Design & People

Design & People identify how design can intervene to make a contribution to the ongoing efforts to improve the lives of people disadvantaged by war, disability, and political and environmental conditions. We unite and encourage graphic, industrial and architectural designers to use their experience and skills towards social and humanitarian projects. Mission: Design For People In Need.

Beneficiary: Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Thailand
(Written by: Keiko Sei | Edited by: Dr Aparna Rao)

The approved identity of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) from Design & People. (Designer: Santosh Kangutkar, Mumbai)

The approved identity of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) from Design & People. (Designer: Santosh Kangutkar, Mumbai)

THOSE who admire the work of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) and also those who need their help must have noticed the new identity of the Thailand-based organisation. The neat font of TLHR in a combination of black and orange (TLHR's signature color) with an emphasis of H of human where a noticeable logo design symbolises a combination of gavel and law book.

The design is by Santosh Kangutkar, a Mumbai-based graphic designer, and was coordinated by an India-based organisation called the Design & People (D&P). The organisation was established in 2003 with an aim to launch what they call "design activism", offering design to organisations that deserves a good design but cannot afford a huge sum of commercial designers. In India alone, they have helped numerous organisations and campaigns, one of them being Friends of Tibet, their kind of spin-off organisation that works closely with HH the XIV Dalai Lama.

Design & People mission statement states "Today, at a time when regimes emerge by crushing "others" to establish themselves as supreme powers, we at Design & People empathise with all those who struggle to safeguard humanity and their natural environment." Creative individuals have used their talent as a tool of resistance in the face of oppression since the dawn of humanity. The process is ongoing and unending, since man is a 'thinking' being.

Design & People occupies this area of 'resistance with creativity' — opening up a vast space for free dialogue that is needed globally in order to have broader perspectives on people's issues in the present context. " Sethu Das, Co-Founder of Design & People visited Thailand earlier this year with the agenda of researching local activists as well as interviewing ajarn Sulak Sivaraksa, his long-time associate through activities on Tibet and the Dalai Lama.

In his search, Sethu Das 'discovered' TLHR, learned about their reputation and knocked on the doors of TLHR. As he was listened to the organisation's activities from the members, he noticed design sketches that one of the staff was drawing. They told him that they were planning to have a new logo. He immediately offered to help. And thus began the collaboration between lawyer-activists and designer-activists.

Back in India, Design & People immediately announced the project through the organisation's well established network of designers — all offering their skills in a voluntary base — throughout India. Soon, 38 designs options were submitted. From this the organisation shortlisted design options from Mathewkutty Mattam, Bina Nayak and Santosh Kangutkar, and finally the one by Kangutkar was selected by the members of TLHR. Later D&P and TLHR discussed the details further to fine-tune it. The result is the new logo that we have been seeing since the September 1, 2017.

Santosh Kangutkar and D&P explained the concept behind the logo as "Gavel, the base of the logo, is a symbol of law. Two curvy strokes of the design symbolise care, also a hidden character of elephant, the national animal of Thailand. Lawyers of TLHR are intelligent and have the knowhow to fight for human rights." The members of TLHR also see archives in the H: book symbol, as archiving the abuse of human rights is one of their central activities.

In response to my question on his belief and conviction that TLHR was the right organisation for D&P to support and what he thinks of the new logo, Sethu Das replied: "Though we were not very familiar with the work of individual legal organisations in Thailand, including TLHR, we very well appreciated the courageous work carried out by Legal/Human Rights organisations and institutions in Thailand. We call the work 'courageous' because there is a huge difference between the role of a lawyer in Thailand and the role of a lawyer in India. We salute the spirit and conviction of young lawyers of TLHR in defending the rights of the oppressed section. My own visit to the TLHR office in Bangkok, Thailand helped me to understand its mission, work and also the challenges involved in greater detail. Long story short, we found each other. The identity developed by Design & People is a fitting one which goes well with the work culture of TLHR. We consider this a small reward for the meaningful work TLHR is doing in the field of Human Rights."

Kangutkar, also in response to my email question asking how he developed the concept of the design, said that after reading the detailed objectives, thoughts and the brief of TLHR sent by the organisation, the first thing that came to his mind was that the concept should be human and peace oriented, followed by an inspiration during the exchange with TLHR. He also said he felt great that his design identity has been used by the organisation that he appreciates with their works and helping of human rights. He would like to support the organisation in future as well.

Shortlisted logo options for Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Thailand. (Designers: Mathewkutty J Mattam, Bangalore | Bina Nayak, Goa)

Shortlisted logo options for Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Thailand. (Designers: Mathewkutty J Mattam, Bangalore | Bina Nayak, Goa)

Advocate Jutharat Kultankitja, one of the members of TLHR, explained why they selected this design from others as "TLHR decided to go with this logo because it most resonates our work. It incorporates international symbols of law and justice system and utilises the negative space well. While simple, it represents our identity well. Further, the selected logo also the fundamental ideas of the design and symbols, making it more memorable."

