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The Problematic side of ‘Neutral’ Graphic Designing

Issues with normative approaches to normality in graphic designing

The Problematic side of ‘Neutral’ Graphic Designing

The modern lives of human population are not necessarily entirely unproblematic. The digital forms that the world has taken are also not necessarily revolutionary, there are some inherent issues with the concepts of this digital modernity and the technical development of the human population. The present paper aims to provide a critical and thoroughly researched response to the 2021 article, “There Is No Such Thing as Neutral Graphic Design” by Ellen Lupton and Leslie Xia. The paper will analyze and then conclude how the problematic aspects of graphic designing have affected the human population and how they continue to reassert some age-old norms (Lupton & Xia, 2021).

A thorough study of the article, ‘There Is No Thing as Neutral Graphic Design’, reveals that there have been many issues with graphic designing in the past but the new generation is trying its best to let go of that past and understand the present as well as the future of graphic designing that will come out of the norms set up with the help of a better understanding of the current and supposedly ‘neutral’ graphic designing ideals. The article begins with a diagram of the human body, but it is not the basic diagram that the readers have seen throughout their lives in the biology books, it is a diagram that shows the human body in its most modern form, the human body that is made up of the accepted societal norms, the human body that is supposed to be the ‘normal, average and neutral’ human body, the human body that is made up of privilege, a body that has a college educated brain, English-speaking mouth, Christian beliefs, non-disabled limbs, a body that is a member of a two parent heterosexual family, which, itself is heterosexual cisgender, a body that has citizenship, a body that is white. This diagram itself makes the reader pause and ponder over the normalization of the supposed ‘average’ human body that reigns the society. It gives a brief about the upcoming article, a powerful strategy, the diagram summarizes what the article aims to deliver (Pang, 2020).

The article takes a leap straight from the beginning and begins explaining what is the ‘normal’ in design, about what it means to design for normal people, this gives the article a segue and helps the writers to incorporate a tone that seems aggressive yet assertive. The argument that the western civilization deems to consider the white heterosexual seemingly privileged body to be ‘normal’ is absolutely correct at its place. The article states that graphic designers are in the ‘norm’ business, which essentially means that graphic designers follow the set of rules which are drawn after taking in consideration the previously explained ‘average’ human body. As stated in the article, gender disparities take place in every discourse, similarly, they appear in graphic designing as well (Gaztambide-Fernández & Angod, 2020).

Inclusivity and diversity in graphic designing

At first, the inequalities lied only in the male and female body, and even they were not entirely comprehended by the designers as well as the market, now, as the world has started realizing the horrendous mistakes it has committed, there have been a few modifications that are taking place on a considerably slower pace, but something is better than what was almost nothing (Cook, 2015).

The current dimensions of inclusivity and diversity have led to the creation of trends where people are able to speak up when they do not feel represented, this article talks about the heteronormative hegemony and how drastically it has affected the lives of those who are not represented through this privileged bubble of the ‘normal’ people (Beccari, 2018).

The assertation that graphic designers have also drowned in the discourse of this western belief of ‘normal’ by using the set of distinguished templates that are considered to be the norm is quite truthful. These seemingly ‘user-friendly’ templates basically help the white ethnocentricist society reinstate the idea of imperialistic approach towards the east as their opinions are hardly ever considered, the entire process is based on a western approach towards the subject (Kelly, 2021).

Apart from gender stereotypes, another prevailing problematic issue with this ‘normal’ approach is that it is of a colonialist perspective. Some critics believe that rather than using this discourse for digital opportunity, the digital approach is slowly becoming a newer form of colonization. This digitalization of the world has started taking the human population to the past generations, as it has started using technology to assert domination over the non-western civilizations (Hilbig, 2021). But, one thing that the article does not state is that this new generation is desperately trying its best to change this factor.

The article then takes a swift turn towards the role of identity in designing, and not just the identity that is defined by sexual orientation, but the identity that is represented within the various distinct compartments of nationality, race, ethnicity and class. An appropriate example of the writer and activist Audre Lorde is provided by the writers in order to analyze and evaluate the way that the question of identity is repeatedly repressed the oppression of identity has been continuous throughout history and now that the entire world is chanting about the supposed development and digitalization as a form of revolution, identity and assertation of identity is once again being forgotten, somewhat deliberately (Ilmonen, 2017).

Role of identity in designing

Lorde elaborates on the concept of “mythical norm’ established by the society, which leads to the creation of a generalized belief that a certain identity is generically human and anything other wise is entirely ignored. With the elaboration on this concept, Lorde takes a deep dive in the human struggle of identity, the struggle of not being able to identify with the acceptable societal identities, not being able to fit in the established template of identity. The conceptualization on the basis of the majority is what Lorde aims to deconstruct, the heteronormative and white concepts of identity that essentially control the mindsets of the world (Grode, 2019).

The othering of women has been prevalent throughout the ages and the saddest fact that occurs in the modern world is that even though feminism is undeniably present in the world, the othering of women is still just as much prevalent (Harmer & Southern, 2019).

