William Drenttel | Essays

Whose Flag?

Adbusters' poster, design by Pedro Inoue, 2008

Recently, I received a poster on a topic I care about, issued by an organization I respect. It's a call-for-entries for a flag design competition being hosted by Adbusters, on the topic of global citizenship. The jury consists of 7 judges, 4 of whom are contributors to Design Observer, and all of whom are capable critics, respected in the field.

The seven person jury, however, consists entirely of white men.

Nearly a decade into a new century, I believe it is unacceptable for a design organization, foundation, board of directors, magazine or other enterprise, to mount an initiative with an all male panel of judges — or, put another way, "white, native English-speaking men from the U.S., British Isles or Australia." Such behavior is no longer acceptable and should not be tolerated by a community of designers (or any other community).

Designers around the world should just say no.

This is a competition for a flag to represent global citizenship — in this, the year of Barack Obama; the year of the 45th anniversary celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech; and the year we celebrate the 88th anniversary of the U.S. 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. While the examples are rooted in American cultural experience, the principle — and the conclusion — remains the same: this is not the time for such limited vision. What winner would be proud of such an achievement, cast in these harsh terms?

In researching this story, my fact-checking led me to emails from jurors proposing a more diverse selection — some even willing to resign to open slots for others. Adbusters in fact published a letter in Issue #79 (graciously supplied to me by Adbusters's editor, Kalle Lasn) from Jan Olof Nygren, that read in part: "Is there a reason for not having a more diverse and international panel of judges? I find it unfortunate when the competition is about embodying the idea of global citizenship." One juror noted the entire episode is "a case of bad judgment, not maliciousness."

And, finally today, after a flurry of correspondence this week, I was copied on an email from Adbusters which promised, "I'm making sure this happens. It's our priority right now in the One Flag competition." Adbusters is going to expand the jury, hopefully in more ethnically and internationally representative directions. (If they need help, there is Jen Bekman's list of hundreds of women for juries and conferences.)

Adbusters has championed many amazing challenges in creative ways. So I want to encourage Kalle Lasn and the team there for seeing the light. But how did we get to the point where a jury was formed with no representation from a larger, more diverse community? This has happened too many times in recent years. One is reminded of "The Graphic Glass Ceiling," as recounted by Michael Bierut; or the first year of the National Design Awards, when 19 winners and finalists recognized 18 men; or Jason Kottke's analysis of the lack of women speakers at Web conferences; or Tokion being called "one big steaming pile of misogyny" after previously having booked a conference with 28 male speakers.

I'm writing this here not to further abuse Adbusters, but to forcefully argue that this should not happen again. It is time for organizations to encourage diversity as a part of developing new ideas, excellence and a richness in the future of design — an increased focus on multiculturalism, gender equality and globalism is more than appropriate in these times. Designers should take a personal pledge that they will not participate in events or initiatives that do not include participation by others, whether of sex, color or language. It's a simple step, but it's time.

We look forward to seeing the expanded jury for the Adbusters competition and will gladly publish and acknowledge it here.

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Politics

Comments [175]

Thanks for such a strong essay.

[A few quibbles: "I Have a Dream" is 45 years old, not 50, and the 19th Amendment is 88, not 90. (Editors Note: These corrections made in the text. Thank you.)]
Asa Hopkins

Maybe you could have Sarah Palin on the committee?

Surely its a case of the best person for the job?

The jury would have been selected because of their credentials and not because of their race or gender.

I know i would be pissed off if I were kicked off of a jury simply for being a white male? Isn't that unacceptable?

White cyan, magenta, yellow or black, it should be about their judgement and ability, not race.

Its a shame that the work that gets done may be over shadowed by political correctness against the jury.

This 'call for entries' was put out a long time ago... and complaining about it now seems futile.

Are all men brothers or are they not?

Regulating diversity can only serve to greatly increase the emphasis on visual perception of "black vs. white" (and any race), and thus increase racism, whether it be conscious or not.

By saying that a jury which is not ethnically diverse is therefore biased, you are implying an innate difference in rational judgment between races. Is this not in itself at least as great a racism as any white supremacist had?
William Baker

Why is it that white males always get angry about inequality of other races? I'm sure William Drenttel is a white man.

Maybe the jurors are all white males because design as a practice is predominently white and male. And what's wrong with that? I work in a fashion business and the only other people here are female or gay. Should I complain?

I can't imagine that out of all of the graphic design professionals in the world, seven white men just happen to be "the best person[s] for the job", as a commenter above suggests. And I wouldn't suggest that every panel has to have a multi-racial, multi-gender showing. In this case, as Mr. Drenttel points out, it seems only appropriate that diversity play a role. Flags are all about cultural symbolism, and choosing a group that can't relate personally to the variances in this symbolism was obviously an oversight.

At this point, correcting the oversight is superficial. It might appease entrants and is, in part, an apology, but it doesn't make up for the fact that no one saw this as an issue when they finalized the panel. It's especially glaring when every issue of Adbusters rails against old white men and their power.

With all due respect, how do you know they weren't picked solely for their qualifications, with no attention paid to their race or sex?

True equality is making choices without race, gender, etc in mind, not making sure a group is stocked with at least one black man, one woman, one (insert minority/oppressed here).

This whole thing reminds me of being asked to photoshop a white man into a black man for a client, so that they could show more "diversity" in their company.
steve h

@ paul (on 09.05.08 at 07:44)

Identity (race, gender etc.) is a credential. In seeking wider participation from those often excluded, by invisible but nonetheless powerful forces, we enable the opportunity for new perspectives to arise.

But as each of us is formed from a complex interplay of differing identities (Black, African, American, Woman, Mother, Lover, Daughter, Designer, Communist) there is no guarantee that in selecting particular identities they will speak ‘for’ or ‘from’ this particularised position. We could easily imagine a jury formed from a diverse range of identities that find themselves aligned on a particular way of seeing the world. For example, those concerned with ‘visual creativity’ (e.g. the Judges) will be informed by contemporary and historical design and likely be concerned with protecting, distributing, and confirming their professional status as visually literate individuals. Thus, the introduction of diverse identities, as much as it can potentially puncture the dominant doctrine can also
lead to a (re)affirmation of the present.
This argument should not stop us from subverting, challenging and changing the somewhat stifling and limited approaches we carry out unreflexively. Merely following procedure is not very imaginative. William Drenttel should be applauded for demanding so much more from a community of creatives, for problematising assumptions and challenging us to think, and in turn act upon that thinking.

The problem then is not with Drenttel's worthy endeavours, but with the uncritical, bland, liberal gestures of the competition, the organization, and those associated with it.

Wow, there is so much unchecked privilege in this thread.

Yes, in a PERFECT world, race and gender would not matter when picking people for design juries. But we do not live in a perfect world, so stop treating it as such. Acknowledge that race and gender are still blockades to success and recognition, and that being mindful of them when choosing juries or other participants can be a remedy to that, not a hindrance. Included with this should be discussions about diversity in the design community, who gets recognition for what, etc. that is inclusive to all races and genders. Just saying "race shouldn't matter blah blah blah" in a plea for "equality" ignores the greater issues at hand.

In this competition about global citizenship, race and gender DO matter in the decision making process. Because the world isn't only made up of white guys.

Thank you brining attention to this attention. I am very pleased with that Design Observer has discussions about race and gender in the design community, when it is usually overlooked or shouted down by those holding up a strawman of "political correctness".
Design Benign

I feel that for this type of competition it does make sense to have a diverse panel of judges. Everything in our society should be based on equality, however the fact of the matter is, is that it is not. There are still a lot of racial issues our world faces and this could be one of the moments to capitalize on the opportunity to demonstrate equality. Not only could it be a "politically correct" thing to do, but it may be able to encourage different cultural perspectives, thus altering what could be awarded as the winner.

My opinion, in this situation like every situation to make our world a better place; show equality in everything you do, we all bleed the same color.

The only diversity lefties think is important is skin color.

What about height, weight, religion, allergic to wheat, if they stutter or not, colorblindness, total blindness, number of siblings, number of step parents, IQ score, and MANY other things that generally are not chosen by a particular person. Then consider all the differences in the things we do choose! Favorite color, if we like cantaloupe, countries we have visited, music selection on our ipod, etc...

You would have more diverse thought in a group of people of different religion than of different skin color. You would have more diverse thought among a group that came were in a different birth order (oldest, middle child, youngest) than on based solely on skin color.

The design competition should have someone on it that is colorblind. They will have a very diverse opinion of the entries.

Yeah, it isn't real diversity you are interested in...

Who really cares? It's only 7 people and, as you say, they are all respected in their field. You are insinuating prejudice, which is just as bad as actual prejudice.

I appreciate William's enthusiasm for the subject. And agree with the essential messages. But, frankly this seems like an overqualified jury for a pretty unimaginative contest.
Jason L

With all due respect, how do you know they weren't picked solely for their qualifications, with no attention paid to their race or sex?

They may very well have been picked solely for their qualifications. However, there are some issues with that:
1) Qualifications are strongly correlated with social position (gender, race, class, etc.) so by focusing on qualifications you will inevitably end up with an unintended selection effect.
2) Similarly, if the qualifications themselves result in a homogenous (in some respects) jury, then it suggests that the qualifications themselves may have unintentionally structured or skewed the jury composition.
3) People do not just bring 'qualifications' to the table when they make judgments, they bring their whole way of thinking. For a very superficial example, would a design team of all-right-handers consider the issues left-handed users face? Maybe, if they had at some point actually been exposed to those issues. Since we usually don't even know what we don't know, since we aren't aware of what we haven't been exposed to, it is healthy to engage with those of us who may have encountered different experiences.

True equality is making choices without race, gender, etc in mind, not making sure a group is stocked with at least one black man, one woman, one (insert minority/oppressed here).

So we can address inequality by pretending gender, race, and class don't have consequences and by ignoring the unintentional and systematic ways marginalization works. Is that what you are saying? No one advocated specific quotas; they indicated a problem with the unbelievable homogeneity of the jury.

This is a competition for a flag to represent global citizenship

While the case could be made for the panel's rather limited representation of global citizenry, it seems odd to host a competition whose aim is to represent ALL global citizens and then appoint a monochrome jury.

It's not that the only "acceptable" jury would be a Noah's Ark collection of races, creeds, cultures, and ideologies, but one would hope that in looking for a design that represents diversity, Adbusters would have done a bit more to represent it on their jury.

That said, it's all a rather contrived first world problem.

Jen Bekman commented on this in regard to the paucity of women speakers at Creativity Now in 2007 (and say what you will about the usual 'we only select on merit' defense, the 2008 conference had a several women -- I can't claim to know if that was in response to her criticism, but I welcomed the difference), and as a result, compiled a helpful list for anyone who just can find a gal, dammit.
miss representation

If you really want to carry this argument to its natural conclusion, I think we can all agree that someones gender, nationality, religion etc should not be a factor.

So pick one white person at random from that jury and replace them with someone of a different race/gender to make you happy.

Is that not also discrimination because of color/gender? How do you explain it to man who got kicked off... ?

While I see your point, the inverse is also a form of racism/discrimination.

What's funny about all of this, is we're talking about a competition to design a flag to represent the world...a competition that's (really) only open to graphic designers and/or people who read Adbusters (and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that both have a large white male majority).

So, when the winning flag is eventually chosen by the panel of prominent design professionals, and finally goes into production, who will really care to acknowledge (and buy) it other than the white men that helped organize and promote it?
Richard Rodriguez

Are diversity of mind and diversity of physical body and ethnic background inseparable in a link that one will determine the other?

It seems to me that that is possible with what the author writes. I am not suggesting that it is what the author suggests though. But I think it needs for us to understand that just because a jury consists of seven of the same ethnically simlar people, in no way does that cast them as having the same qualifications and intelectual background training.

Understandably, I admit that it is possible through the review of these specific jurors to draw the conclusion that they are not "global" enough. But I will not agree to creating a United Nations of Juries for the sake of diversity. The diversity should be of mind, not of body.

