Designing the Future

 

In a sea of hot-takes and off-the-cuff put-downs regarding the current snap election in the UK, I realise adding yet another one to all the noise has all the effect of a fart in a tannery but I want to look specifically at the aesthetics of these campaigns and how it reveals more than you might think. A close look at the Labour and Conservative manifesto’s graphics can tell you just as much as the policies inside. In addition I want to look at some of the language used by both sides and how that also – literally – speaks volumes for their ideologies. I won’t be looking at policies necessarily and while there is some cross over this isn’t necessarily a criticism of either parties pledges or policies. Here is a link to Labour’s manifesto and the Conservative manifesto so we are all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Let’s start with the most glaring difference between the two: Web optimisation. Labour has dedicated an entire subsection of their site to their manifesto, each section of it has its own webpage making it quicker to load. You scroll or swipe down to carry on reading and on the desktop version an image is justified to the left and remains static. There is a menu for each chapter allowing you to jump easily to the section of the chapter you want to read. This all speeds up load times and is very efficient. The Conservative manifesto is pdf in a media player on a single page of their website. In the page it is small and difficult to read but you can full screen it, however it still displays as a pdf in a book format (complete with animated page turning) and does not fill the browser. The player is much slower to load too due to the more complicated requirements of the animated elements. In addition Labour’s is more web native so downscales well for mobile devices which is how a majority of people will get their first access to it whereas the Conservatives’ relies on the ISSUU player and does not alter its appearance depending on what device you view it from, whilst this maintains consistency cross platform it makes it much harder to read if you’re viewing it on a smaller device. Now, importantly, the Conservative web manifesto is less friendly to the differently abled, certainly people without finger dexterity or who have vision problems, whereas Labour’s is much simpler to use and easier to read.

Now let’s look at font and text layout. The Conservatives have gone for a classical serif-based approach with Garamond (the font this article is written in), Labour instead have gone for the sans-serif, clean lines of Helvetica. As well as being visually opposite to one another the history of these fonts is poles apart too. Garamond was designed by engraver Claude Garamond in the 16th century for old printing presses, Helvetica on the other hand is a modernist font from the 50s by designer Max Miedinger. Generally in English we are used to seeing the printed word in a serif type like Baskerville or Times New Roman (named after the paper it was designed for) as it more readily appeals to our eyes that seek more human handwriting patterns, whereas Helvetica is much more a display font due to its clarity (used in the logos for American Airlines, Toyota, North Face, FedEx). Now on the printed page I’d argue Garamond works better in the lengthier prose sections except it has the effect of making the Conservative manifesto look dense an impenetrable, like the long form prose of a novel. Labour’s font may be plain and rather flat but it looks much easier to take in at a glance and therefore more welcoming. Online however it’s a different story. There are more sans-serif fonts on websites than serif, Helvetica is a fit for purpose multi-platform font that is clear and simple whatever device you read it on, Garamond is not (he said, writing in Garamond). Whilst it is definitely not like other web fonts and certainly looks ‘classier’ it is neither inviting nor easy to read. Unfortunately the Conservatives further compound this illegibility by seriously messing up the kerning (the spacing between characters). The Initial (those big letters that start the chapters) is really badly cramped against the paragraph, to the point of nearly overlapping – a design no no. Labour’s kerning is on point however, plenty of spacing between characters, aided by Helvetica’s clean lines, and a pronounced white box around the Initials Also the Conservatives’ page layout is cluttered and dense, Labour’s is sparse and minimal. The Conservative Manifesto reads more like a text whereas Labour’s reads like a power point presentation. The former is undoubtedly ‘powerful’, with more gravitas, but Labour’s is much more like the bulletin board it should be.

Labour’s Manifesto is much more in keeping with the design aesthetic of today (specifically web design) whereas the Conservatives’ is more like what we picture a formal legal or government document to look like. The latter is very much in keeping with the repeated dirge of ‘Strong and Stable’ and portrays the Conservatives as a more classical, traditional party but it is undeniably drab with it’s dour palette of Black, White and Blue. Labour’s on the other hand looks like every pamphlet you get dropped through the door: bright red, with the white shining cleanly through and – importantly – full colour images and colour coded sections. This speaks of Labour’s idea of inclusion, it is open and inviting with pictures of different people of varying gender and ethnicity. The Conservatives’ speaks more of its belief in individualism and the state stepping back to allow you to imprint you personality on to the policies and their presentation. In both cases both designs are not bad at all, they both reflect the message the party wishes to impart in the content of the writing itself and does so admirably, the point I’m making is that these designs are specifically tailored to appeal to their core voter and any undecided voter. Personally I find the Conservatives’ design to be an ugly, cluttered, austere mess with kerning issues and a shocking lack of understanding about web optimisation, whereas Labour’s is a minimalist, modernist’s wet dream i.e. Me.

