Aideen McCole writes for Culture about the 100 Archive, a project from the Irish design community that provides an online platform for Irish communication design and a unique visual history of the nation.
Design has a unique capacity to reflect our changing values. Its relationship to consumption means the outputs of the design industry can show us quite clearly what we want and desire. In the 100 Archive a proliferation of identities for cafes mimics our ever-growing love of coffee, vinyl has returned to our collections as it has to our music shops, and the trajectory of locally-sourced food and drink is as traceable in the 100 as it is in our cupboards. But design can reflect deeper and more meaningful changes in our society too.
Arguably the most significant moments in Irish society in the past ten years have been our two rights-driven referenda: to introduce marriage equality in 2015 and to repeal the Eighth Amendment, ending Ireland's abolition of abortion, in 2018. Yes Equality sits alone in the 100: it is the only project submitted directly relating to — or even indirectly referencing — the 2015 referendum on marriage equality. In an interview with the 100 Archive in 2019, David Joyce of Language, the studio responsible for the identity (designed by Adam May and Emma Conway, informed by research by Catalyst) explained the identity not as a singular moment but the result of decades of work, and not a fixed output but something passed on to many others to mould through use. 'The relationships that were there for many years, working on various different projects with different outcomes came together under this umbrella, which was essentially about a collective energy. The whole studio was involved in the process of making the identity. But it was not only about people in the studio working on it, it was also this idea of handing it over to people outside to run with it.'
Where the Yes Equality identity sits as a lone representation of the 2015 marriage equality referendum in the 100 Archive, Language’s identity for Together for Yes (designed by Adam May, Cliodhna Meldon, Amy Heffernan and Dearbhla Kelly) is different. The official campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment in 2018, Together for Yes is joined by a number of independent projects looking to support the campaign through advocacy, fundraising or visibility, including three exhibitions.
Design has a unique capacity to reflect our changing values.
One exhibition made an unplanned but no less powerful connection to the referendum, entitled Print, Protest and the Polls: The Irish women’s suffrage campaign and the power of print media, 1908 – 1918 curated by Donna Gilligan and held at the National Print Museum from the month of the referendum onwards. While planning for the exhibition began in 2017, an opportunity to reflect a contemporary response to the exhibition came in the form of three commissioned limited edition prints by Mary Plunkett, Dave Darcy and Jamie Murphy, at which point the referendum had been called. All three prints feature in the 100 Archive.
The other exhibitions featured in the 100 Archive made a direct connection to the Together for Yes campaign by fundraising for it: The Art of Protest, led by Katie Kidd and Avril Delaney and Freedom, organised by Peachy Dublin. In both instances, various artists and designers were invited to design limited edition prints relating to protest and the Eighth Amendment, the sales of which contributed to Together for Yes. Kidd and Delaney, in addition to organising The Art of Protest, created a publication entitled Vote for Women, with practical information on registering to vote and straightforward information advocating for a yes vote.
It can be a challenge to accurately reflect the impact design has in movements for social change, where we risk either under- or overstating the role it plays. It is not the starting point of a movement, but can help encapsulate it and communicate it to wider audiences as it builds momentum. It isn’t the message, but can clarify and strengthen it. It can give the sense of a singular voice, or help to diversify the voices contributing to a broad discussion. It can also embody significant moments long after they’ve passed. To paraphrase Clio Meldon about her work on Together for Yes, it doesn’t make the change, but it helps.
Aideen McCole is a curator and cultural producer with a background in design. When not working in The Ark Cultural Centre for Children, she manages the 100 Archive and led the Map Irish Design project.