Old school, white guys breed old school ideas.

And Adbusters hasn't been relevant since I was in design school 10 years ago.

The "kids" these days don't think twice about equality issues... because it's a given.

Take a look at Phaidon's Area 2 for your fix of what's current.
Mrs Eaves

Just imagine if every workplace or committee or organization of any sort had to adhere to a membership requirement based on racial percentages in that area.

William, are seriously think you need to put more thought into your outbursts.

Great post on taking a closer look. I think overall if you look at design competitions it is generally all white or all male with a token person in the mix. International design is alive and well (not just western europe). Competitions need to stay consistent with their original message.
David Oberholtzer

I was an associate editor and contributor to Adbusters for several years.

Kalle Lasn told me straight-out once that he did not like working with women in creative or senior roles. His sexism is evident if you look at the genders of Adbusters' staff and feature contributors over the years.

Regarding the general issue here - whether or not every panel should have male and female representatives - I am personally in favour of selection according to merit rather than gender.

However, in any panel chosen by Kalle Lasn, you can be sure that gender was a more important criteria than merit.

It seems that a lot of people are misinterpreting the intent of Bill's post. I don't think he was insinuating that Adbusters is racist or sexist. But the point is not about the fairness of the jury-selection process at all. Gender and race should not be factors that elevate some people over others. And I'm pretty sure Adbusters was thinking this way when the jury was selected.

But speaking as a white, straight, male American of northern European descent, I think that the job of judging entries to a competition to design a flag that "embodies the idea of global citizenship" requires diversity, just as it requires intelligence, creativity, and taste. Don't confuse the internal intent of the process with its external effect on the world.

In any case, there's now a glimmer of hope on the contest site:

Judges include: Jonathan Barnbrook, Michael Bierut, Vince Frost, Steven Heller, Kalle Lasn, Rick Poynor and Dmitri Siegel. More to be announced.
Scott Stowell

Maybe they were the best guys for the job, but its only fair that the panel should have some women as well. And all-white is definitely not a good idea. This is a global village right? So how about looking beyond your own shores?

It isn't just happenstance that the panel of credentialled judges looks that way. When they were young, the ppl who got promoted looked like them. Over the years, they rose through the ranks and gained enough respect and experience to be judges in this contest. But a lack of diversity breeds the lack of diversity.

Panels that look like this are why the industry lacks women and minority representation in the first place. Who will they mentor to create the next generation of esteemed design professionals?

I agree with some of the comments and the post in general. It makes good sense that the panel would have a diverse group of people and if it so happens the first people they thought of were white men then perhaps they should expand the search a little. The problem is that there are problems with finding a diverse panel. How diverse do you go? Why does one country get picked vs. another? What if there is one more man than women or one more woman than men? Reminds me of aesop's fable about the old man, the boy and the donkey. When you try to please everyone nobody is happy.
David Piechnik

Were I trying to find a committee to pick a flag for the world I might go for equal representation based on population of geographic areas. Asia has lots of folks so you might want to give Asia more say in the flag... followed by Africa, europe, lating america, north america... The rep from Asia might be a middle aged white man, but... maybe not. Using this formula most of the judges would be from the developing world and North America probably would not have a voice... The race issue is the tip of a bigger iceberg where the first world tends to forget about the second and third world who by sheer population outnumber the first world... and economically are coming on strong.

To play the other side, why not post all entries to the web and have the world vote on their own flag? Oh because you need to be of a certain socio-economic status in order to have computer access and the free time to give a damn about some new flag (...will this flag feed my family...). Oh and design by committee is always a terrible idea.
jered bogli

damn liberals always have to go on and harp about misrepresentation or no representation. shut the hell up for once.
what if the whole panel were african american lesbian (women)? perhaps then you would be raving about how much design has progressed over the years. one step ahead and all that garbage.
Gilbert Johnson

i'd argue that adbusters' readership is probably primarily "white, native English-speaking men from the U.S., British Isles or Australia." would it make sense for the jury to be a cross-section of some other racial/ethnic makeup? perhaps the author would do well to expand his reading habits.

This isn't about promoting diversity, it's about fighting bias.

When the first seven people that come to mind as "qualified" are all white males, it shows a clear bias - whether in our society or our industry. There are many talented designers of other genders and races. Until we can recognize and remove our biases and truly choose on merit alone, we should continue to ensure juries and speaking rosters are as diverse as we are.
mike williams

The pot has certainly been stirred, hasn't it? I believe that was reason for the essay: to discuss the situation and see if there are any recurrent themes or anything we can learn collectively.

There is quite a mix of global-to-specific commentary regarding the merits of class, race, gender, and the like and how in a perfect world—or at least one in which we'd like to live—such attributes are inconsequential at best.

To comment specifically on the project in question, it is very important to select as diverse a mix of participants and jurors, in both design and sociologically-related fields as possible as the final outcome represents the "world" at large. The real test lies in how Adbusters will be able to get such an eclectic mix of folks to agree on any one design.

Globally, I wish none of the detritus we hold so dearly really mattered. However, as experiential beings, this is the stuff we are made of; the lens through which we perceive the world and each other. This detritus makes us stronger and absolutely ridiculous at the same time. So goes the Human Condition.

Until we, as a LOCALIZED society, embrace our differences and commonalities and utilize them to our collective advantage, there is little hope of working together on a GLOBAL stage and this stream of discourse will continue. My only hope is that one day we will understand each other enough to take real action; our differences becoming commonplace, our discord becoming change.
James D. Nesbitt

I find your article a bit ironic. You cite Martin Luther King's I have a dream speech. One of the most memorable lines in that this speech is this one:

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

These judges are not being judged by the content of their character, but by the color of their skin and their sex. I'm not saying that right or wrong, but it is contrary to King's professed vision.
Daniel Simmons

I want my doctors and engineers and lunch ladies for that matter, chosen purely on merit with no regard to race or anything else. However, a jury for a design competition is not the same thing. It is subjective, and would benefit from varied perspective. Particularly this competition.
Ginny Shope Fowler

Infinitely more offensive than the selection of the jurors is the premise of the contest itself. I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would need a flag for the whole world. It is only there to communicate a syrupy and obvious notion that we're all one people, which anyone smart enough to analyze a flag's symbolism would know anyway.

While we're at it we should create one logo that represents every company. You know — to let the business world know that they're all businesses, and that while they may have disagreements, they're all in this thing together.

This is it? This is how we're going to change the world as designers? Flags that only third-graders would appreciate? Am I on Candid Camera?

My suggestion would be to organize a speakers bureau type arrangement where qualifies minorities could register. Then when jury formation is contemplated, this competent selection list would be readily available. This service would succeed on several levels. Contest sponsors would save their precious reputations by insuring a politically correct mix of jury members. The Williams of the world would no longer be exercised to put pen to paper in protest and the AIGA would have one more useful function to serve the graphic design community. Everybody wins, with the possible excepting of free thinking and the death of the possibility that one could form a committee with only the thought of staffing it with the best available participant without a political thought entering the mind.

It appears from the above conversation we have much much further to go before we can declare a truce on coerced diversity and a time when jury makeup achieves a formulaic pinnacle based on some ethereal political prerequisite. I'm sorry, I missed the memo on the new century being the starting point for mixed race, mixed gender committee formation. I did hear this was the age of Aquarius, maybe I was off smoking something when this particular decree came down from on high.

As we swing into the height of the political season me thinks our heads are clouded by a pious neophyte empty suit community organizer (however eloquent) and a worn-out erstwhile war hero negotiating for a job neither will succeed at, but either will walk away with fatter wallets. My hope is that the Year of Obama or the Year of McCain yields an end to the need for politics to enter every blood vessel of social interaction.

I look for a day when we let organizers pick who they want as judges under whatever criteria they choose, judging the results by the quality of the results and not by some mythical aura of political correctness (as if diversity would yield a marginally better result). The quality is in the art not in the jury members. Any number of reasonably aware design practitioners could choose a competent selection of winning flags no matter what the diversity of the jury makeup. I have participated in juried competitions and the general strength of the results rest more on the strength of the individual personalities and the interaction of those personalities. But for the most part, through the jury process, the cream rises to the top and the best work becomes obvious. Where differences occur is in the "also ran" pieces and they rarely become the memorial part of the show.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a white male, so the possibility exists that I could be as full of s**t as Mr. Drenttel.
Michael Swaine

Maybe I've been watching too much Mad Men. I don't know if specifically adding diversity for the sake of diversity, at the level of race, really means much. These white guys could be very diverse. Sure, all signs point to not so much. But I'd rather assume the best than settle for the rest just to have diversity at face value.

Thank you Bill.
Nice to hear the voice of a gentleman, which you have been always.
I feel on my skin that issue, although never wanted to accept that as one of the real deterents in my professional battle.
Here I am for years, fighting for my rights as a free thinker and capable artist and cartoonist, to earn my living.

Reading this thread, I got BINGO!

Design Benign

Let every graphic designer in the world vote. However,
you'll have to extend the deadline.
pat Taylor

get over yourself original poster.
to discredit someone for being a white male is as prejudiced as it comes., and I am a 29 year old black female designer.

Sure a varied jury might make sense for the project, but I'm guessing you would not turn down an offer to jury such a project yourself.

Not everything has an ulterior motive.
But everything has an agenda. Just like the Design Observer website does.
Just let people design if they want to.

OMG! More self loathing from the American left. I'm a white male designer in my 30's and I guess I should just kill myself cause according to this author I shouldn't be considered because of my heritage and skin color for certain job titles.

That's how the Nazi party got started.

This was my first visit to this website and it will very much be my last.

I think it's worth mentioning that these "white devils" on the panel are very likely to have the ability to appreciate the integration of symbols, thoughts, colors, creeds, cultures, etc outside of a "western white" point-of-view.

As far as the panel being put together in this sort of circle jerkish homogenous way, well it's Adbusters!, what do you expect?

Rather than continuing to harp on race and PC issues, address the root of the problem: the arrogant notion that a magazine produced for a tiny cadre of disaffected North American leftists can speak for humanity. Here’s to hoping that dictionaries start putting a photo of Adbustsers next to the entry for “callow”.
James Puckett

William Drenttel opposes exactly what he himself is.
A white, highlye educated male, who attended Princeton University, and lives/works in Connecticut. Now he judges other white (highly accomplished design critics) men for being in the jury position.

And is only upset because he is not, or was not offered a jury position on the project.


“Judges include: Jonathan Barnbrook, Michael Bierut, Vince Frost, Steven Heller, Kalle Lasn, Rick Poynor and Dmitri Siegel.” Half that list are also editors of or contributing writers to Design Observer.

A triumph of diversity, surely.
Joe Clark

Wow I have to say this was a pretty awesome essay. I just fell a little enlightened to what's going on in the design community. Thank you for essay, it was great!

Gender and race matter (as do many other things), whether we like it or not. Trying to understand how they play out, in ways which are often subtle or unintended, is not 'political correctness.' Asking for a less homogeneous jury is not 'political correctness.' Rather, it's reasonable, decent, and responsible.

I think it's worth mentioning that these "white devils" on the panel are very likely to have the ability to appreciate the integration of symbols, thoughts, colors, creeds, cultures, etc outside of a "western white" point-of-view.

Yes, they may have the ability, but they might not have the means or incentive to do so. You can't just say to a jury "consider all the things you would never otherwise consider!" Re-read my post on how we usually don't even know what is outside our own point-of-view (that's what makes it a point-of-view).

I believe if the list of jurors were as follows:
Jonathan Barnbrook, Michael Bierut, Vince Frost, Steven Heller, Kalle Lasn, Rick Poynor, Dmitri Siegel and William Drenttel.

Then the essay would never have been written.


Both Adbusters and Design Observer suck anyways.

Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom! You symbiotic, patriotic, slam bug net, right? Right! It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.
Michael Stipe

Thank you all for so many comments on this post. It's a complicated subject worthy of discussion and further thought.

