'being Malaysian' means. This would be termed propaganda. Whether this is a deliberate designed manipulation is up for question. It may be just a desire to present Malaysia with confidence. As you or I might if we went to a meeting or a date.

This is why it is worth having a look at the design material of the National Socialists from Nazi Germany. See what they can tell us about designed material and the promotion of nation-building mythologies.

What communication designers do, is another matter. Whether they are working on an ID for the local used car lot, a poster for a film festival, a website for a beauty care product, they are essentially doing the same thing. They are constructing a 'desired' ID for their client. It is not necessarily 'real'. The designer 'channels' the will of the client, through themselves, to create the artefact which makes that will 'material'. The work might be designed to encourage people to buy a product completely unrelated to Malaysian NCID, it might, however have a dialogue within the visual communication which relates back to the Malaysian NCID, which 'tips its hat' to it, which reinforces it as a 'given'.

Which is why it is useful to look at other aspects of communication design which have been studied - like the 'depiction of women'. In many cases, it could be argued, the 'depiction of women' is unconscious. The client needs to encourage people to agree with their 'depiction of our selves-to-be', they want this communication to fit in with the current cultural political landscape.... naturally we will have the woman sitting lower than the man in the picture; it 'makes sense'. This imaginary ad from the 60s has not been put together in order to 'put women in their place', rather, it is an unconscious depiction of the society of the times (or the 'society-that-we-want-others-to-perceive' of the times).

The effect that this work has is another matter, it may be useful to look into the studies of 'body image'. A lot of work has been done to uncover the causes of negative body image in young women. People die every year from anorexia/bulimia. Positive body image campaigns are run to try to change the balance.

Another aspect to consider is the general field of advertising. Advertising works. this is the current knowledge, taken for granted based on the idea that companies would only invest money in advertising if it did work. It does work, they do invest a lot of money in it. This is obviously an oversimplification, but seems to everyone to make sense.

One could look at the natural behaviour of birds wanting to mate or animals trying to frighten away threats. They project an image of 'themselves-as-they -would-be-seen' and they are seen in that way. Advertising works, we both 'become aware of the existence', and 'become aware of the projected quality' (sexy, fearsome, etc).

The role of the communication designer in the shaping of Malaysian NCID.

or is the question:

The role of communication design materials in the shaping of Malaysian NCID

...but I can see that it is not... because from the point of view of my own research the communication designer is active in the process (design activity) which constructs not only the material nature of the expression of the Malaysian NCID, but the actual 'expression of Malaysian NCID' itself, which then goes on to have an 'effect'. It is through the designer that important parts of the 'self-realisation' of MNCID is acheived (or the 'self-we-wish-to-be-perceived'-realisation is achieved).

Hitler loved Leni Reifenstahl. She may or may not have been a nazi, but she was able to articulate with finesse his 'self-he-wished-to-be-perceived'. One might ask

What was the role of Leni Riefenstahl in the shaping of Nazi Germany's NCID?