IIDKWIGBITWTBT SYMPOSIUM – Daniel van der Velden/Metahaven, Design for Wikileaks

Metahaven/Daniel van der Velden evoked the research elements they took in consideration for the Wikileaks design identity proposal:
- the massive impact of the connected aspects of the subject: the Press and Technical issues
- the surrealistic current logo
- the “leaking” idea
- more than Wikileaks, it’s about a specific mentality of radical transparency
- the emotional image of Wikileaks with regard to Assange justice problems
- Wikileaks complex architecture
- Networks & boundaries
New: The Poster Leaks, 193 posters (A4, pdf), Sovereign States for WikiLeaks
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Metahaven (Daniel van der Velden & Vinca Kruk) is a studio for critical graphic design with a focus on identity and branding, based in Amsterdam. From research projects, such as the Sealand Identity Project (2004), Museum of Confl ict (2006), and Quaero (2007), the group has moved into installation making and speculative design projects, such as Stadtstaat (Künstlerhaus Stuttgart and Casco Utrecht, 2009). Metahaven also produces commissioned work for clients, such as the Antennae paperback series for publishing house Valiz. Metahaven’s work has been included in numerous group exhibitions. Their book Uncorporate Identity was published in 2010 by Lars Müller.
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Manystuff: As far as you are concerned, as a contemporary graphic designer aware of this actual problematic of redefinition of design, if you wanted to leave a trace while this movement of change, what would it be?
Which work dynamic would you like to bring to the next generation? which attitude? What the new generation should learn? Which positioning they should remember?

Metahaven: “We don’t have a formula for that. If you’re doing something, there is no need for you to abandon all that you know just to embrace ‘change’. We like to expand by inclusion. The idea is dialogue. As we’ve said in the talk, there are two important dialogues we explore. One is the dialogue with software engineers. Apart from being on the street or at home or in bars or museums, or libraries or at our parents or in school or in stations, or in shops, or in the battlefield, or up in the sky, or wherever we spend our time, we are often behind the computer, and when there, we spend a lot of time interacting with social networking platforms like Twitter. We are great admirers of Twitter, but we are a little puzzled by their logo. There’s ideas about being likeable and transparent, definitely more interesting than Facebook’s but a long way from what many European designers still get taught identity should look like. It is important to start a dialogue with the human-computer interaction design paradigm that Twitter represents, and of course with the people who make it. We are always into politics, and Twitter has, by serendipity, become a platform for political exchange and debate—it increasingly structures political speech far beyond the soundbite, and encourages social ties beyond the comfort zone. Secondly there is the dialogue with design amateurs; people who’ve made things before a designer stepped in. We feel there is less and less of a mandate for a clean sweep, with the designer just starting from scratch. Instead you have to have a dialogue with what is there. For example, the existing WikiLeaks logo cannot be just discarded to give way to a ‘good’ logo.”

Manystuff: What about the work you are doing for WikiLeaks? what are your plan about their identity?

Metahaven: “We hope that our proposals can embody a discussion about the type of organization WikiLeaks would like to be in the future. Since our previous work on Sealand, the tiny unrecognized island state that wanted to be a data haven, we have a bit of experience in visualizing the concept of information storage in an age of control. Yet WikiLeaks is different, more complex, and more serious. We believe that there are three key elements to WikiLeaks that should be considered.
One is its ‘image economy’; the type of image you find, for example, when you Google search for WikiLeaks. In the last months, the range of faces associated with WikiLeaks has expanded to now include not just Julian Assange but a host of ‘world leaders’—Hillary Clinton condemning, Berlusconi laughing, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Vladimir Putin who proposed that Assange should get a Nobel Prize. We were very impressed especially by one of his attorneys, Jennifer Robinson. And there are the high profile individuals who now support Assange, like Ken Loach, Michael Moore and Jemima Khan, which would suggest a pathway to a more NGO-like format. Not to forget the face of Bradley Manning, an alleged whistleblower, and Adrian Lamo, the person who ‘turned him in’. The Manning-Lamo chat conversation that led to the arrest, would make you think that it was easy to retrieve the secrets from the military database; Manning allegedly went into the office with a recordable cd with ‘Lady Gaga’ printed on it, and while listening to her smash hit Telephone, loaded the data onto the disc, and then left. So even Lady Gaga is, by extension, part of the WikiLeaks image economy. We have kept the accusations to Assange, coming from two Swedish women, out of the identity, because as far as we can see these were interpersonal issues that were trumped and made public and juridical mainly to damage Assange.
A second element we wish to emphasize is the ‘architecture of WikiLeaks’. We’ve drawn a provisional map of it, the information of which is completely based on public sources. Yet it is quite staggering how it all seems to work. We believe an identity for WikiLeaks should reflect this architecture. To name just one example, they are hosted in various countries, or jurisdictions as we prefer to call them. WikiLeaks proposed for Iceland to become the ‘Switzerland of Bytes’ in a genius stroke of nation branding. Admirable. Iceland is by far the most interesting model for a European country politically at this moment, undergoing a political sea change as an elected bunch of 500 something of its citizens are rewriting the constitution.
Thirdly we think that a WikiLeaks identity should be about its model. There was a world before WikiLeaks and there is one after WikiLeaks. The ‘identity’ should be a projection of that world. There are now other organizations already based on the WikiLeaks model. Some have been started by ex-WikiLeaks associates like Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who initiated OpenLeaks.org. Clearly there is work to do in terms of what sort of organization a whistleblower web site is. Is it a technical switchboard inbetween whistleblower and news media? Is it a go-between NGO that does not promote any political and ideological ends but merely takes care that leaks are exposed? We clearly were attracted to WikiLeaks because of its apparent rationality, its interest in ‘scientific journalism’ that liberates reporters from the straitjacket of press briefings and corporate PR, giving them direct access to files. WikiLeaks as a telephone for change.”

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