I'm disappointed that so many of our readers see this post in terms of leftism, reverse sexism, racism, etc.

That a competition to create "One Flag" for global citizenship should be represented by a jury of 7 white men is simply embarrassing — almost beyond comprehension. There is no defense for such silly isolationism.

This has nothing to do with the qualifications of the jury selected, all fantastic designers. But why did so many of these same jury members complain about the composition of the jury? And why was Adbusters so resistant to reason? Why did it take months, and this very public post, for Adbusters to finally recognize that they needed to do something?

This has nothing to do with quotas, or knee-jerk liberalism. This is simply about a sincere attempt to create a jury worthy of the subject.

I can say in all hosesty that I would not attend an AIGA conference that put 28 white males on the the main stage, and AIGA would not think of making such a presentation in 2008. It's not about tokenism or quotas — it's about leadership. It's so easy today to find quality within the profession — so many people are doing new and interesting work. To curate a conference or a jury with only white men — well, you have to work at it.

Many organizations have struggled with these issues. Most have found that diverse perspectives benefit the organization and the mission and the members. At a certain point, working to include such perspectives becomes a natural part of the culture of the organization.

One would hope that future competitions would approach their jury selections with more interest to varying world views.
William Drenttel

As a white male designer, I can't control my race and heritage. To exclude me as a judge based on that is immoral.

Nothing is this post suggested excluding white male designers. Everything in this post says that having only white male designers is unworthy of the subject and an organization committed to global citizenship.

c, I certainly never suggested excluding YOU personally.
William Drenttel

A contest involving "global diversity" should make more effort to reflect a diverse planet and society. Like it or not, the white male perspective is not a universal one. It's hard for me to believe that it was absolutely impossible for Adbusters to find talented designers who weren't white or male. And those arguing that policies excluding white males are wrong need to remember that white men have dominated public discourse for centuries, and, although women and POC have been given more of a voice, still do. It's similar to Affirmative Action - the reason we have AA is because an unequal playing field was rigidly enforced for decades, and we're still feeling the effects of that in American society. So it's necessary to put policies in place that will even the odds. To have a more diverse panel would not be an attempt to silence white men - it would just be a recognition that, historically, white men have been given all the say in what things like "citizenship" means, and that it's time for other voices to be heard.
Death Worm

And why was Adbusters so resistant to reason?

When has anything about Adbusters ever been reasonable? Adbusters is one step away from being as left as Castro. Expecting reason from Adbusters is like expecting reason from The Weekly Standard or American Rifleman.
James Puckett

I say: let anyone who submits work make a true and clear notification on their entrance form about the race they particularly own/have/want.
vos b

It seems like not much has changed since the 90s. Apparently, we're still trying to justify the need for a more inclusive perspective, and we're still wondering whether designers have any agency. Well, sorry, and this has been mentioned before, but empty gestures like making an imaginary flag, white male jury or not, just aren't going to do anything at all except maybe waste some paper. Racism occurs when one group has the power to institutionally implement its prejudice. Racism is INSTITUTIONAL.

If you want more diverse voices, then thought, money, and effort should be going towards improving access to education and diversifying the workplace, and basically addressing how power is structured (and I've met design educators, designers and creative directors who implement this in their practice without grandstanding).

Dear William Drenttel, You are right and they are wrong.
Good work! You rock.
Jennifer Michael Hecht


The jury selection is undeniably sloppy and weak for a project aimed at representing the whole of humanity, but surely you must acknowledge the far more fundamental and frankly ludicrous issues this project raises?

Can anyone please clarify - what is the actual point of this flag?

What will be the result of its creation?

What will the jury be judging?

Outside of design publications, how will it even be used?

Nowhere does Adbusters, or this article, state the explicit intention or nature of this project. The justification for it's existence is assumed to be blatantly obvious to all involved and participants are expected to tack onto this thread. It is in no need of critique because the list of objectives are probably contained somewhere in the last 20 years worth of Adbusters magazines, maybe?

Adbusters seems to revel in this ferocious crusade to nothing, in keeping it's followers firmly strapped in their car, viciously driving at top speed to nowhere in particular. 'Walls are bad, so I did a project imagining they didn't exist, just to see what it would look like' - a spectacularly mediocre college project at very best, existing nowhere outside of itself.

Not good enough.

In this 'age of Obama', surely pragmatism must be the highest goal? How is this flag in anyway a practical answer to the issues brought about by nationalism and the political structure? It smells very much like a fart in the wind.

Projects such as this need to cough up solid answers to justify their hearty and well-meaning, but ultimately, fluffy agendas.

I couldn't agree with William more, especially in the context of a competition concerning "global citizenship". 61% of the world's population is Asian, 14% are African, 11% are European. Of the world's population, only 5% live in North America. So not only should the judging of such a competition be ethnically diverse, it should also be geographically diverse. Otherwise, it's nothing but a fictitious title.

In other words, William does in fact, rock.

I'm an Asian male graphic designer. I am in favor of with Mr. Drentell and thinking that the committee should have been more sensitive about it. It would be very appropriate to see more diverse background to judge this kind of competition. For the spirit of the theme, at least.

Apparently, we're still trying to justify the need for a more inclusive perspective…

I don’t think anyone is trying to justify the need for a more inclusive perspective. We just saw the Olympic games put on in a nation that openly abuses minorities. We buy oil from nations that stone or lynch gays in the streets. We send financial aid to governments that jail women for stealing men’s penises. A more inclusive perspective is pretty clearly justified, and it doesn’t take much trying to figure that out. But silly design contests don’t really do anything to address the issue.

Can anyone please clarify - what is the actual point of this flag?

To assuage white guilt.
James Puckett

I posted a link to this thread on my Facebook profile with this comment, "Who knew that suggesting a jury should be diverse would create such debate?".

Bill, thanks for the sharp observation. Every day, I wrestle with the idea of diversity. Not because of a lack of options, but because its often difficult to narrow list to 5, 7, etc. exceptional designers.

The list of those who champion global citizenship is long. Kudos for asking the question.
Brenda Sanderson

William Drenttel points out what should be, in 2008, an obvious flaw, namely the overload of privileged white American males in design positions of power, and the ranks of institution defenders pour out to claim that pointing out institutional racism is itself racist. Unfortunately it's pathetically predictable. The purpose of most design firms is to support the existing power structure while mistaking clever for creative. That the design industry, which most certainly includes the self-fellating Adbusters, continues to promote white male dominance isn't surprising but it is sad.
Adam Trowbridge

From my perspective as an (east) Indian woman designer, I would like to point out that entering professions in the arts has traditionally been a luxury. I was urged to go into medicine or business to enable financial security; choosing design was a bit of a shocker for the family.

I'm not sure what I think about the "One Flag" concept for a design competition. I do think that the list of designers are qualified judges; however I would love to see some new young blood added to the lineup.

This is all about surfaces, the most shallow and insincere dreck humankind has ever spouted off about (see: Postrel, V.).

Genetically, we're all of African descent. Race is a social construct, and as such only has whatever meaning or importance we choose to mistakenly give to it.

It's fascinating to see how indignant people are when the possibility that their gender or ethnic background might disqualify them for a position -- I'm referring to (among others) the white male poster here who compares the OP to a Nazi for questioning a selection process that produces an all male/all white panel. If only they could imagine what it feels like to be born in a culture where such an exclusion is an everyday experience, what powerful advocates for change they would be! All it takes is some imagination, some compassion, a thought not about the self. Not to think of the self for a moment -- thank you to the OP for showing that it can be done.

Mr. Puckett's comment is right on the money... and, I would take it step further. Global identity? Okay, fine, we're all extremely happy that we are Earthlings (note the captial 'E') and have been spared the misfortune of being born on Mars - or, God forbid, Uranus. Oh, wait... none of that is even possible. This is just silly. There is nothing wrong with having - and taking pride in - a national identity. It is not jingoistic to insist that your country's rights be respected by a foreign power. With that said, I pose a question to all readers... why is the so-called "Right" in this country so misaligned? Does no one notice the irony in "Liberal" thought being so close-minded when "Conservatives" seem to promote the individual? This seems to be especially the case in the Design and Advertising community. How did all of these "open-minded" creatives become so close-minded? Please, comment and let me know. Yes - I am a conservative. (One of the few I've found in this industry.) And - Yes, I am not shy in my use of "quotes".
Donald Painter

bill is right: this is a no-brainer. an INTERNATIONAL flag. the solution is in the problem. this is NOT about the racial makeup of the profession in the u.s., but about viewpoints. i suppose seven white guys could have been found to represent design on all seven continents, but ANYONE who has been involved with juries should know better. if you are putting together a local or regional jury you try to get cross-representation, whether from studios, agencies, markets large and small, and from all parts of the country.

fyi, on the flip side, i have known a well-known woman designer who who tired of being called to jury knowing they were specifically called to fill the "woman" slot. of course there are MANY qualified women, as well as designers of color other than white.

i think it's a case of going with the usual suspects in some of these cases, or those at the top of their game. that said, with no offense to messers heller and bierut, two of the u.s.'s best, i'm sure between the two of them they could have come up with americans that represented points of view that were neither white, nor male.

this has nothing to do with self-loathing, drenttel's "not being included", of the fact that some of the jurors write for D.O., or where adbusters stands on the political spectrum. those are not issues and cloud the issue.

this whole discussion brings to mind the time i drove up to montreal from boston, back in 1991 for an Icograda conference. it was such a treat to meet designers of all make and model, from all around the world, and not be surrounded with american designers. it was a treat for the same reason i love to travel: to expand my experiences and understand our commonalities and differences.

which i'm fairly certain is what was at the heart of the "idea of global citizenship" that adbusters was rightfully working towards. behind my desk hangs a large piece of art with the words The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions. sometimes we forget to dot the i's and cross the t's in our rush to do good - or our rush to criticize.
marc english

What I actually find laughable is the passion with which so many have commented here. In a time when (in my opinion) we should be worrying about Americans and others dying in a war we should never have been in, Durfur, Global Warming and a host of other issues, and while the US Voters in this forum should be all focused on electing Obama, so we can stop the erosion of our reputation in the world so there are flag competitions, and we should all be passionately working towards true sustainable solution within our craft, we sit and worry that a white man stood up and said "hey let's be more aware next time"? Really?

You creative types fucking kill me. As a lily white aging Designer here with a very diverse creative team by my side, I am proud of anyone in this profession who actually gives a shit about these things. And for a change signs their name to the letter! KUDOS!

It's how you correct errors, it's how you bring it to the attention of others and it's how you make progress and raise awareness in even the small ways. The very idea that racism is part of this discussion in any way shape or form is absurd. Lighten up people. Hell I have been told we would not get a project over and over because diversity mandates suggested a lessor designer for a project just because they needed to fill a quota and I was alas white. But in this case, while I am sure a bunch of people called a bunch of other people and said, 'Who would qualify as a good judge here?" Much the same way we would all select a judge for anything, I really doubt anyone said let's pick an all white jury, I am also certain in this case no one also said, "Perhaps we should pick a more diverse jury and think this selection through a bit more."

So thanks William for the post...keep speaking out! Now can we get the AIGA less NY focused? Kidding! :--))

Mark E. Sackett
President/Creative Director/Executive Producer, Reflectur/Articulation Films/Republic of Sound
Mark E. Sackett

Given the heated debate over the diversity of the judging panel I can only imagine how heated the debate will be over the winning design.

Anything other than a mirror flag swinging from a pole could be argued as a misrepresentation of global citizenship.

Actually, the mirror would likely be ruled out as it would reflect 7 white men.
Stephen Graham

First, William, you are super cool and brave to introduce this subject. The fact that you represent a "privileged white American male" makes me hopeful for the future diversity of the design profession, because social and economic justice is not possible, until there are those who are willing to share and, in some cases give up, their positions of privilege in order to allow marginalized others to gain access. You are part of the solution.