Then there is the question of cost. Labour provided a financial break down of their manifesto promise in a separate sheet that broke down the costing. This was due to constant criticism by the press and the other parties that the socialist program was a myth and could not be properly funded. The Conservatives, with no such pressure, have provided no information on how their manifesto pledges will be paid for.

Now let’s look at the language of these manifestos and their respective launches. The Conservatives seem to be pushing the party to the background by constantly referring to Theresa May and her team, her foreword is littered with “I” and “My”, promoting the idea of individuality and (rather ironically given her and the party’s criticism of the ‘identity politics’ around Corbyn) that you would be voting for the leader who is much more popular than her party because apparently people still have the Mummy issues left over from the Thatcher era. Ahem. Labour talk about “we” “us” and “our” promoting their ideology of a shared society, community and a government integrated with the populace instead of one that steps back at times of crisis. Then there was the way the leader’s introduced their manifestos. Alright this is where I really get on my soapbox. Jeremy Corbyn used the same language in introducing his policies in an open airy space, unmolested or delayed by protesters. Theresa May’s however was delayed not just on the day but the manifesto’s printing itself was delayed four times (allegedly). Corbyn spoke of we and you and us and our where May talked of I and me and my. For all the talk of not trusting Corbyn you had better really bloody trust May as her words were that this was “My manifesto … a vision of the country I want this to be after Brexit”. That to me is terrifying and the true politics of identity. She spoke of wanting “to build a country” and that is telling. Brexit to her means destruction. It means the collapse of the previous Britain with its worker’s rights and moves toward equality, so the Conservatives would then have the ability after Brexit to build the country anew in their own image, or should I say hers. Corbyn’s introduction spoke of “unleashing Britain’s potential” after Brexit not attempting to reconstruct and introduced the policies saying “I am very proud to present OUR manifesto”. Believe what you like about the cult of Corbyn he is not the one publicising it, Theresa May – despite point blank denying it – most definitely is relying on the cult of her own.

My personal politics and loathing for the Tories and Theresa May aside what the manifesto launches and the manifestos themselves make plain is what is on offer from either party and not just in the policies themselves. On the one hand you have a severe, cold, austere, classical, stately manifesto of gravitas and great circumstance and on the other you have an open, warm, colourful, modern, simple manifesto of inclusion and assistance. I know which one I’ll be buying a hard copy of.

There’s still time to register to vote. Takes two minutes. Click here. Then vote for anyone except the Tories.

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The Other’s Way

Benjamin Franklin's cartoon of the Colonial Union in America from 1754
Benjamin Franklin’s cartoon of the Colonial Union in America from 1754

The Other is a philosophical idea coined by Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in the 18th century. It posits that the idea of one’s Self is defined by exterior forces, or an Other. The Other is not us but it shapes us. As babies we exist in a world of pure self, similar to dreaming, we can see and hear only indistinct shapes and sounds. When a baby moves its arm it does not understand why the rest of the world does not come with it, as the child grows it separates further from this world as it realises its own desires and pains are unique and distinct from it. Over the years we refine this into seeing into a broader sense of ‘Self’; the self of community, family, ideology and so on. This serves an evolutionary purpose as it is what helped early man hunt in packs, have a tribe that would look after children etc. This kind of “social reflex”, as Pavlov put it, can be seen in any church, a human need to metaphorically huddle together for warmth, to create a community. We see anything like us or with the same values as being like ourselves. A high and definable sense of self is healthy and natural.

But what of the Other?

The Other is all that we fear. It is all the things we are not. The Other stands against us, moulding us and shaping us. The Other is basically anything and everything we are not or we do not identify with and on a deep level we, for good reason, mistrust this. We have personified this hard-to-define Other as the ubiquitous ‘They’. “They don’t care”, “They are wrong”, “They think it is stupid” and so on. How often do we say “It’s raining”? Who is this ‘It’? The world? The It and They are the Other that we have created so we can stand as an individual in our lives. It is a ‘necessary evil’.

Far be it from me to question the father of modern philosophy but I don’t think Hegel’s idea of the Other is helpful anymore. Why am I saying this? Because we have an Election coming up here in the UK and that Other is being used really rather terrifyingly to remove our liberties and sway our decisions.

