How design and journalism merge in times of crises

Noortje van Eekelen

Everything that seemed normal before was suddenly unsettled by the Covid-19 pandemic. The vulnerabilities of society were mercilessly exposed and globalisation, capitalism and neoliberalism turned out to be less sacred than expected. 

Crisis upon crisis looms. In short, we live in very troubled times.

“The turmoil in the world reflects the turmoil in ourselves,” says Jan Rotmans in Trouw¹. "We have lost trust in each other, in the systems, in the government." Long-term processes that developed relatively autonomously now intersect and cause radical changes.

Yet the consequences of crises do not have to be all dark, said trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort in VPRO Tegenlicht². "They offer the unique opportunity to do things differently." A crisis can be the moment when society takes a different turn. This option makes the need for alternatives increasingly urgent.

In times of crises, whether it concerns welfare, the environment, inequality or power structures, society needs new scenarios, structures and foundations. What opportunities does this time of crisis offer for the future? Are there ways in which we can organize society differently? Can design, interpret or show?

Design and Journalism

Rethinking the future requires more than the mere expertise of politicians, doctors and scientists. 

“Artists and storytellers know how to deal with the unknown”, says Merlijn Twaalfhoven in NRC³. Tabo Goudswaard, initiator of the recently established Social Creative Council⁴, also agrees. With SCR he offers makers as possible solvers of social issues. A selection of renowned professionals including Abdelkader Benali, Floor Ziegler, Bright Richards and Marleen Stikker have joined the board as core members. 

"Culture is in the skin of society, it is society and always keeps its finger on the pulse of daily life", write Erik Kessels, Jacqueline Grandjean, Jörgen Tjon A Fong, Roy Cremers, Tinkebell and Wim Pijbes in Het Parool⁵. 

Adventurous guides and creatives are needed to stimulate thinking about a new society and to spread it widely. Astute writers and journalists are needed to test and spread that thinking. This means that the function and relevance of design and journalism - and especially the combination thereof - is becoming increasingly important.  

Intermediate area 

Both socially engaged designers and journalists are curious about what is happening in the world and present their vision on it. The two disciplines were once strongly separated from each other, but it is increasingly apparent that design and journalism are converging. It is a movement in which relevant social issues are investigated by combining artistic and journalistic characteristics: 

Fiction Fact
Subjectivity Objectivity
Form Content
Interpretation Verification
Experiment Analysis
Imagination Interpretation

The added value that the exchange and combination of these disciplines yields is now recognized by more and more makers, not least by the blood groups themselves. Numerous designers produce work based on journalistic principles. Conversely, there are journalists who make work that can be experienced as design or art. In the meantime, the public benefits, because the convergence of both disciplines provides interesting perspectives. Some examples:

  • Femke Herregraven developed the project Liquid Citizenship⁶, an online game and physical app store in which civil rights can be traded and revoked.

  • Annet Henneman of Teatro di Nascosto⁷ makes reportage theater based on journalistic research and (partly) performed by those involved and those affected.

  • With the installation Failed Futures and Extended Borders⁸, the duo Foundland analyzes the situation in the Middle East.

  • Forensic Architecture presents with 77sqm_9: 26min⁹ in a journalistic way and with the help of architectural methods evidence about the murder of Halit Yozgat in Kassel.

  • With the project Uncensored Playlist¹⁰ by DDB and Reporters without Borders, journalists can convert news reports into music and thus circumvent censorship.

  • Dit zijn onze helden!¹¹ by designer Yuri Veerman shows how much incomes in vital professions differ from the remuneration of top managers.

  • But initiatives such as Zondag met Lubach¹² and Lucky TV¹³ also provide light-hearted commentary on current events.  

Academies are now also embracing this development. For example, the master's program Non Linear Narrative¹⁴ by Roosje Klap and Niels Schrader at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague focuses on combining journalistic and forensic methods. And Barbara Visser's brand-new master's program F for Fact¹⁵ at the Sandberg Institute focuses on the tendency that facts are increasingly framed as fantasy and fiction is more often presented as truth.

Nevertheless, there is still no common denominator and no common policy. ACED aims to take the lead in this and to develop substantive and audience-oriented activities.

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