Jessica Helfand | Analysis

This is What Character Looks Like

Senator Chris Murphy, left, and Dylan Hockley, aged 6, who was killed in 2012 during the Sandy Hill Elementary School massacre.

Ten years ago, we hosted a small gathering for our local Congressman: he was smart and spirited, unpretentious and deeply engaged in his community. Mostly, he struck us as someone who was not afraid to ask tough questions.

We were hardly alone in our assessment of his capabilities. Today he is a U.S. Senator, one who stood for fifteen hours this week and spoke with stunning eloquence about the most critical topic dividing this country. 

Graphic design, as Michael Bierut once said, is almost always about something else. In this case, Murphy’s fillibuster is worthy of mention here not because of his position on gun control (although, in the interest of transparency, it is one that I share) nor because of any amazing visual presentation (this is the floor of Congress, after all) but because of his willingness to act. For anyone thinking that design can change the world, Murphy's spectacular performance this week is a trenchant reminder that while pictures may speak louder than words, and while words can torpedo through the air like weapons, presence is the most powerful gesture of all.

Say what you will about political motive, about freedom of speech and First Amendment rights, about the legislative uncertainties surrounding immigration and even what constitutes a proper background check, but this simple fact—one person’s willingness to stand up and argue with both fervor and poise on behalf of something so egregious—is a powerful illustration of why we are people first, politicians second. Could the same not be said for designers? The things we design and distribute are reflections of who we are, what we stand for and believe in. This story reminds us that the power of expression is a human prerogative. Words and pictures may matter, but character is everything.

Comments [1]

Indeed. I'm proud of Senator Murphy and also Senator Blumenthal and Congressman Himes who participated in this effort and have long been advocates for sensible gun legislation. Here's to character! And here's to words and pictures that document such character.
Pamela Hovland

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