I am saddened and bemused by some of the comments to this post. I am saddened by the anger and fear by some of the commentators -- those who feel that their positions of privilege and authority (based on their race and gender) is threatened by the call that a "global" design project reflect more perspectives than that of seven white men. In the immortal words of Sojourner Truth, "If my cup won't hold but a pint and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?"

Diversity is about the having a range of perspectives in ways that matter to the subject. There are certain categories of identity in which the meanings are often overdetermined. These categories tend to be race/ethnicity, class, gender, and religion. Being overdetermined means that your are more likely to have experiences that significantly differ from someone in another group based on that identity. Yes, there are different perspectives among seven white men but does that represent a wide enough range of experiences, such that one does not overlap with the others.

Note that being judged by the "content of your character" does not mean being color/gender/class/religion blind. One's experiences based on overdetermined differences informs one's character. Experiences of institutional racism may help develop one's strength of resolve to succeed by creating one's own institutions. Experiences of the multi-ethnic culture of Islamic practice may develop one's tolerance for racial differences. Experiences of sexism may make one more expressive of the emotional inner life that is "forbidden" in the business world. These are the content of one's character, but they are generated by the external characteristics to which people positively or negatively respond.

I am bemused by those who are criticizing the call for diversity by pointing out its most cynical or failed implementations. Yes, sometimes diversity can devolve into "visual politics" without substantial differences in perspective. For example, Clarence Thomas was no Thurgood Marshall and Sarah Palin is no Hillary Clinton. But there should be an institutional consciousness that says that if we are going to create a world flag that we should recruit designers who my have different perspectives and experiences of issues of nationalism, internationalism, flags, perhaps flag-burning, and it should be global. Who are the top flag-burning designers?

This is getting "longer than the original post." Suffice to say that intentional or unintentional policies of exclusion of the diversity of perspectives is the root of all evil. The hubris of seven white American men judging the fate of a global flag is not so different than the hubris of the European heads partition of Africa. Shame on Adbusters. Praise for William for calling it out.
Dori Tunstall

Every time I think this is a dead issue, a post like this comes along and the resulting commentary proves unequivocably that it is not a dead issue: it is the nosferatu of issues ... it refuses to die.

The majority of responses to this post are by idiots on whose blood the nosferatu of Representation feeds in order stay alive. This aging monster is still with us because so many people are so fucking stupid that they honestly believe a handful of white, english-speaking men could conceivably be "the best for the job"; because they feel personally insulted—as though something is being taken away from them—when a clearly imbalanced jury/panel/roster/&c. is questioned; and because they throw childish finger-pointing fits and accusations of envy and sour grapes.

This issue of representation is decades old and rotten and stinking, but thanks all for reminding me that it IS alive and lurking right here in our community.

William responded perfectly and rationally by clarifying a position which actually never needed clarifying if some of you could actually read to begin with. So I won't bother restating his points.

But there *is* no excuse: there are thousands of brilliant designers wordwide, many of whom we've never heard of, but should have. And until we break the bloc of inviting the usual suspects to juries and events, we will never hear of or from the exceptional voices from other countries and we will remain impoverished.

For this jury in particular, I also know that the jury is judging ONLINE, so there are not even any costs associated with bringing people in from distant countries. Given this, coupled with the intent of the competition, the bias is, to me, outrageous. It is unimaginative in the extreme.

HOWEVER, I share the opinion of those who think the concept of designing a "world flag" is, in itself idiotic and useless.

AND, James Pucket: Women steal men's penises? Really?? And some country sends them to JAIL for that?? Now *that'* a fucking outrage.
marian bantjes

"Just imagine if every workplace or committee or organization of any sort had to adhere to a membership requirement based on racial percentages in that area." Umm...most organizations do just that, as well as the government. Especially anything that has a board of directors. Some of you sound like you have not actually had to work anywhere outside of your frilly agency offices.

I doubt this is intentional, smells more like laziness and lack of effort put into finding judges.

Well stated Marian Bantjes, and congrats to William Drenttel for writing a wonderful post that was clear and direct in its message.
David Oberholtzer

I'm on the road, so here goes some unedited and unspelled-checked comments pecked out on a Blackberry keyboard from the back of a taxi.

Two years ago I was honored to chair the design jury for The Art Director's Club of New York

In doing so, I threw it open to a wide mix of different people. I invited men and women of different backgrounds, countries and races. And, importantly, widely varied levels of fame.

All of the judges were beyond talented. ( Bill Drentell was among them. ) They also turned out to be a dynamic and exciting team that produced a crackling good show.

But what I was really interested in, frankly, was less a mandated diversity of color or sex than I was in a diversity of thought - and global perspective. From my experience they tend to go hand-in-hand.

I just helped select this year's Art Director's Design Jury Chair - as I did last year. In both cases we chose gifted female leaders.

One was originally from Mexico City. The other, Paris.

I mean, this was not hard to do.

At the moment their names are not as important as this point: Unless you are lving under a rock - or think that the Beverly Hillbillies are still running on CBS - it is impossible not to see that the world of design has permanently changed. Among those changes is our ability to easily connect with the many remarkable and new ( to us ) creative voices emerging from around the world.

Over the next two months I will be traveling to meet with designers and business people in Dubai, Tianjin, China and India. And the last time I checked, the world I plan to visit out there will not be filled with only white men.

Sure, this jury is noteworthy. They are among the best of our profession. No question,

So here's my point. Today it is geometrically MORE difficult to organize such a design jury of exclusively white folks.

The way I see it this jury selection strategy was not just a simple, old default system kicking in. Or a well-meaning mistake.

It was willful ignorance.

Or, as my aunt Agnes might say, "There are none so blind as those who refuse to see."

Still, I really don't think there are any villains here. Just people who should open the front door and invite the 21st century in.

Once they do that a whole world of possibilities open up.

Best of all, they can stop turning the dial on their Magnavox wondering where the hell Jethro and Ellie Mae went.

Keep going, Bill.
Brian Collins

From the Adbusters website: http://www.adbusters.org/about/adbusters
"Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we live in the 21st century."

Unfortunately, "Adbusters" didn't live up to their credo with this project. It is an incredible oversight to not think about the diversity of a jury much like you would in the real world. The jury should have reflected the subject and hopefully it will reflect the pool of entries. If a "progressive" publication can't get this right what does it say about the state of the multiculturalism, gender equality, and globalism with other institutions?
Paul Carlos

thanks for this speaking out on this issue. it's a thoughtful, well argued piece.
Amanda Neville

Bill is Right -

So much yakking from everyone, I love it! Its not a question of gender or race, or even of the quality of the final design (I have no doubt that these white guys have excellent taste and standards), but of the importance of infusing a global outlook into this initiative.

Some irrelevant questions:
-So why weren't there any girl judges?
-Why were there only 7 judges and not 10?
-Do these 7 represent or span the age/financial/taste demographics of those who will come to enjoy and respect the final flag?
-Why is it organized by Adbusters and not the United Nations?

Speaking of the UN, it is a rather interesting parallel to this excercise in flag design. From the NY architectural website:

"Rather than announce a competition for the design of the facilities for the headquarters, the UN decided to commission a collaborative effort among a multinational team of leading architects.... The board consisted of N.D. Bassov of the Soviet Union, Gaston Brunfaut (Belgium), Ernest Cormier (Canada), Le Corbusier (Switzerland), Liang Ssu-cheng (China), Sven Markelius (Sweden), Oscar Niemeyer (Brazil), Howard Robertson (United Kingdom), G.A. Soilleux (Australia), and Julio Villamajo (Uruguay)."

The result doesn't have any visual traces or signs of any one architect's race,gender or nationality, nor was it the intention to compromise or average out the design among the diverse panel(though it has become a leading example of the unfortunate term, "International Style"). But its nice to know that the integrity of the final design had been influenced by a truly representative group.

Tuan Ching
Tuan Ching

Look at the UN. They've got all colors, flavors, genders.
Their outcome: blue helmets.
Politically correctness is a parasite.
Design competitions are parasites to professional Design.
Are there international competitions of the best lawsuits?
The best drugs for allergies?

We don't treat our profession professionally by presenting a downpour of design competition offers to determine who is the best at something.

Design -the professional discipline- won't be able to grow and mature as a respected profession if we continue walking this rudimentary path to determine success.

Real designs don't need competitions,
they need organized agendas for true social implementation.

Guido Alvarez

Very well said Marian Bantjes. And like Brian Collins said:

"open the front door and invite the 21st century in".

It's not that hard.
Adria Robles-Morua

If a "progressive" publication can't get this right what does it say about the state of the multiculturalism, gender equality, and globalism with other institutions?

Not much. I’m pretty sure that most institutions wouldn’t be so wrapped up in the sanctimonious inanity of toppling power structures that they forget to keep the panels diverse. I can’t really imagine Coke, Exxon, or McDonald’s allowing this to happen on their watch.
James Puckett

the whole thing is pretty flawed, least of which their selection of an all-white cabal of jurors.

the impulse to develop a single symbol to embody global citizenship is fine and well as an exercise, but this is adbusters' exercise. therefore, you have to look at the inherent biases embedded in this. adbusters is not the UN. adbusters is a polemic. and any outcome of this exercise, even vetted by a set of "objective" eyes (but are design jurors ever really objective? is that even possible?) will bear the preferences of adbusters in both its selection and dissemination. their biases have already been revealed in its jury selection and ideologically expedient program statement.

but perhaps we all just need to let this play out. bill is not wrong for calling attention to the rather glaring inconsistency of having a pan-symbol being vetted by a certain kind of homogeneity, in this case skin color. first of all, adbusters is not an ideology-free entity, which is a complete understatement. it is one thing for the UN to promote a call-for-entries for a pan-symbol, something entirely different for adbusters to do it. in the UN-sponsored example, the intellectual substrate begins with pan-nationalism, in the adbusters example, the intellectual substrate begins with anti-capitalism. there is no way in hell this does not make a difference. the water that is cloudy upstream will be cloudy downstream.

let me state this in even more naked terms - an adbusters' sponsored design agenda is embedded with the DNA of reactionary collectivism. therefore, their concept of "global citizenship" is simply a euphemism for the ideology of collectivism, which tosses out notions of state, of nationhood, is one heartbeat away from anarchy. there are problems with this ideology, least of which it does not function in the real self-interested world.

i don't have the energy (or the battery-life) to go on about my issues with adbusters and the collectivist mindset, but i will reveal 2 observations about what i have read here:

- DO commentary can neatly fit into two worldviews; 1) one being extremely provincial and isolationist (design transcends the world's petty issues, i am a designer therefore i transcend them too) and 2) the other, the world's petty issues exposes the limits of design and designers - i am pretty confident this polarity exists throughout DO community discourse

- on the topic of being a citizen of the world, of which i think there is a paucity of definition here, i think it is useful to look at pure mathematical expressions to guide each of us in our own individual definition (something i would advise the all-white cabal of tastemakers to consider as well) with regards to issues of nationality, ethnicity, ideology, culture, language, morality, etc (you will find while pondering these expressions and substituting the aforementioned variables that there are going to be a zillion variations, hence the paradox of a single symbol to represent "global-citizenship". how can one hate cucumbers and yogurt yet really dig tzatziki sauce? to be truly global you have to embrace it all, and you know and i know none of us can.

there is a symbol for ALL, and a symbol for NONE. below are the expressions for everything in between and how to think about it:

Set Membership
a ∈ S means a is an element of the set S; a ∉ S means a is not an element of S.

Subset Theory
A ⊆ B means every element of A is also element of B.

Empty Set
{ } or �... means the set with no elements

x = y means x and y represent the same thing or value.

x ≠ y means that x and y do not represent the same thing or value.

Approximate Equal
x ≈ y means x is approximately equal to y.

Normal Subgroup
N �—... G means that N is a normal subgroup of group G.

Universal Quantification
∀ x: P(x) means P(x) is true for all x.

