The appreciation of the role of designers in our society will not change until we do change certain principles of our practice. The main reason why the vast majority of design out there is bad design is to be found in the places and procedures that graphic designers have tailored for themselves through the decades. The niche in which visual designers operate is dangerously comfortable. Designers have been abdicating their role as intellectually active actors of change, in order to become skilled executants, needed by clients only because of specific technical skills, such as the capability of operating certain software. Yet designers should instead be the whistle-blowers of visual communication and policy making, telling the public about the misconduct occurring at every level in corporations and institutions, whose outcomes affect us profoundly. In many conversations on the specific issue of the client-designer relation, I have often imagined the scene of a Medical Doctor trying to ‘win’ a patient the way visual designers try to win a client all around the world. In my search for the most appropriate medium to raise awareness on the practice of visual design and the role of designers, I turned to the theater.
What follows is an extract from a play on design I am writing. A staged reading video of the sketch can be seen here (Note: while reading the script, one student of mine decided to change the name of the patient from Mr Smith to Mr Frutiger).
Patient: Good morning, doctor!
Doctor: Good morning, Mr Smith.
P: So, doctor: what are the test results?
D: Take a seat, Mr Smith and let’s recap the situation. You came here a few weeks ago, lamenting an unspecified illness that was affecting your life at work and in your family. We did perform a series of tests and exams, and we think we have the solution that’s right for you…
P: Please doctor, tell me, what my condition is and what I have to do to get better…
D: Well, it is very serious, Mr Smith. You have cancer. It is serious but it can be healed. Actually, there is a 99% chance of complete rehabilitation. Of course, the situation calls for drastic measures: the first measure will be a chemotherapy treatment; that will be given in cycles, you see, this allows the cancer cells to be attacked at their most vulnerable times, and allows the body’s normal cells time to recover from the damage. We recommend three cycles in a 15 week period of treatment. Starting immediately. There is no time to waste, Mr Smith. Oh, and of course, you will quit smoking immediately and your diet will undergo a profound change. You have smoked your last cigarette and eaten your last piece of french Camembert cheese, Mr Smith. And, mmm….Yes, there is the cost issue: we are talking about some serious money, Mr. Smith: yes, you will be cured; yes, you will be back to your life and your business in great shape, but that will cost you 90.000 US Dollars.
P: Oh my goodness, Doctor, I-I am… This is terrible… I mean, are you sure?
D: Well, let me finish, Mr Smith! This is just one diagnosis! I have another one for you: you don’t have cancer after all: false-positive results are common with cancer screening and frankly, who wants to spend all that money on cures and medicine? We think that you have an inflammatory disorder. It is not a nice thing, Mr. Smith but it can be fixed pretty easily. And it won’t cost you a fortune, either: one month of rest and around 5.o00 US Dollars in medicine. I will prescribe you some anti-inflammatory drugs and you should know that physical activity does a lot of good in decreasing markers of inflammation, so why not join the gym this month and cut down with the cigarettes?
P: What? Doctor, I am confused, you were saying that …
D: Please, allow me to finish with my third diagnosis and …
P: A third what??
D: Yes, of course, we did not want to come to you with less than three diagnoses! And for the third one, we wanted to impress you: we took the liberty of thinking a little bit out of the box! We started from your symptoms and then we called in our expert in geomancy in the creative panel; he noticed that – if looked at from the perspective of alternative medicine – all your symptoms indicate that you have… A broken chakra path! And your aura needs to be restored as well. We prescribe long walks on the beach, every morning. Make sure you wear honeydew yellow or pale pastel, earth related, colors. A Mayan crystal necklace might also be useful. The whole treatment does not cost more than 500 US Dollars.
P: What? I don’t understand, doctor! Just tell me what I have! What I must do to get better! What do I have and how much time and money will it cost me to get cured!?!
D: Well, I just told you. You have cancer. And we can cure it for 90.000 US Dollars in three months. But I also think you have an inflammation: one month of rest and around 5.000 dollars in drugs. And, option three: you might want to consider to have a broken chakra path instead, fixable in one day, with very little expense! Our hospital will be delighted to treat you on the disorder of your choice.
P: What??? Choice? I-I-I don’t want to choose my disorder!! I want you to tell me…
D: It is your body, Mr. Smith, it is your life! You don’t want me, a medical doctor, to impose decisions on your life! My job is to cure you, but the choice of illness is yours. Of course you want to choose, Mr. Smith, but please, by all means, take your time. Consider our proposed diagnoses and see which one you favour the most. Of course, you might want to share them with your family, so that they can give their opinions too.I should tell you…This year, broken chakras are very popular with the ladies… I won’t be surprised if your wife insists that you go that route!
P: Doctor, this is insane! You said cancer, then inflammation, then a third one, what is going on? How can I choose? I don’t want to choose! I want your expert opinion! One opinion! I cannot choose to have cancer or something else!
D: Mr. Smith, we are here to help. We are health professionals and we want you to be happy. All our three diagnoses are equivalent for us: cancer or broken chakra? It is your choice!
We wanted to make sure that you understand and appreciate how creative we can be in our diagnoses! And whatever your preference is, we will be delighted to consider you as our patient for the treatment of your choice. And Mr. Smith: please, please do not hesitate for a moment to contact me again, day or night, if you need a change in our diagnoses proposals! We have a team of amazing junior doctors and they have tons of highly creative diagnoses ready for you to choose from: I said cancer but, if you prefer malaria, that can be easily adapted to your symptoms. Yes, we can do it! We diagnosed malaria for a client in Alaska once: nothing is impossible, Mr. Smith! If you feel that getting rid of cancer is too expensive or that Chakras are passé, we might propose to you a rare bipolar disorder diagnosis, at an extremely convenient price! Not to mention a vast range of self immune pathologies. You will not find them with your competitors, Mr Smith! Above all, we understand that you want your illness to be memo- rable and unique and we are capable of fine-tuning our diagnoses on your wishes. But of course, it is your life and your body, Mr. Smith, so if for example you’d feel more comfortable with a more classic, time tested approach, we have a vast array of alcohol related pathologies, always very popular… A wasted liver never goes out of fashion, does it, Mr. Smith?
P: Doctor, my head is hurting me… Please stop… I just want to be ok…
D: All our diagnoses will make you feel better! You know what is good for your body and when you have made your choice, my contact number is in the folder. Thank you for the opportunity, Mr. Smith: we really hope that you will choose us and we look forward to having you in our clinic!