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James David Morgan

Designer and Co-Founder of The Groundswell Collective

Primary design concentration:

Graphic Design

Most preferred tool for designing:


1. How and why did you choose to become a designer?

I am self-taught, and started The Groundswell Collective with co-founder Ryan Hermens to pursue alternative design practices. We recognize the exploitative nature of the medium—consumerism is the motivation behind most design projects—so we set out to encourage another perception of design, and to challenge dominant ideologies through visual communication.

2. Challenges you encounter as a designer and how do you deal with them?

Within activist circles, folks are simply too busy trying to better the world to concern themselves with aesthetic questions, and more often than not, the resources don’t exist for design. Convincing them to pay attention to how they communicate their message is sometimes a challenge.

Also, much of the work we do is volunteer, and the challenge there lies in relating to the client how valuable the work is, because there isn't necessarily a dollar amount attached to it.

On a deeper level, we’re constantly grappling with how to best do our work. Given our particular focus, we’re concerned with more than design principles, and larger questions preoccupy us—from ethics and how to organize our efforts, to navigating alternate conceptions of social justice.

3. Your definition of an “elegant solution,” that is, good design?

Good design must be done in pursuit of a more humane and libertarian world. Ideas about freedom and ethical conduct, I would argue, are most poignant when communicated visually.

With that precept, the best design speaks truth to power, and is self-critical of itself as a medium. I wrote an essay recently called “Designing The Revolution,” where I discussed design ethics, and what makes good design. In it, I took a page from the book of Leonie ten Duis and argued that designers need to connect the contexts that we receive information from, and provide a “a comment on, or an alternative to them.” Superimposing a narrative on to these contexts is a successful way to show that they are interrelated, and to expose their relationship to injustice.

4. From skills to values, what makes a designer successful?

In our line of work, influencing systems through design is central to success. If a designer’s work tangibly contributes to fashioning and furthering alternative modes of social organisation, it’s working. There is a trend in the design world lately toward valuing these priorities above the materialistic, consumer-driven culture that preceded it. I hope that these new definitions of success stick!

5. How do you stay motivated and grow personally and professionally as a designer?

Watching our clients change the world, and tackle critical issues makes it all worthwhile. Groundswell’s blog is a daily source of inspiration for me, as well, because it puts me in touch with like-minded artists from around the globe. These designers’ and artists’ projects push my boundaries and challenge my design sense, and ultimately inspire me.

6. For those aspiring to become a designer, whatever the discipline,what is your advice?

Explore politics.

7. What is your quest in design?

Some folks claim that capitalism has subsumed everything, including modes of resistance to it, and that there is nothing new under the sun. I used to be a fan of that theory, but writing for Groundswell’s blog has shown me otherwise. Resistance isn’t just fertile, it’s teeming with life. I hope that we can create work that is impactful, and that contributes to a larger dialogue. Our work aims to provide a narrative about these activist efforts, and simultaneously participate in them.

James David Morgan is Designer and Co-Founder of the Groundswell Collective whose blog focuses on topics of design activism. Regarding music, he highly recommends Caspian’s You Are the Conductor. Regarding books, he highly recommends Milton Glaser's The Design of Dissent.

Image courtesy of James David Morgan.

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