Set-theoretic Union (Inclusive and Exclusive)
A ∪ B means the set that contains all the elements from A, or all the elements from B, but not both.
A ∪ B means the set that contains all the elements from A, or all the elements from B, or all the elements from both A and B.
gong szeto

The greatest thing about being a designer is that firstly I'm a designer, then male and then white.
My love for my work and my profession far exceeds my concern over my ethnicity or gender.

Let our work and abilities speak for us!
ross von Ruben

I'm amazed by the negative responses to Bill's critique.

I'd like to think that thoughtful call can be made for healthy representation of the world as I hope it to be without its author being pegged as guilt-ridden or extreme.

@ James Pucket, Re: Adbusters, I couldn't agree more. I've always appreciated Adbusters for the conversations it chooses to walk down the path with. I rarely enjoy it as a something that arrives at an appropriate or effective destination down those paths. On this matter, they seem to really be dragging their feet.

@ Marian: Could this whole "design a flag" thing be as botched as the Koolhaas E.U. flag? Maybe this one will look the same. Diversity = lots of colors and stripes, right?
Randy J. Hunt

Problem solved everyone.
The Red Hand Gang should be the jury for everything ever. No-one can possibly quibble about a fat kid, smart kid, geeky kid, tomboy girl kid, black kid, dog jury.
It's the way the world was meant to be.
Go see
Let's all sing the theme song now...
Da-da-da-daa de-de daa-daa
Rob Andrews

Firstly, thanks for this article, I think it reveals a lot of very interesting and important questions and problems in graphic design and more generally in our western society.

In the case of this competition, I think the most important problem with the jury is the language and the culture. I believe that graphic design is strongly linked with the way the designer think, and the way the designer speak. Our language has a big influence on our mind, and so on our design. So I think it's a problem for the jury to be composed of only english-speaking people. Why don't mix it with South American, Asian, European and African designers ? It's the real problem for me, because even if the jury is open-minded, he wouldn't be able to judge an english-speaking designer's work and a foreigner-language speaking designer's work with a same way.

And I think the color of people has no influence on graphic design, it's just a political question. This is just my french young designer's opinion, and I hope I wrote it in a correct english. I'm really happy William Drenttel wrote this article, we all need to talk about this problems.

I like Rob Andrews' idea about the Red Hand Gang becoming the jury.
Fire the white men that were chosen.

Also, fire William Drenttel for fanning the flames and revealing his own white guilt, but not having balls enough to really admit.

Make Rob Andrews an editor on Design Observer.
Obama For Andrews

i think any right minded person has to agree with the substance of sweet william (now wild bill's) argument here but the magazine doesn't need to be overly chastised. For a magazine whose views he more or less agrees with the tone is a bit harsh/ rash. Raise the facts and let us, the rank and file, rant on like loonies.
felix sockwell

Thanks, Wm Drenttel, for calling out this oversight / willful ignorance, and for being thorough enough in your reporting to show that even the jurors questioned it.

There is much to be critiqued about the nature of the competition itself. Among other things, I think it is lame to say "Design is at war with itself" when there are *actual Wars going on with lives lost and resources squandered.

From the competition's web page: "Design is at war with itself. We are taught that design is about finding solutions. But the success of these solutions is judged so narrowly"


Amazing. Truly amazing. The blinders so many folks have on. I won't drone on as some of the posters so here is my two cents:

William Drenttel is not self-hating, has white liberal guilt or any of that nonsense. Mr. Drenttel is just simply raising the question that for an "international" flag design competition that the jury doesn't reflect a global body. Point blank, even if all the white male jury where from different backgrounds it wouldn't really be reflective of a global body. Design is pretty homogenous and the accepted standard bearers of design have been predominately white, predominately male. But for true design to exist the full spectrum of design makers MUST be considered, acknowledged and respected.

So if you talk about anything that deals with a international setting, more than one voice demands to be heard. The fact that so many folks just do get it, want to accept it or just plain don't want to see it is so ridiculous.

I respect Mr. Drenttel for stating his observation. More power to him.
Andrew Bass

"Why is it that white males always get angry about inequality of other races? I'm sure William Drenttel is a white man."

-Because everyone else needs support from the inside, otherwise it just looks like you're attacking people or being extremist (and as a result are often ignored).

The judging panel in fact seems completely appropriate to the objective of this competition. Who is the flag for? citizens of the world? or predominantly white male Americans who want to feel like "citizens of the world"?
I think by highlighting the flaw in the judging panel you have hit the nail on the head for the whole adbusters/first things first fiasco. The comment about the sexist nature of Kalle Lasn didn't come as a shock to me either.

I'm also surprised at how many people have jumped on the idea that this is about skin color - if this flag were to be a true representation of what it is to be a global citizen, then the judging absolutely demands the collaboration of citizens from different parts of the world, regardless of their "credentials" (which usually rely on social standing, race, and gender as some above me have appropriately pointed out). From an outsiders point of view, the only authority this panel would genuinely have, is to judge the part of the flag that represents being an American(English, Australian) white male. This isn't a racism issue, if there are to be other elements to the design, then other people are more qualified to judge those parts, it's as simple as that.

I'm not saying that the current panel aren't accomplished and qualified people, all Mr. Drenttel is asking is are they really qualified for this task?

The above "Diversity" comment was really entertaining. I'm sure in a handful of Americans there would be so much diversity in their dietary requirements and ipod selections that there is absolutely no need to consider the existence of design in any one of the other 190+ countries in the world. (That was sarcasm by the way).

So many people are so happy to attach themselves to a righteous cause, but perhaps they should consider who they are supporting a bit more.

Well done for speaking what others are afraid to; even for the sake of discussion! It must be hard to live in a country where every attempt at an honest debate is written off as "dumb liberalism".
fiona jean

Ignoring race, gender, and ethnicity and pretending it doesn't matter is myopic and misguided. Racism and sexism exist. These issues must be consciously addressed, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

Arguments that "true" equality only occurs when race, gender, and ethnicity do not figure into selections is troubling. Some of the above comments even suggest that considering race and gender is just another form of discrimination. This common knee-jerk response is unfortunately all too common these days in any conversation dealing with scholarships, affirmative action, diversity in the workplace, etc.

The worst case scenario for this behavior occurs when this ignorant line of thinking actually excuses discriminatory behavior. Salaries for women are still woefully less than their male counterparts in the same position. And racial borders still mark the economic divides in cities and countries. The only way we can work towards true equality is by providing opportunities for advancement. Stop falling back on, "the best man for the job" rhetoric and look at the big picture. The "best man" most likely went to an elite school, had a well-off family whom could afford them time to learn, and possessed connections that aided advancement. True, this is not the case for all, but it is the case for many, in varying degrees.

So we arrive at the, "why does this even matter," question. If these opportunities for advancement and recognition are not recognized and taken advantage of we will forever be stuck in the current situation of inequality we experience.

This discrimination is especially unfortunate when it is applied to the selection of judging panels. Isn't it the point of having multiple judges to foster several different points of view? Isn't this the reason for multiple judges?

It seems to me that judging panels especially would benefit from a wide diversity, ensuring differing points of view, and making sure that winners are not locked down to appealing to a single point of view. This is even more important when considering entries for a flag for global citizenship.

Bill is raising an issue that is as critical to the strength of the profession as the nature of the many comments disagreeing with his point of view may reveal its weaknesses.

AIGA is focusing on how to assure that design, broadly defined, and all those who practice it have three attributes going into the future: relevance, leadership, opportunity. None of these will come without understanding the context in which communication design occurs. If communication is to be effective, it must respond to a world that is global, multicultural and demanding authenticity. Without success against these criteria, design will not be socially nor economically relevant in broad terms.

Within just two decades, white men will be less than 25 percent of the population of the United States. North American and European populations of all genders and ethnicities probably do not exceed 15 percent of the world's population. Why should we assume even the best can be authentic in their understanding the social and cultural perspectives of people not like themselves? Particularly if they are designing a symbol that by its intent should be universal?

The profession and the discipline of design cannot achieve their potential until diversity and excellence are joined. Even self-consciously adjusting for diversity is not worse than assuming it is irrelevant.

This is the classic public common problem. No individual designer may think he or she benefits from an emphasis on designers who are different from themselves. Yet the relevance of the outcome of communication design will not earn its due unless it demonstrates its effectiveness in communicating to all audiences. And that creates a stronger demand for design by every designer.

Bill's concern was spot on.
Ric Grefé

Im a female designer, and even though i think we put to much emphasis in being politically correct i have to agree with your essay, i dont know if it has to do with my country or the fact that a majority of the persons who enter and graduate from design are women thus bringing the few men who enter this career closer together but i have noticed that they tend to help each other out more, giving them the jobs that although they are as qualified as any other women they receive it because they are male, i have even seen ads where they specifically ask for men in design areas, as if it required heavy lifting, and have listened to friends talk of how they were denied jobs because she was a newlywed female thus making the assumption that she wanted children right there and then, how is it possible that we are living in the year 2008 and still have this kind of stereotypical images and preferences for job positions based on assumptions, i dont consider myself a feminist but it is my belief that if I treat you with respect and equality I should be treated the same.

I think there are perfectly and equally capable women and people of other races who have the qualifications to be judges, i believe it was not done on purpose and is an issue that can be address and changed, with pointing out something although obvious to us and maybe overlooked by them.

Who designs a flag to represent the entire world?

What if we actually sought out true diversity of ideas and the flag chosen to represent the world was The coat of arms of the Holy See or the star and crescent of Islam? Would that be shocking? Uplifting? Infuriating?

The idea that one "Flag" can represent the world is paternalistic at best and Totalitarian at worst.

A flawed concept led to this impasse. They'd be better off picking 7 people at random, one from each continent.

We're gonna need that shit when we find extraterrestrial life!

Didn't Carolyn Davidson already design the flag of the world?

Matt Groening and crew already did, actually: Link

One flag?

... For everything?

'xcuse me? With all due respect, this sounds like an American idea, so let Americans decide :¬). Seriously. I don't know for sure, but I think that most people just don't take flags as seriously as they do in the US :¬) .

Actually, it really doesn't matter where the judges are from or who or what they are if they meet the first qualification of any judge: the ability to be impartial and fair. Going to pains to ensure that the panel is properly diverse it seems to me, is politicizing it. The judges become representatives, responcilbe to constituencies.

One flag? Just get a big box, put one of every conceivable flag there is in there and pull a different one out each day and run it up a pole. That's your world flag. If it happens to be one you don't like that day, well, that's tough. There's gonna be a different one tomorrow. It's a big world after all and isn't going to be summed in the few symbols that will fit on a single flag. What's painful for me to look at is the embodiment of everything that's good in the world for somebody else.


Of all the different dystopias out there, the One Size-fits-All one may not actually be the worst, but it's stll as sure as heck worth avoiding. One flag? How about a million flags? Ten Million? How about a flag for every city, town village and street corner?

(... adding flag design to list of capabilities.)

I think we all agree that design is a powerful tool. In an ideal world we would all be innately knowledgeable of, and sensitive to everyones background, religion, race, culture, etc... Unfortunately, as I'm sure most of you would agree, this is an impossible task for any one person. However, one solution that has proven to be an effective equalizer is inclusion, (a.k.a., diversity). As you can see from some of the more insensitive postings in this thread, this also proves to be difficult task, but not impossible.

When diversity is introduced into any situation it forces everyone involved to recognize that there are unique cultural subtleties inside each of us that effect our perception of the world and how we define it to others. By making an honest attempts to include people of diverse backgrounds we can ensure that those subtleties are represented.
He who controls the media, and the medium to deliver the message controls the hearts and minds of the masses.

Although I have not read the reason behind the competition... my understanding is that 'one flag' would be symbolic of an equal, a more egalitarian world than one that literally represents the whole world (the planet earth).

I agree a greater diversity among the jury members would lead to a better decision. This is not just a matter of being global citizens, it is obvious that our background and gender affect our design practice. People from different cultures even tend to think differently about design, color, form etc. At the same time, it is important to know the wider cause behind the competition or is it just going to be a global flag as fancied by seven great designers but which never will see the light of day.

