Lofty Ideas Bandied About

What role can creativity play in shaping our world? Can creatives become instruments for social and political change? That’s the subject of the evening of September 21, 2006 at the Art Directors Club ADC Gallery panel discussion called “Designism.”
“Designism will address the question of how you use your career to make the world a better place. By giving this movement a name, we hope to provide young designers and creatives with a way to connect with their craft and add new meaning to their careers,” says ADC vice-president Brian Collins, who heads Ogilvy’s Brand Innovation Group.
Milton Glaser, George Lois, Tony Hendra, Kurt Andersen, James Victore and Jessica Helfand will be on hand to discuss the issue.
Tickets are free for ADC members and $10 for non-members. Seating is limited. The ADC is located at 106 West 29 St., between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, in New York City. To reserve call Ann Schirripa at the ADC at 212-643-1440 or email to

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. It’s notable (and eyebrow-raising) that this panel did not include a single real, live activist to temper the abstract opinions of these designers and critics.
    As I’ve commented to Bill Drenntel before (much to his discomfiture), high-end designers and advertising people often completely misunderstand what kinds of designs work at the grassroots level.
    Despite paying lipservice to notions of contextuality and “working with” clients, most designers and ad people view pro bono work for causes mostly as an opportunity to be more “artistic” than their work-for-hire.
    But often these designs and campaigns are completely out of step with the target community and the needs of the activist groups for whom they are created.
    In my own work as both a (successful) activist and a (self-taught) designer, I repeatedly fended off very bad ideas from Madison Avenue and downtown “pros” who insisted their proposed campaigns were the only way to go. This was the one constant — their utter certainty in the rightness of their ideas.
    Sometimes, in a local or regional campaign, the slickest, cleverest, boldest, or most “dramatic” message is the one most guaranteed to alienate the target audience.
    But since the designs which win awards (or get featured in books) are handed out by others in the same peer group as the creatives, not by activists, inappropriate campaigns keep getting rewarded, while effective and contextually smart work is ignored.
    I’m reminded of a quote I recently ran across from David Hockney in a Metropolis book:
    “I do make a distinction which I think we have lost. The difference is that art must move you, design need not.”
    When turning their hand to activist work, designers and other creatives too often think that the goal is to “move” the audience. More often, in activist work, the hard part is convincing the audience — and not alienating them with hifalutin imagery or typography.

  2. Sam,
    Thanks for your commentary. I agree that many in high rise offices are well meaning but clueless. Not just in advertising.
    Wankers aside, there are some truly good people who genuinely want to do good work for causes and companies they believe in. And they’re not all found in New York. Not by any stretch.
    As for convincing anyone of anything, that does take skill.