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Designers as cultural producers (2022)

Polyana de Andrade Tavares, a graphic design student at LADO, embarked on a profound journey of collective conscientization that transformed her understanding of her role as a cultural producer. Her final work reflects on this transformative process through an autoethnographic lens, weaving together personal experiences and broader socio-cultural contexts.

Initially, Polyana approached her study with a pragmatic focus on obtaining a degree. Her intense routine, involving long hours of work and travel, left her exhausted and questioning the value of her academic pursuits. This initial struggle and disillusionment with the conventional educational path set the stage for a transformative experience.

However, her involvement with the Design & Oppression Network—a collective dedicated to critical education and reflection on design’s role in society—became pivotal in her journey. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the network opened a digital space where designers could critically engage with their work and its broader impacts, fostering a sense of solidarity and shared purpose. These experiences exposed Polyana to critical reflections on the role of design in society, igniting a desire to explore these themes further.

Polyana wanted to understand and critique the expanding role of designers beyond mere artifact creation to strategic positions influencing societal norms and values. She recognized that designers have significant power in shaping cultural and social landscapes, often without a critical awareness of the implications.

Guided by the principles of Paulo Freire and Álvaro Vieira Pinto, Polyana’s study delves into the concept of conscientization, a process where individuals move from a naive understanding of their reality to a critical, reflective stance. This transformation is marked by recognizing and challenging the oppressive structures they operate within. For designers, this means acknowledging how their work can perpetuate or resist socio-economic inequalities and cultural hegemonies.

Polyana’s research is deeply personal yet universally relevant. Through the autoethnographic method, she explores her own experiences alongside those of her peers, particularly highlighting the narratives of Mateus J.J. Filho, another Design & Oppression Network member. These stories illustrate designers’ varied paths toward critical consciousness, revealing the tensions and contradictions inherent in their professional roles. She mapped the various paths she crossed in the collective process of conscientization promoted by the Design & Oppression Network.

The study underscores the dual nature of designers as both oppressors and oppressed. While they wield significant influence over the cultural and social landscapes through their work, they are also subject to the exploitative dynamics of the labor market. Polyana’s narrative highlights the emotional and intellectual labor involved in navigating these contradictions, emphasizing the importance of collective action and critical education in fostering a more just and reflective design practice.

Ultimately, Polyana’s journey is one of self-discovery and empowerment. By engaging with the critical pedagogies of Freire and others, she realizes her potential as a cultural producer, capable of contributing to transformative social change. Her study documents this personal evolution and serves as a call to action for other designers to embrace their roles as agents of cultural and societal transformation.

Download the work from the University’s repository (in Portuguese)

Categories: Student work.

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