I am a woman designer from India.

We all have different life experiences that are borne out of the cultural heritage that we are raised in.

These experiences feed and nurture our creative out put.

Surely Mr Drenttel is in the best position possible to ask this question and the timing is irrelevant due to his own personal life experiences.

In my opinion this important question has been long overdue and by some of the shocking responses that imply that he personally is a sexist, racist and leftist are illustrations that people are still scared of cultural heritage.

Mr Drenttel should be supported in making future juries culturally diverse regardless of what work is being judged.
Brent Hardy-Smith

Mr Drenttel should be supported in making future juries culturally diverse regardless of what work is being judged.

I'm not so sure. I know that he hasn't really deserved the raft of personal abuse which has been levelled at him. Poor bugger.

But here's the rub. Design is pretty much an international language, and we are all perfectly capable of saying what constitutes good design. If I were to ask you all to rank five typefaces, you could all do it, and you would do it regardless of cultural context, but purely on the basis of personal preference. And quality will always shine through.

And I firmly believe that , on that basis, any group of people, no matter whether they are The Osmonds or The Harlem Globetrotters, will come to the same conclusion about what is the best piece of design.

Bestness is cross-cultural, and only if cultural influences are brought to bear on the judging process will the fairness and integrity of that process be spoiled.
Rob Andrews

why is the jury full of nothing but DESIGNERS? Ewwwww... now THAT's an over-representation problem!

One reason why having only white males (or only Latina women...) heading a competition is that it creates an image that only their opinion matters. "If I want to be an expert, I have to be like them." And 'them' are all one race, and one gender.

William Drenttel has ethics in a world of strangers and understands the The Idea of Global Citizenship.
Carl W. Smith

Brent Hardy-Smith: I appreciate the compliment, but I am the last person who should be "making future juries culturally diverse regardless of what work is being judged."

First, such a role is inconsistent with the spirit of this post. Second, the subject being judged has to impact the appropriateness of jury members. Third, while I neither want to be vilified nor knighted, such a role reeks of uber wisdom which none of us have.

Some years ago, Comedy Central or Nick at Nite called and wanted us to do work for a new show. I could only laugh and say, "You have got to be kidding. I don't have a funny bone in my body. My family jokes that my middle name is Kafka, and you want us to do a logo for a comedy show?"

We all benefit from knowing our limitations.
William Drenttel

Design is pretty much an international language, and we are all perfectly capable of saying what constitutes good design. If I were to ask you all to rank five typefaces, you could all do it, and you would do it regardless of cultural context, but purely on the basis of personal preference

This is backwards. The reason why designers could similarly rank typefaces (if they actually could) is precisely because they have been enculturated, that is to say they have learned the mores and values, the very criteria for what counts as 'best', which go along with a particular community. It is because they have become entrenched in a culture, not because they stand outside of it.

Bestness is cross-cultural

If it is true then why aren't all buildings, artworks, cuisines, books, languages, institutional organizations, sports, furniture, products etc. the same? I suppose the oppressive force of culture got in the way of the 'best' solution.

'Culture' isn't something which is tacked onto ready-made people; it is inherent to ourselves and you can't just step outside of it.

It's Adbusters. Of course they don't want diversity. They want people who represent them and their narrow view of the world. That they happen to have picked a bunch of white guys is the least of it. Adbusters no more represents the world at large than Prada or Budweiser does (and they have more adherents).
Virginia Postrel

Brent Hardy-Smith: I appreciate the compliment, but I am the last person who should be "making future juries culturally diverse regardless of what work is being judged."

Point taken!

I possibly did not express myself very well but I appreciate that you appreciated the compliment.

In keeping with the Kafka reference I thought that this passage summed up you recent experience;

Franz Kafka
The Metamorphosis

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug. He lay on his armour-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, his brown, arched abdomen divided up into rigid bow-like sections. From this height the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place. His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered helplessly before his eyes.
Brent Hardy-Smith

"Judges include: Jonathan Barnbrook, Michael Bierut, Vince Frost, Steven Heller, Kalle Lasn, Rick Poynor and Dmitri Siegel. More to be announced."

Jonathan Barnbrook, Michael Bierut, Vince Frost, really?
All we need is Stephan Sagameister and the circle of self promoters is complete. Wow, i'm so bitchy!

This all just confirms to me that competions that judge and label creativity are poison!

Missing the point Ralphy, missing the point.
Beauty transcends culture.
We have a common unlearned appreciation of beauty, and it at that level that this competition should be judged.
If we introduce our social, political and cultural mores into the equation then the judging gets skewed. If we operate outside them, they don't matter, and, therefore, neither does the social, political or cultural make up of the jury.
Rob Andrews

PS As it is impossible to judge the competition of the criteria of effectiveness or appropriateness, as the flag in itself has no purpose and no-one to compare ours to.
Rob Andrews

PPS As far as we know.
Rob Andrews

@ Rob Andrews on 09.10.08 at 05:20

If ‘Beauty transcends culture’, then we're all fucked. Truths must be generated by the temporal situation in which they are created or we will be dominated by the dictates of führer’s. History is indicative of the shifts in social transformations. Micro and macro cultures attest to the diversity of visions available to humnaity. Or more simply; your colonialesque proposition finds no agreement from us--which, rather neatly, destroys the myth you attempt to perpetuate.

To Rob Andrews:
Beauty transcends culture

There is plenty of evidence that aesthetic judgments (among other kinds) are historically and culturally specific. The most base example is the different beauty standards in different parts of the world. 'Beauty' itself is a cultural notion; it's not some scientific truth nor is it some Platonic Ideal sitting up in the clouds for us to strive towards. It's a real, malleable, lived contextual thing.

If we introduce our social, political and cultural mores into the equation

They are always already introduced! There is no human situation which exists outside of society, culture, and politics by definition. All meaningful human behaviour is cultural.

The assertion that some judgments are 'non-cultural' is a grab at legitimation: "Those attitudes are weighed down by culture, but my viewpoint is the objective universal viewpoint. Somehow I bootstrapped myself outside of the constraints of language, upbringing, context, and experience."

Besides, if We have a common unlearned appreciation of beauty then there is no need for judges at all since the 'best' would be obvious to everyone, wouldn't it?

The problem facing design today is not the preponderance of white males but an almost total lack of social engagement. Who among us is passionate about our global warming, vanishing species or ecosystem collapse? Who is grappling with terror, torture or global apartheid? Who in their work is engaged with the big issues of our time? In the spirit of First Things First, the One Flag Competition invites the design community to get involved. Check it out at adbusters.org
Kalle Lasn

Who among us is passionate about our global warming, vanishing species or ecosystem collapse? Who is grappling with terror, torture or global apartheid? Who in their work is engaged with the big issues of our time?


except you.

You can find more resources at
Carl W. Smith

Drenttel respects Adbusters. Really? Why?
Allen Weaver

And here another example.
Out of mostly MALE specimens, only one Female present.
The Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators presents “Politics ‘08'.”

The show opens at the Carriage House on 63rd St. in New York on September 4, with an opening reception for the artists open to the public on Friday, September 12, 6-9pm. For more information, contact Kate Feirtag at 212-838-2560, or at [email protected].
Thanks, Marguerita, www.http://thepoignantfrog.blogspot.com

I come on here because I received the message from you on my inbox on Facebook. I don't think you are a bad person or anything. But you have to understand why people think the article is racist. You cited Martin Luther King. He said to look beyond the color of our skin. This article didn't.

I am Asian, and I know many famous Asian designers. But if I'm going to a Design library (there is one here in Thailand call TCDC) and pick up a book, let say on Minimalism. My first thought would be that the writer is a white dude. It's not necessary true. One of the best design book I have read was written by a woman. But still, most designers are men. And white. Why? Because white man can afford to be Graphic Designers.

I have many Black friends. And I never know any of them who has a father or an uncle who is a graphic designer. As the matter of fact, my friend is probably the first generation and even he believed so. (of course, like all generalization, I can be and am probably wrong). Having a career in design, in my opinion, is a luxury the minorities in America used to not be able to afford. Name me one graphic design school that is not expensive. And let say there is a minority person gift who is gifted, may be he's really smart, may be he can be whatever he wants him to be. If you are going to invest in this child's future, would you have him be a graphic designer? Of course not. If a child is gifted they would rather have him be doctor, lawyer, or something more concrete. I'm not saying it is impossible. But is it any wonder why it is rare? I always joke with my friend. If I belong to a group of crash survivors on an island, the doctor can heal the sick, the carpenter can built the house, the hunter can hunt for food, and me, the designer, can design the group's logo.

Yes of course, we designers all study about how we can change the way people think with our marks, and how important our occupation is to the rest of the world. And I don't disagree. But I'm talking about how the world view us. And I think we should look at ourselves realistically. We love design. We do what we love for a living. How many people can have that kind of happiness? People were forced by their parents to become engineer and doctor and lawyer. No parents ever tell their kids, no son, you cannot be a doctor, you must be a designer.

The main point is, great Black designers, Asian designers, Arabs designers, or whatever other minority groups a person can belongs to, are coming. (Actually they all ready exist in other countries, but if you want them in America where racism is pretty thick, yeah you have to wait).

There are of course, great minority designers now. I'm saying the ones that are coming are so great (or integrated into the industry), that putting them on a jury for competition like this is a no brainer. No one will have to say, wait the jurors are all white and has a penis, lets change that.

My school's thesis exhibition of last year, out of 30 people graduating there are 5 really great thesis designed by very good people (4 of them are great friends of mine, one of them I hate his guts but lets not go there now). Of course, you guessed it, all of them are men. I'll just go ahead and say it, female designers of that year thesis's exhibition are all awful. (My year is next year and two of my best friends are girls and they are great designer). They care more about designing their face than designing their assignments. This is because my country's marketing energy is being put on teenage girls and the ideal teenage girl for them (the one who will buy a lot of product) are wasteful, dumb, materialistic, and has a life's primary purpose that consists only of buy anything to impress the rich man she's going to marry.

There was a exhibition showcase that would combine the best of the thesis from each design school in the country. My school should send the best of the best right? What if one of them say... Wait just a minute! The best you selected are all boys. Quick, let take that one boy out, and put a girl in. Just for the sake of... oh, I don't know, the 21st Century?

Should we fix the root of the problem? Or just do a surface trimming for the sake of image. You can designed a logo. Please don't design a group of people. A human being is so much more than just a visual.
Panasit Ch

Kalle Lasn:

As the editor of Adbusters, I want to thank you for joining the conversation after 125 comments here.

I find your response sadly pejorative of designers in general, and bizarrely dismissive of the discussion here. To bury the mistakes of your jury selection by accusing the design profession of not being engaged with issues that matter reeks of political side-stepping: it's neither honest nor respectful, nor does it address the real issue at hand.

"Who among us is passionate about our global warming, vanishing species or ecosystem collapse? Who is grappling with terror, torture or global apartheid? Who in their work is engaged with the big issues of our time?"

The answer is that thousands of designers around the world are engaged everyday with these issues. Many of us have made such issues of the focus of our practices and our lives. Your response is disrespectful of our efforts and our good intent. It reeks of a holier-than-thou, Adbusters-or-nothing attitude. One would assume that you would be more generous in your recognition of others, and of the many ways in which designers are contributing to global concerns and initiatives.

Since you want to make "First Things First" the call to action, let me say, as a signatory of the "First Things First" manifesto, that I will not enter your competition until you publish a jury worthy of the One Flag you are encouraging. In the meantime, I will continue to urge Design Observer readers not to enter this competition until there is an appropriate jury. This is a simple step for you to make. But it is the first step, and it needs to be made by Adbusters.

