In its simplest form activism can – and quite often does- appear around us daily. Why then is it, by definition at least, so difficult to properly identify? This was the question that Defining Design as Activism (Thorpe 2011) aimed to answer (with regards to design activism at least – which is where we go from here).

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Using the image above – taken from an Inkahoots project for Queensland Conservation – we can see how with the right application the criteria suggested by Thorpe can suitably define and demonstrate design as activism.

From (the) overview we can extract four basic criteria to define design as activism:

  • It publicly reveals or frames a problem or challenging issue.
  • It makes a contentious claim for change (it calls for change) based on that problem or issue.
  • It works on behalf of a neglected, excluded or disadvantaged group.
  • It disrupts routine practices, or systems of authority, which gives it the characteristic of being unconventional or unorthodox—outside traditional channels of change.(Thorpe 2011, p. 6)

Five simple words are all it takes for these criteria to be met – which clearly shows the power of design in activism. The first two criteria seemingly go hand in hand.

The problem or challenging issue? Mining.

The claim for change based on that issue? To make it stop.

The second two criteria, though still present, may not be as glaringly obvious – but are still relevant nonetheless. In todays modern society the single most neglected or disadvantaged group in existence has to be the natural environment. Humans may think they are the be all and end all but without our environment our existence is doomed. This human ignorance is prevalent for the final point as well – as it is we who have developed the mining practices which are being opposed.

It is for these reasons that a visually stimulating design is able to do so much more than a traditional activists protest or angry letter ever could.


Thorpe, A. (2011). Defining design as activism. Retrieved from

Keep Coal in the Ground [Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from

One thought on “Design Activism – Make something make something do something

  1. Hi William,
    Great use of explaining how your chosen design reflects Thorpe’s criteria for Design activism. Good use of articulating your viewpoint and having strong expression in your language also. The order of your information was set out well too as it was easy to refer back to Thorpe’s criteria within your post and relate it back to your analysis of the Inkahoots design.
    Nice work! 🙂


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