The Other is now so ingrained as a human model in the social sciences we never question it and it is part of our speech but this idea is now being used to manipulate people. You need only look at any advertising campaign to see how the Self is used to make you think you are missing out on the product or service they are selling: “Doctors recommend”, “here for you”, “real beauty campaign”. In short they say these people are you or are part of you culture/experience and they use this product and/or service so if you want to remain part of this social self then you had better buy into this. What troubles me the most is how insidiously the notion of the Other is being used. The rise of a Nu-Right in British politics is a prime example of this. UKIP stands on one policy: Immigration. The very notion of Immigration is a Hegelian legacy writ large – “THEY ARE NOT FROM HERE. THEY ARE NOT YOU. BE AFRAID.” UKIP uses this evolutionary fear of the outsider on which to base its policies. George W. Bush summed up this notion during the height of the “War on Terror” by stating simply: “Why do they hate us?” The Other is the language of politics, the ‘if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us’ mentality is now so loudly trumpeted it is deafening in the run up to the Election.

This needs to change.

I make no claim to being a great cultural theorist or critic but I am able to see problems where there are clearly problems. The notion of the Other was co-opted by Nazism, McCarthy-ism and eastern European communism in the 20th century to generate hate for people that were considered ‘Not Us’. For the Nazis it was non-Aryan people, for the Communists it was Capitalists and for the Capitalists it was the Communists. And we know how that all turned out. UKIP and the Conservatives, more so than any other parties, not only speak the language of the Other but actively propagate our hatred of them and drive a greater wedge between the Self and the Other. Yes, I am comparing UKIP and Tories to Nazis because it is the same ideology that drives them. A few friends of mine are academics and they have nothing but contempt for George Orwell’s novel 1984. This surprised me as I rather like that book and it has proved startlingly pertinent (ironically, since 1984). When I asked why he hated it, my friend pointed out “it has done more for the rhetoric of the Right than it has for the Left”. The more I thought about this the more I realised how easy it was for the Right to co-opt this vision of the future as the Other and use it to their advantage. You hold up the nightmare of big brother and parody it, make it a TV show, laugh at how wrong Orwell was, show how luxurious we all have it, create a new middle class that has everything with its iPhones and internet and loudly cry: “We’re not like that grey dystopia!” “Nobody wants an Orwellian regime” “This is why 1984 won’t be like 1984” all the while Edward Snowden points out exactly how we are having our liberties taken from us. A fascist culture of control is never going to be like 1984 because it can’t happen like that, we would see it coming. The true 21st Century oppressive society is one of extreme decadence, giving everyone what they want so we can continue to live happily with this sense of self, meanwhile ostracising, vilifying and ultimately destroying The Other. I would hope I am not perceived as ‘Other’ in that scenario…

This is not a new cultural theory and seems resoundingly hysterical to posit that we are heading for another controlling system of Government but every time I look at a news outlet or talk to my friends in any industry this is all I ever hear. That our culture and society is being shaped to fit a very small percentage of people with substantial penalties if you fail to comply. This CANNOT be allowed to go on. The world is changing and everything we consider the norm is going to be very different by the end of our children’s generation. We can no longer fear the outsider, we are literally running out of time. With the growth in communication and the distribution of knowledge the world is a tiny place and there is no excuse not to understand or communicate with one another. Borders are human inventions built to keep this ‘Other’ out, the cities and their industries came first and then the borders were built up around them to create a stronger sense of self. These borders are actively being felled both metaphorically and literally every day. To quote a recent blockbuster “We must not act as individuals but as a species”. Do not listen to the backwards thinking of the modern Right because it is so transparently and incredibly damaging we may not be able to recover.

The reason I am saying all this is because the Election looms here in the UK and we really badly need a change. I won’t tell you who to vote for but I can’t in good conscience say it is okay to vote for either UKIP or Conservative. What I will say is that EVERY VOTE counts, really and truly and deeply. I am writing another post to follow this about why you should vote but for now hopefully you will be given an inkling into why we should mistrust the established political model and the language they use but instead of simply removing the voting system as the Russell Brands of the world would have us do the best we can do is nail our colours to the mast so the mast is weighed down with sails and flags of every colour. If we do that it shows a faith in a DEMOCRATIC system that we all want to be involved in, a system we all consider part of our Self. If we can take that back maybe then we can start listening to that Other and maybe help shape it as well as it shape us.

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Register to vote here.

Have a look at who you should be voting for here.

UKIP Manifesto Here

Labour Manifesto Here (pdf)

Sort of Tory Manifesto Here (an actual manifesto by them is actually hard to find but they are banging the Economy drum hard apparently) and their pledge on Europe here (pdf).

Green Manifesto Here

SNP Manifesto Here

Plaid Cymru Manifesto Here

Liberal Democrat Manifesto Here

All you need is right there. Please register to vote. At least enter the debate. Apathy and ignorance are no longer (and never have been) an excuse.

Thank you.

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