In the meantime, many of us have real work to do on global warming, vanishing species, ecosystem collapse, terror, torture and global apartheid. For those of us engaged with the big issues of our time, your response is disheartening and sad.
William Drenttel

This email was sent to signatories of the First Things First Manifesto:
Jonathan Barnbrook, Nick Bell, Andrew Blauvelt, Irma Boom, Sheila de Bretteville, Max Bruinsma, Simon Esterson, Ken Garland, Milton Glaser, Jessica Helfand, Andrew Howard, Jeffrey Keedy, Zuzana Licko, Ellen Lupton, Armand Mevis, Katherine McCoy, Rick Poynor, Lucienne Roberts, Erik Spiekermann, Linda van Deursen, Jan van Toorn, and Rudy VanderLans. (Still to be sent to Hans Bockting, Siân Cook, Chris Dixon, Gert Dumbar, Vince Frost and Bob Wilkinson.)

I recently published a critique of the Adbusters "One Flag" jury composition on Design Observer. After 120 comments, Kalle Lasn has invoked "the spirit of First Things First," our manifesto, as a basis for blowing off an all white-male jury and suggesting that designers should instead be worried by designer's "almost total lack of social engagement." I'm embarrassed to see my proud support of the First Things First Manifesto being used almost a decade later by Adbusters' to defend it's bad judgment -- a jury they claim they are fixing but will not admit was an error.

I want to encourage our engagement with this issue. I don't care whether you agree with my post, but the international discourse around this issue merits attention. I'm writing to encourage public responses by the signatories of the FTF Manifesto on this issue.

In my mind, Adbusters is abusing the spirit of the First Things First Manifesto by taking our name in vain to support a stupid position and avoid issues that matter in 2008. Isn't the way we tackle large global issues also important?

But that's my opinion. What's yours? Please weight in on Design Observer. Sincerely, Bill Drenttel
William Drenttel

Don't Buy Anything Adbusters Day

If one of the complaints about designers is that they cannot engage in collective action, I challenge all of the white male judges of the Adbusters jury to resign immediately.

I challenge the replacement judges (of what every diversity profile) to not accept to judge the competition.

Declare the day of the jury "Don't Buy Anything Adbusters Day" including their lack of sensitivity to the issues of diversity, neo-colonialist idea of a global flag, and their disingenuous response to their poor judgment.

But most importantly boycott this "farce" because of their complete unawareness of the Aspen Index Design Challenge on Fresh Water, Design for Democracy, Design Alturism, Designers Accord, Design 21, Sappi: Ideas the Matter program, the movie I.O.U.S.A on the US Debt, and the other countless initiatives and programs about designers who are "passionate about our global warming, vanishing species or ecosystem collapse? Who is grappling with terror, torture or global apartheid? Who in their work is engaged with the big issues of our time?"
Dori Tunstall

Seems to me whatever virtue the flag initiative is, it has been compromised by the jury selection. The fairest thing to do is scrap the jury and start from scratch. A more diverse jury will be more credible.
Steve heller

Dear Bill, Thanks for your mail and invitation to respond.

I've been following the post. I set myself a task... and failed. I cannot recall (or conceive of) a single competition or event, that calls for an international solution (global in fact – which strangely always seems more than international), to be embraced by peoples of all races and creeds all over the world, that has created a jury consisting of three men from the UK (Vince Frost is English not Australian) and four from the US. It's just plain silly.

Of course you're perfectly right in posting your comments. You voice the most obvious of points and I suspect that having to raise the issue at all is as irritating and frustrating for you as the nature of the criticism you make. The composition of the jury is the most elementary of considerations – and so simple considering the amount of talented designers out there. It's a question of problem and solution mirroring each other.

But this is almost beside the point because I can't understand why there is a jury at all. It is – as I suspect – a measure designed to 'ensure quality'? Perhaps someone at Adbusters believes that the 'public' can't be relied upon to make the necessary judgement. Now that would be ironic. But I don't want to be unfair. It's possible, considering the almost purely symbolic nature of this event, that the well respected jury members have been invited simply to draw attention and deliver kudos... but not the sort of attention now being generated. Oops!

Andrew Howard
andrew howard

As one of the seven white male judges on the jury, I voiced my concern about its makeup early in the process, but not loudly enough, I'm afraid. I thought the project itself was worthy enough to overlook my immediate discomfort and hoped that the jury would be expanded as promised.

Not only does the above response of Kalle Lasn, the founder of Adbusters, completely miss the point, but it deftly attempts to shift the argument to safer (for him) ground in a way that I'd associate with Karl Rove, not the editor of a supposedly "progressive" journal.

in my opinion, the ends of this competition no longer justify the means. For this reason, and with respect for the entrants and for my fellow judges, I regretfully withdraw from participation in the jury.
Michael Bierut

adbusters' only redeeming value is in its recursive use of graphic design as part of its anti-corporate, anti-consumerist schtick. it is, at best, a self-referentialist indulgence for graphic designers and the ad industry; for the former a validation of whatever visual meme that is in fashion, for the latter, because they have no recognizable scruples to speak of and, therefore, any intellectual content that adbusters may or may not have is utterly lost on them. adbusters is intellectual and aesthetic conceit packaged as a magazine, its progressive pretensions notwithstanding.

the "one flag" initiative is at best, noble in its aspirations, and at its worst, naive at how to truly address the atomic nature of the very social and global problems they want so badly to engage in.

i subscribed to adbusters for many years. but those years i did it for the above reasons. culturejamming was "cool", but later, i realized that what changes things in the world is white knuckle policy leadership..not intellectual cleverness and tongue-in-cheek-we-are-smarter-than-you-cool. (think, the Palin-effect).

this is not about bill's observation of inconsistency between homogeneous jury selection. it is about a non-critical assumption that design is the right tool. design can be "a" tool, but it is not "the" tool. to take this one flag thing seriously is to completely ignore the nuances and realities involved in conceiving a single global identity in the first place. thanks to carl smith's reference to economist amartya sen's work in articulating the challenges here.

it is such self-referential nonsense. what (graphic) designers are really good at is designing brand identities, yes. for corporations it is one thing (they are fairly one-dimensional abstractions with only a single motive for existence). designing one for humanity is another (multidimensional, many motives for existence).

vis-a-vis this whole hubris of adbusters-cum-designer being able to even remotely distill down all this complexity into a single symbol...when a hammer, everything is a nail. so sadly predictable.

please don't tell me that adbusters is where (graphic) designers get their political theory, cultural criticism, sociology, and economics information. please say it isn't so. (although i think it may very well be true).

for the record - virginia postrel hit *this* nail on the head perfectly and succinctly. everyone should (re) read her pithy comment. thanks again to carl smith for grounding this nastiness - if you haven't read his link reference to sen's work, please do. you'll be glad you did and will look at this entire thread with a new perspective. an INFORMED perspective.

and trim the noise at bill, y'all. it is totally misdirected. bill is the hardest working and most well-informed designer i know. nevermind that the distribution of his clients is something like 90% public sector/10% private, unlike everyone else's who only know the limited language and rules of corporatized, globalized late capitalism. don't shoot the messenger, as they say. he simply called attention to what anyone with half-a-brain would have noticed, but had the courage to articulate it in a public forum. as always, i stand by my friend of many years.

in other words, shoot the *transmitter* of the message. the very flawed adbusters is an ineffective agent of change, and its intellectual conceit in placing (graphic) design on such a high pedestal is ultimately its greatest weakness. i have absolutely no compunction in saying so. i cancelled my subscription years ago, after i discovered REAL critical journals to fill my head with.

ps - touche, beirut.
Gong Szeto

p.s. The flag initiative originally sounded like an interesting way to develop a visual language that bridges nationalism and regionalism. Frankly, it would have been fascinating to see how that language evolved through the input of international designers. That is why I accepted a role on the jury.

However, the truly virtuous "competitions" are those like Sappi's Ideas That Matter, which actually award substantial monetary support to designers who have already put their ideas and fervency to the test and have applied for funding to continue their work.

I will not say that nothing good could come out of this Adbusters initiative, but the entire process raises more questions than answers.

For now, my answer, if it wasn't clear from my earlier comment, is to resign until a less flawed process can be instituted, if that is possible at this time.
steve Heller

Why have a jury at all? Let the people decide through text message voting.
[email protected]

Below is the text of an e-mail I sent to Kalle Lasn on September 13 resigning from the jury for One Flag competition (slightly edited since the original was written on a blackberry):
Hey Kalle. I haven't spoken in a while and I hate to have my first e-mail in so long be in the midst of this controversy regarding the one flag jury.

First of all I want to thank. Adbusters for my very first invitation ever to jury a contest. I also will never forget that Adbusters (you) gave me one of my first ever opportunity to publish. I am forever grateful for that.

That said, I'd like to be relieved of my duties on this jury. I am aware that I have probably been the least vocal panel member on this issue. But on a personal level the whole thing has become a symbol of something else besides "one flag" at this point. I don't really see that as a negative. It was obviously not the original plan but within "my community" I think its important for me to make a gesture in favor of diversity. I am under no delusions that this gesture will have any impact beyond the tiny world of graphic design and I also understand that this "controversy" has become a bit of theater for that small community. But I tend to believe that theater can have as much impact as design.

Anyway, I'd love to hear from you on this issue before I go any further.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile
Dmitri Siegel

Wow... I haven't seen such a passionate design discussion in ages. This in itself is great.

I am completely in agreement with Mr. Drentel's post, and impressed by how it has catalysed the jurors to force Adbusters to (hopefully) move beyond rhetoric and do some real soul-searching.

I used to love Adbusters, ESPECIALLY its rhetorical positioning, I think that in this day and age we need persuasive (graphic and otherwise) arguments against the established status quo. The magazine world NEEDED adbusters like a city needs graffiti. However, as of late, the rhetoric has become pretty hollow (and hypocritical) and the design...... have you seen an issue lately? I miss Chris Dixon.

I still think the One Flag idea is great, regardless of the real pitfalls described by many here. Heller's point to how it could possibly reveal the development of a new visual language is extremely exciting, especially filtered through an international jury of talented designers. I do hope something comes out of this discussion.

And I'm shocked and saddened at the numerous vitriolic comments posted by a community that I would like to think should have an in-depth understanding of culture. I feel a little worse about being a designer now.

I'd love it if the passion of this discussion could be extended back to the role of design in society, as an agent of change. Let's fill the blogs!!! It would be like the beginning of the decade again, when I, as a student, believed that design really mattered...
Kevin Lo

I'll add my two cents for the sake of it. As one of the first commentators pointed out, graphic design is a discipline that is dominated, although not massively in modern times, by white males.

Choosing someone for a panel because they are part of a minority group is still discrimination. In fact, “positive discrimination”, as this practice is known, fosters animosity between races, religions, genders etc. A good example of this can be found in UK higher education. It is easier for a Catholic male to get into a medical degree in Northern Ireland than for a Protestant female (i.e. girls need higher grades), simply because Protestant females tend to dominate these sort of courses.

While the Adbusters competition jury seems like an oversight, race and gender are not really the issues I have with the selection. Perhaps a representative from each continent (minus Antarctica presumably) or major religion would have provided a better cross section of humanity.
Paddy Duke

How does having a professional group composed of people who look like you benefit design? How does it demonstrate a designer's creativity and ability to answer old questions with new ideas?

If adbusters was put together the way this panel was, every issue would have an old school black and white generic cover, and not in a retro-nostalgic way. Even generic brands have colorful, creative packaging these days.

Here is a 2006 article from this site about the same issue applied to gender

If there is no critique of who gets promoted and how, and why, what is to prevent designers from choosing panelists based on racial/gender bias? Who is going to move the coversation foward?

Can any of you remember the last time FTF was a motive for anything? (Let us remember that at the time of the relaunch, the manifesto was completely scrutinized by people checking signatories client lists and finger pointing eh?).

If Mr. Drenttel is correct on saying In the meantime, many of us have real work to do on global warming, vanishing species, ecosystem collapse, terror, torture and global apartheid. Then how come we never see this? How come there aren't more posts and discussions like this?

Can any of you name 3 designers that are actually engaged on change rather than just designing posters?

Does anyone here have any recommendations for a jury?

