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Notes on the Icograda World Design Congress 2007, La Habana, Cuba

Maggie Macnab

Everything I experienced here was great, and the events sponsored every night by our gracious Cuban hosts were truly terrific-from the Cultural Diversity poster exhibit at the elegant National Museum of Fine Arts, to meeting the Cuban design students and seeing their work at the Superior de Dise�o Industrial Graphic Cuba.

Student work

Most of us got out each night, too-all the better if you had someone fluent in Spanish with you (thanks to Oscar and Ad�n). On Saturday night in Habana Vieja there was music on nearly every block and we ate grilled lobster and shrimp outside a microbrewery, the only one I saw. They had a live band and everyone at the table bought the cd. The travel education of this conference alone was worth the price of admission-this is how we learn about designing for the world. The Icograda World Congress is held every other year and the next one will be coming to Beijing in 2009. This is a good thing because it will take us that long to digest what we just experienced. (The full Congress schedule is downloadable here)

PoliticalsThe last night, from my eighth floor room at the classic 1930s Hotel Nacional de Cuba, I watched storm waves breaking over the Malec�n-the seawall that separates the ocean and main thoroughfare in Havana. It's from the United States, the locals said. They laughed when I pointed out that even America can't control the weather. That afternoon I had sat on the lap of a John Lennon sculpture in the memorial park dedicated to him, and had seen images of Che on posters and in sculpted relief all over the city. The occasional horse and wagon lumbered by, more often doing mundane daily work rather than hauling tourists. Politics had not entered my mind for the most part-everyday was jammed so full of sessions and the endless steam of meeting people and having conversations about design, the processing of it all was nearly impossible. And the nights were filled with parties, exhibits, dinners and walks down winding roads lined with massive colonial architecture, much of it varying states of deterioration, with stairways leading into an unfathomable experience of life. I couldn't even think any longer about what anything meant.

At right: "Guilty: the government of the United States protects terrorism."

cubaLife has changed drastically in a very short time. During the liberation of Cuba America was in her boom years, and just a few decades later we are coming to grips with rapidly narrowing options brought on by the shortsightedness of right-now gratification. We are in the center of a mass extinction that few of us register, and it was only when I returned to my homeland and was bombarded with the sticky gunk of consumerism that I realized I had glimpsed the final days of country whose virginal status of commercialism will become obsolete once the current rule is done. In a way, I'm grateful for the embargo. There is something unholy about a Starbucks in the Forbidden City, for instance, and it was quite refreshing to be without advertisements in one of the last remaining forbidden places. After all, experience is the thing-things are not the thing. All of us at the conference recognized we were experiencing something rare and fleeting. The memento we took away was the impression of a fading Cuba, coupled with the empowering possibility of what might happen if we consciously choose our next reality.

The starkness of the poverty there has a kind of beauty because it tastes like truth, even when it's hard to swallow. Everywhere was the reminder of the cost a renegade country pays. The people of Cuba work hard for very little and many of them would jump at the opportunity to experience our version of freedom. People, as I have always contended, are simply people, put under the burden or elevated by whatever they happen to be born into. A few extraordinary individuals who have risen from common means-the revolutionaries-break through to invent another reality. Communism or capitalism, any ideology is weighted by the inevitable subsequent structure that quickly becomes top heavy. Flexibility is essential for a species in movement and the cage rattles just a bit when you choose to be conscious about what you think and do. To be conscious puts you on a direct path with the right now. It's the height of a revolutionary act to make your moments conscious ones and all of us are capable of it.

political cuba

As David Berman, an Icograda board member said while opening the sustainability sessions, commit to just a few hours every week in whatever way makes sense for you. Designers make the intuitive usable, and we can also put thought into action by remembering what we are here to do: honor the idea by practicing the intention. That is the revolution, and as always has been the case, it comes from the inside out and from people like you and me.

Maggie Macnab
Maggie Macnab
macnabdesign.com, symbolmaker.com

For further information

Professional orgs: Icograda, the world body for professional graphic design and visual communication www.icograda.org

Information about this year's World Design Congress: http://lahabana.icograda.org/web
AIGA, AIGA's mission is to advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force. www.aiga.org

Sustainability, ethics and the design process as catalyst:


Fight Mediocrity cover Maggie Macnab has been an identity designer for over 25 years and has been published in Communication Arts, Graphis, Step by Step, Print and and many hardback books on design. She has taught logo design and symbolism as visual literacy for designers for over ten years at the University of New Mexico, and is past president of the Communication Artists of New Mexico. Her new book, "Decoding Design: Understanding and Using Symbols in Visual Communication", is published by HOW Design Books and will be released worldwide in January 2008. It is available on Amazon.com.

...and you must NOT miss her "Symbol Maker Logos and Symbols applied to products" website, in itself is an education in logo and symbol design... symbolmaker.com
      She has developed a visual literacy resource with a focus on the origin, development and appropriate use of symbols in visual communication (www.eyeku.com) to enhance advertising by creating more value with effective graphics.

See Maggie's previous article: The Apple Core vs. Linear Logic This article appears in DTG Magazine with permission, Copyright ©2007, Maggie Macnab

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