The difference is that while women were othered by the men in the society prior to modernism, now they are othered by their own comrades, they are constantly othered by the white women led feminism, this very fact led Alice Walker to come up with the concept of womanism in her book ‘In search of Our Mother’s Garden’, this concept is inclusive of all those who identify as women, irrespective of their race, class, ethnicity, nationality and most specifically, color (Naples, 2020).

The article takes a bold step with this, calling out the hidden and ignored harsh realities that engulf the designing world as much as they engulf the outer world, which is a small step towards, hopefully, something revolutionary. Designing has always been something artistic as well as intellectual so for most of the history, people have never taken any major step to point out the complexities and hypocrisies that live within it. The present article breaks all those shackles and aims to make the reader ponder over the concept of inclusivity in graphic designing. With Lorde’s example, it is asserted once again that there is nothing ‘neutral’ in graphic designing, everything works as per the set dictums. The article’s assertion that the privileged section will never be able to understand how these norms affect those on the receiving end of all this is quite fathomable and honest, if considered under the present circumstances or even if considered under the age-old concepts of non-inclusivity (Ong, et al., 2021).

The article does justice to its format and presents the other side of the story as well by acknowledging the existence of all the protests and the resistance throughout the years that have been a crucial part of the history of graphic designing. There have been artists who have taken the next step and have dared to revolt by creating their own sets of rule and formation. Over the years, there has been a significant amount of change through revolution and rebellion in the set norms and those artists have been credited with the role of the pioneers who changed the course of history by not aligning with the dictated formations of art (Ferraresi, 2020). But the article fails to assert these opinions as aggressively as it should have. The efforts that are constantly being made in order to do better are somehow left out of the article.

The othering of women

The article then comes to the raging subject of Pandemic. Indeed, the 2019 Pandemic has turned out to be an episode of severe realization, along with all of its horrendous atrocities, this article appropriately articulates how pandemic revealed that the priorly designed gowns and hospital garments were always made in accordance with the set norms of what is considered to be the ‘standard, average or normal’ male body, this prevalent exercise proved to be fatal and cataclysmic during the crisis because, unlike what the set norms dictate, not all human bodies are of the exact same built. It is interesting here to notice that the writers of this article have chosen a topic on which not many people were asserting their own opinions or even had any opinions as such, as they were hardly getting affected by the enormity of it all. The interesting and important take on the feminist and racial aspect of it makes the article essential for the readers. The claim that writers and graphic designers can use their tools to bring about social change is something that has been adamantly stated for years now and is absolutely true. The temporal and spatial aspect of designing as well as writing are, in essence, common, and this gives these practices the credibility to revolt against the established shallow and imperialistic norms (Mkwesha & Huber, 2020). However, after a point of time it starts feeling as if the writers are not ready to accept that a present is being created by thousands of people, where these concepts of sexism and colonization are being shattered gradually.

Towards the end, the article talks about a book that talks about the language of queerness, it is important to notice that this section and the information shared here is crucial and vital as it talks about the fact that sexual orientation has been used as a disguise by the privileged section over the years to alienate those who do not identify as cisgender heterosexual. The book mentioned here, ‘Queer Phenomenology’ by Sara Ahmed states that a body occupies physical as well as social spaces with its shape which is quite practical in essence and it also ascertains the social characteristics of the human body, about how it tends to create a huge impact on its surroundings and the society is ever ready to come barging at it with the compartmentalizing rules of its selective and established norms (Vitry, 2021).

Revolt against normativity in graphic designing

The article concludes with the claim that designing can be normative but it can also be transformative. It is essential to understand this statement in its entirety. This statement reveals that designing has had some issues inherently, but, with time, steps can be taken in order to change that fact. Just as bodies can not be compartmentalized or put in specific boxes, similarly, the artistic space of designing can, in fact, be revolutionary and abstract. It does not have to fit in, it does not have to be specific or work in accordance with the established norms. The queer bodies have freedom to assert themselves and they have gained this freedom after years and years of struggle, the art of designing can also become free of the norms and break free of those shackles in order to be more fluid so that it can encompass those bodies and does not live under the shed of the privileged western norms (Lewis, 2018).

In conclusion, it can be stated that the article ‘There is no such thing as Neutral Graphic Designing’, achieves what it set out to do, it explains with appropriate references about how throughout history, there have been inherent issues with graphic designing and the relentless denying of the fact is not going to do anything. It is imperative, hence, that the present population does something in order to alter the mistakes of the past and does not follow the same path with is essentially non-inclusive and alienating, a path that follows the constructs of othering more than half of the human population on the basis of their identity, However, one issue with the present article is that it blatantly refuses to shed light on some of the positive pathways that are being created in the society and it majorly dwells on the negative side of it all.


Beccari, M. N., 2018. Discourse and place of speech in graphic/information design: Some philosophical considerations. Information Design Journal, 19 November, 24(1), pp. 67 - 79.

Cook, B. G., 2015. STEAM: Toward Gender Equality in Graphic Design. s.l.:Savannah College of Art and Design.

Ferraresi, M., 2020. Gender Digital Violence - Study, Design and Communication of an Awareness-Raising Campaign from University to University. HCI International 2020 – Late Breaking Papers: Interaction, Knowledge and Social Media, 27 September, Volume 12427, pp. 265-272.

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