In concurrence to Replica, I think it is true that there are not many designers dealing with these is issues, although there should be. I feel the reason for this is that most people are only concerned with themselves and not our future generations. This is beside the point.

My feeling on the jury being all white males is that it is not diverse enough for the broad range of designs that will be entered into the competition. There needs to be both men and women on the jury along with people of different race and backgrounds, so that there is a broad range of people who have different opinions on what good design ideas are. In the description to the contest it says,” We invite you to create a flag – free from language and well-worn clichés – that embodies the idea of global citizenship.” If this statement doesn’t say that the flag should include ideas from all races and be judge by a diversity of different minds, then I don’t know what does.
Ken Langdon

I agree with Replica.

Bill Drenttel said: "In the meantime, many of us have real work to do on global warming, vanishing species, ecosystem collapse, terror, torture and global apartheid."

OK Bill, so tell us who those passionately engaged designers are and show us some of their work.

I've been searching for socially engaged designers like that to feature in Adbusters . . . and they may make excellent judges for the ONE FLAG COMPETITION as well.

Kalle Lasn
Kalle Lasn

Kalle Lasn's challenge is a good one. I will respond separately, but in the meantime, I suspect our readers will have suggestions of socially engaged designers, as well as possible judges for this competition. So that this is manageable, let's limit recommendations to a name/firm name, a single URL, and a short 1 sentence description. Don't pollute the posts with 50 lines spaces between items.

Using the audience here to identify new and socially-engaged designers is a great opportunity for everyone.
William Drenttel

Here are some links off the top of my head, some more well-known and some less known.

Two of my favorites:
Inkahoots. They've had a fair share of ink on them in the design mags. Their work is stellar visually and quite radical politically.

Bildwechsel / Image-Shift. German designer Sandy Kaltenborn's studio produces striking political design work in the form of posters, books and other printed matter.
Kevin Lo

more: Backspace. John Emerson's writing and work on the intersection of society and design.

Another Limited Rebellion don't only have a great name, but produce strong work built around solid principles. They have a great blog too.


apologies for the chain-posting, but just a few more:

Beehive Collective create beautifully intricate posters that illustrate numerous socio-political issues.

Eggplant Media provide design and technology solutions for progressive organisations.

Studio Poper from Slovenia produce a strong balance of practice and theory.

Kevin Lo

I could go on and on...

but in my mind, more important than the links above, are all the crafts(wo)men designing books of radical poetry and political theory, diligently making and photocopying posters for filmscreenings and all-ages dance events, menus for the locally owned fair trade resto. The designers working alongside artists, writers and musicians to help get their ideas out there, who keep culture alive and circulating. And all the designers who take the time to make work that expresses an individual, autonomous idea, rather than reinforce stereotypes of consumption.

And further from this, what about the designers that are collectively exploring the language itself of (visual) communication, perhaps not from an overtly political agenda, but finding new means of expression and dialogue? New forms of representation. Change can come in many forms.

Not to mention the numerous educators that have made their mark on the profession and the growing popularity of critical theory in Master's programs. I'd like to send a shout out to the brilliant Miss Kate Andrews.

Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not optimistic about the state of design (or the world), but I think an open, passionate (and supportive) conversation might benefit us more than another contest. Especially one judged so narrowly...

let's keep talking...

Kevin Lo

I agree with many of these posts. The lack of diversity in judging is a clear oversight by the committee choosing judges. In reality, I wonder how this really affects the final score.
Les K.

Luba Lukova is well-known by now. Her posters and illustrations address many social issues.
Ricardo Cordoba

How about CUP, the Center for Urban Pedagogy?

In particular, their 'Making Policy Public' project, pairing designers and advocates.


Sylvia Harris has done information design in the field of public interest communications, including the design of the U.S. Census forms in 2000.
Ricardo Cordoba

Using the audience here to identify new and socially-engaged designers is a great opportunity for everyone.

And this goes back to the big flaw in this line of thinking: that to be socially engaged, designers need engage in activism, large government projects, or other liberal-leaning projects to be socially engaged.

How about giving some credit to the social engagement of the designs who work on “…dog biscuits, designer coffee, diamonds, detergents, hair gel, cigarettes, credit cards, sneakers, butt toners, light beer and heavy-duty recreational vehicles.” It’s time to recognize that there are hundreds of millions of people in the world whose livelihoods depend on the success of banal commercial projects, and can do just fine without a cleaned up census form or awareness-raising posters. Doesn’t anyone out there have grandparents living on a pension that’s dependent on commercial products that need to be designed?
James Puckett

Information design, a personal interest if not practice of mine, seems to be a great area of social engagement. The work done by stamen is pretty amazing.
Kevin Lo

"How does having a professional group composed of people who look like you benefit design? "

Well, how does having a professional group composed of people who look different than you benefit design?

The question is moot.

Character trumps colour, gender, etc.

People are overly worried about what they are rather than who they are.

Actually, character pretty much trumps everything, at least in my book.

Character trumps colour, gender, etc.

Character may trump many physical attributes, but the way society treats people based on said attributes dramatically impacts character.
James Puckett

More than a problem of denied pluralism, is the idea of a competition itself. Isn't this kind of tired adversarial standard especially ironic given the task of symbolic unity?

The strangled thinking of James Puckett who pleads for credit to designers of cigarettes and sneakers (as if our whole culture isn't already built on this credit), needs to be shed in favour of new ways of imagining the world.

Our lives and livelihoods ultimately depend on rudiments far more fundamental than the 'success of banal commercial products'. And of course much of humanity (and the environment) suffers for this dependance.

Will we see the current global economic crisis as a threat to our understanding of society? Or will we continue to advocate for a broken system?
Jason Grant

I'm late to this discussion, but I find it odd that there are no vexillological experts judging this competition. For instance Whitney Smith (“Founder and chief prophet of vexillology” – Time Magazine) of the Flag Research Center. He's a white male, but as far as someone who knows about flags he's preeminent.

Link: http://www.flagresearchcenter.com/whitney-smith.html
Greg Sterling

The Sappi Awards for Ideas That Matter have just been announced and feature twenty projects by "passionately engaged designers."
William Drenttel

As an African American woman studying Graphic Design I agree with the post. It is very rare you find a woman or a minority represented in the field, let alone to win a competition. It is quite sad to have an event dedicated to the promotion of diversity where those hosting the event, lack it. Though diversity awareness is growing, ignorance still remains and respect for cultures outside one's own ethnicity lacks. You see it everyday with attacks to Obama because of his name he is presumed Muslim or labelled a "terrorist" by Times illustrators, or extreme focus because he is black. No one will stand up for another unless they are making an effort themselves. Therefore, women and minorities must speak up if they want equality in a white male dominated field (how can a problem be recognized if no one brings it to light). I would love to see more diveristy within the field and in these organizations; to provide a different perspective and show minorities and women that success can be achieved and your creativity is important/needed.
Tamika Watson

Tamika, are you asking to be seen as a token or an individual? It seems you contradict yourself. My previous statements stand.

"Character trumps colour, gender, etc.
"People are overly worried about what they are rather than who they are."

Also: "People who imagine themselves as part of a group, with no individual identity, don’t want anyone else to have an individual identity either." -- MK Freeberg

I came across this entry and although I am not sure how the Adbuster's event came together, on the issue stated in this article, I think it influences minds to constantly think of racial inequalities and man vs. woman. Does it really matter that the entire juror's were white males? If I were to enter this competition I would want to know if the jury understood the cultures being represented, do they all come from the same design background or separate ones, what are their experiences with design and judging design, are the members of the jury designers themselves? Why is the issue of race constantly shoved down our throats or the role of women for the matter? It would be nice to see a group of judges and just worry about their experience. This event is based on cultural understanding and the whole idea of mixing cultures together and putting them in one big melting pot. Does that mean that each one of the jurors has to be from one of those cultures, so that the individual only understands one of the cultures represented, or does it mean that each individual should have been born from all those cultures combined? I think it is a little redundant to keep throwing politics and race into the mix of design when supposedly we want to combine the people of this earth to be brothers and sisters to one another. Perhaps we need to ignore the subject of race, of what's on the outside, and understand that no matter what we look like we can understand each other without defining ourselves by the color of our skin or whether we wear a dress or not.

To "lordsomber" character may truimph all, shoot it is what Martin Luther King Jr. lived by. However, everyone needs an equal playing field. A diverse panel from different walks of life bring a diverse perspective, which should have been provided.

Chaz Mavyan Davies
Yossi Lemel
luba lukova

If there are 18 male winners, should one or 9 of them be looked over just because they are male? It's not equality if you are seeking out diversity. As a woman I would rather be chosen based on merit or quality of work rather than my gender.


OK, so we've had a nice, hot debate about political correctness in choosing judges . . . but whatever happened to the debate about "the almost total lack of social engagement" in the design community?

As our ecological and financial crises deepen, that's the debate we should be having.
Kalle Lasn

The only engagement I’m interested in is one that pays. I have bills to pay and the first tobacco, oil, or fast food company that offers me paying work has my undying gratitude.
James Puckett

Everyone's got bills to pay James, thankfully not everyone only gives a shit about themselves and their own narrow experiences.

Are you a real person, or just a congealed symbol of the symptoms of our undoing?
Charlie K

I personaly thought that this contest was a great idea. I felt that a world flag would represent more than a push for a world goverment. It is more about the idea that we are all in this together.

As for the lack of diversity in the jurors I have one sugestion. Leave it up to the people of the internet. I'm not sure how this could be implemented as I am not a professional web page designer. The one way I can think of to do it would be to create a flickr page with all the flags on it and keep track of which ones get the most clicks/ highest interesting ratings.

Additionaly I am sure that if they realy wished to they could pull in more jurors from around the world. In the age of internet collaberation they wouldn't even have to physicaly meet on a regular basis. Anyway just a few of my thoughts here.
Pepin Lachance

Mr Lasn needn't go far from AdBusters' roots in Vancouver to discover a plethora of designers absolutely dedicated to social and ecological issues. Design students at Emily Carr University are now required to take a course on ecological perspectives in design, and many graduates of the design programs have formed design collectives that tackle issues head on. If there is a lack of social engagement in design, I am not seeing here.

This is not say, however, that all designers in Vancouver address these issues. The glossy corporate brochures for condo developments and the greediness around Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympics overshadows some of the excellent design work currently being done by designers who truly care about working sustainably (socially and ecologically).

Having Kathleen Hannah and/or MIA be on the judges panel would be beyond awesome.

Does anyone else find this discussion to be absolutely absurd? PC gone mad?

Grow up.

The race or gender of a designer has no bearing on their graphic design judgement.

Since this entire issue has switched from creating a global banner to the issue of diverse representation, why don't we use this opportunity to create a study specifically on this issue.

Ad Busters should invite an alternate and diverse panel of judges that "represents" the global nature of the project and ask them to render a decision on the competition. That decision is held in total confidence. Then we recall the original panel and ask them to render a judgement in the competition. That decision is held in confidence. Finally we have the community as a whole vote on the banner they feel best meets the needs of a global community.

We then take all three decisions and make them public knowledge, and allow public feedback. Wouldn't this allow for a slightly more informed discussion?
Aaron Walser

What is interesting about this article is that, while it takes into account problems with the judging panel, it doesn’t really consider issues with the competition itself. This is a “global citizenship” competition. This is a competition to create one flag which represents the whole world. How far is the distribution of Adbuster’s? Probably not far enough to get around to every single country and receive submissions representative of every nationality. The largest problem with this competition is that it isn’t a fair “global citizenship” competition. If anything it almost seems as if they are having a "Recreate the US Flag Competition." This could create a great amount of controversy and response/argument. As you see, this article barely scratches the surface of what can be found wrong with this competition and/or its intentions.
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The male `artist' attempts to solve his dilemma of not being able to live, of not being female, by constructing a highly artificial world in which the male is heroized, that is, displays female traits, and the female is reduced to highly limited, insipid subordinate roles, that is, to being male.
Valerie Solanas

Jobs | May 24