An interesting difference between the candidate designs, including that of Kangutkar, and the idea of TLHR is that while the former like to use curves as they put more emphasis on softer side of TLHR lawyers, the TLHR lawyers themselves prefer to have an identity that represents the stability and durability of the organisation through angles and straight lines, and that's another reason they chose the final design as it had more straight lines — although, as it was mentioned earlier, hidden curved line that symbolises care is included discreetly in the straight lines.

That leads to remind us how Indian design has influenced Thai design in earlier time of history, whether it is the early Buddhist art, Shiva statues' dancing movement or Ramayana and Mahabharata in paintings and performing arts, traces of Indian influence is ubiquitous, popular and alive even today. Indian design has been so influential that we wonder why more exchanges cannot be done in modern era. Sethu Das too acknowledges that in the bigger picture "India has contributed two languages — Pali and Sanskrit — and two religions — Hinduism and Buddhism to Thailand. People of India are happy to contribute in whatever way possible in supporting Thailand's struggle for political stability."

Another interesting thing about the new TLHR logo, besides the design aspect, is that there is also an aspect of activism in its background. D&P was one of the design groups that were invited to participate in a series of international exhibitions and workshops of political design that took place in Seoul (South Korea), Budapest (Hungary), Gdansk (Poland) and Stuttgart (Germany) between 2011 and 2013. The Stuttgart event was an exhibition entitled "Re-Designing East: Political Design in Asia and Europe" which featured different cases of political design such as a showcase of well-known Korean design group 'Activism of Graphic Imagination (AGI)' and artists' re-interpretation of legendary Polish 'Solidarno?? (Solidarity)' logo. D&P had its own section that introduced the concept of "Swaraj in Design" and the copy-free design as design activism. Pracha Suveeranont, a Thai designer that was featured. He is well known among hardcore political activists in Thailand for various politically-charged design including cover designs for Fah Diew Kan and Aan magazines and the 2007 Vote No campaign materials. His section in the exhibition introduced his design-activism strategy such the use of what he calls vernacular design or Thai-Thai design, old text book design, type design and so on. All these are thus, designers who have proved, through their works, which design can be an activism. Although they are all motivated by their urge to contribute to social and political changes through design, their methods, approaches and philosophies are various — for example, although D&P and Suveeranont participated and exchanged the idea through the same project, the India organisation and the Thai designer have a slightly different idea on a logo for a political organisation. Whereas Suveeranont does not agree that all the political organisations, groups, campaigns and NGOs need a slick logo that would compete with a commercial logo — especially when the topic is too sensitive such as the October 6 incident, D&P's approach is that as a philosophy it "gives very little importance to the 'aesthetic value' of an artwork but its 'contributory or objective value' — the value that adds to the world at large as defined in Value Theory" and therefore a logo is more a form of recognition of the works that the organisation or group does rather than a visual sign that appeals to remember.

I need to note that there was a time when Design & People discouraged groups and organisations to have a logo, too, especially when they realise that the group wants a logo just for the sake of having one. Overall, both Suveeranont and D&P think that design and designers that work in social and political change need to be out of the commercial system in order to contribute to a genuine change.

Talking about the change, I need to finish this article pointing out a rather sad aspect of the logo, or why it came to this life to begin with. Answering to my question as to why TLHR wanted to change their logo now, they replied: "We realised we needed a cleaner, more polished logo that indicates our identity as a team. When we founded Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), we assumed that the 2014 coup would be short-lived like the one in 2006 and expected to operate short-term. The original logo, therefore, was a temporary design and did not comprise deep comprehension of our organisational identity. However, the military government has stayed in power and is likely to remain influential in the foreseeable future. We see that our tasks might be in operation in the upcoming years. So we decided to identify ourselves with a new logo that communicates better our work and commitment. We hoped that the new design would be more modern and memorable in the long run."

In another words, if the military regime had not stayed this long, the need for the new logo would not have been felt and especially the logo that would be memorable "in the long run."

Keiko Sei has always had a keen interest in society — specifically societies in transition. Her interest is fuelled by her various vocations — she is a writer, curator, and advocate of independent media. After running an organisation for independent video and video art in Japan, she moved to Eastern Europe in 1988 to research the communist bloc media scene. In 2002 she moved to Bangkok to continue her research on independent media in Southeast Asia, especially Burma where she founded the Myanmar Moving Image Center in 2003. She has initiated and worked on various projects, including: the symposium "The Media Are With Us!: The Role of Television in the Romanian Revolution" in Budapest (1990); the exhibition "The Age of Nikola Tesla" in Osnabrück (1991); "EX-ORIENTE-LUX Romanian Video Week" in Bucharest (1993); "Orbis Fictus-New Media in Contemporary Arts" (1995); "POLITIK-UM/New Engagement" (2002), both in Prague; and documenta 12 magazines project (editor, 2006-2007); "Re-Designing the East: Political Design in Asia and Europe" (2010-) in Stuttgart, Gdansk, Budapest and Seoul. Her video archive, which has been collected in transition across different continents, was exhibited to the public at the Generali Foundation in Vienna in 1999, and the German media described it as "The biggest collection of revolutionary videos of Eastern Europe in private hand." She teaches media art and media activism worldwide and her most recent teaching includes a guest professorship at Karlsruhe University of Art and Design. Keiko Sei is also an Advisor to Centre for Social & Political Art' (CSPA).

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