Shaping ideals, shaping gender

Experiments with visual essays

Nina Lysbakken

THROUGH AN AUTO-ETHNOGRAPHIC approach of a chronological design process, I seek to give an insight into visual design as a tool for provoking opinions, and a tool with power to define people and shape expressions about and on behalf of people through visual language. I argue that the design choices we make have consequences for the type of space we create.

IN THIS VISUAL ESSAY, I explore my own thoughts and journey in a messy  process of making concepts and visualizations for online spaces of newspapers and magazines. As a graphic designer, a woman and a person of diverse interests, I explore provocative gendered expressions that came out of my own anger and frustration. Whose voices are emphasized in tabloid newspapers and popular cultural expressions, and on which terms are they presented? In what ways can we, and should we express gender?

I discuss the relationship between visual communication, inclusiveness and engagement in media contexts related to democratic participation. I talk about these spaces as various gendered rooms for conversations – meaning both online news papers and magazines actual conversations with readers and participants in social interfaces, but also the subtle, visual conversations that take place due to encoded signs of typography, colors, layout, formats, navigational features and interaction with users. These designed choices, can shape the space and expressional ways.

My focus is not on the audiences’ interpretation of these designed choices, I discuss the designers possibilities for encoding symbols and shaping semiotic resources of gendered interpretations. I found that provocative visual expressions can help others shape an understanding of their own gendered bias and ubiquitous culture, and open up their creative potential when shaping innovative expressions and new media formats.

THIS EXPERIMENT builds on feministic speculative fabulations that emphasizes encoding and construction of expressions – based on the deconstruction of existing expressions. It addresses and critiques a lack of awareness of social construction in gender issues, while shaping popular cultural expressions.

I STARTED PICKING IMAGES and titles that had been stored in my head for quite some time. They came from everywhere. My thoughts from reading Zlatan Ibrahimović’s autobiography, my love for Mad Men, my irritation for sexualized, so-called “news”. All the feminist literature that deconstructs hierarchies shaped by men. The article I read on how sexualized and violent advertising doesn’t sell if there is no congruence between what is being sold and the way of selling (Bushman & Lull, 2015). My thoughts on womens’ and mens’ magazines. Most of all my reflections from all the discussions and shared articles with only women in a closed Facebook debating group. All my conversations with my gay friends. My love for sports. Me learning to hunt and the weird comments I got from people about it – some of which I almost took as compliments. The power of ideals and inspiration in society.

I thought about when I and my research project were rightfully criticized for having an “all-white-panel”, and the way the following conversations changed my thoughts and my way of looking at the world. I thought about how I now have power to define my world. I thought about my experiences from therapy where I explored my own thoughts and wishes in a world where others have specific and gendered expectations to me. I thought about how I had likely manipulated myself in my childhood. I thought about how much I had adjusted my ways of expressing myself, bodily and worldly, to seek acceptance from my surroundings.

That picture, where I am probably 10 years old, and I sat with my legs widespread. I would never do that in front of a camera today. Some labels were too painful as young.

I SEARCH MY INTERNAL LIBRARY. How designers are constantly shaping meaning with the combinations of images and text. How powerful it is. How it affects me in my everyday life. I start sketching. Twisting and turning. My newspaper front page.

MY BELOVED TOOL InDesign can always help me to combine what I need. To shape my meaning. Or not even my meaning – perhaps it’s just malicious pleasure. Egoism. I didn’t shape the newspaper I wished existed, I shaped an opposite of what I see. To demonstrate for myself how it could have been otherwise. To see that in this society, I would have been the “normal”. The obvious. The one with the most power to define. Not the second sex. I IMITATE one of Norway’s largest tabloid newspapers. I carefully picked images on Google that implied what I wanted them to imply.

I want it to look like it’s almost the original. Subtile. Visual implying. In my font organizing software I can easily find the newspaper typefaces. They don’t have the same practical function online, newspaper typefaces were designed to be efficient in press and save space and money on paper. Now their function is to shape meaning. To remind you of something you have seen before. Remind you of the values you recognized while experiencing that other design that used the same typeface. Easy-access news. Make you feel that you know the context. I’ve done newspaper designs before. Imitation is easy.

I FEEL ON TOP of the situation again, a bit arrogant. It brought me back in balance. This was never meant for anything. It was just one of the many InDesign-sketches on my computer that never makes it to anyone but me.

To read more about this, download the entire draft in PDF. Please note this is a rough draft, so errors should be treated kindly.

This is part of a series of articles by members of the Skagen Institute interrogating how we might think differently about our methods to better grapple with the complexity of 21st Century contexts.

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