TANDEM, NEW YORK, NY
Tandem is a small but mighty communication design studio forged on the principal that the same persuasive techniques used in marketing and advertising should be used to advance the greater good. Our clients work with us because we care, and we do our best work when they care too.
HOW AND WHY DID YOU COME TO USE DESIGN TO ADVANCE SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE AND/OR SUSTAINABLE PROJECTS, CLIENTS AND CAUSES?
Tandem’s co-founders began their careers as inhouse designers at non-profits. That led to experience in education, public policy, and political communications. The first night Shaun and Scott met, they discussed affecting substantive change through communication design and the barriers to success faced by even the most impassioned attempts like Milton Glaser’s “It’s Not Warming, It’s Dying” campaign. It was only natural from the outset that Tandem would pursue work that advocates for social causes.
The role design plays in a culture is constantly changing and the meaning of the word “design” itself has evolved over time. Similarly we exist in an evolving global economy built increasingly on attention. In the “WHO WHAT WHY” of information vying for our attention, design is the first touchpoint to all three questions. The democratization of technology makes targeted communication a constant. The best ideas can only rise to the top if they’re recognizable as such, and in order to be acted upon, they need to be noticed in the first place. The indistinguishable relationship between form (design) and content was eloquently described by Paul Rand: “When form dominates, meaning is blunted but when content predominates, interest lags.”
Our firm was responsible for creating the visual identity and communications collateral for the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez congressional campaign in New York’s 14th District. In the case of the Ocasio campaign branding, Alexandria is bold and her aspirations were even bolder. If she pulled it off, we knew it would be representative of a larger movement so we didn’t shy away from highlighting that and we communicated honestly on her behalf. We researched similarly bold movements of the past and iconic figures who succeeded in capturing the support and imagination of the many. In the case of the Ocasio campaign, the most vital components of the design process came down to understanding, deep understanding. Understanding our friend, understanding what she needed to stand for, understanding the people and the movements that came before her, and understanding the community and constituents she speaks on behalf of. Once we had the ethos baked into the visuals, the brand evolved into something larger than we ever could have imagined, but the identity held up and served its purpose throughout the primary campaign.
We received positive attention from our work on the Ocasio campaign, but more interesting to us is that it sparked a broader discussion of communication design in political campaigns. This isn’t new to designers of course, but whenever the mainstream takes an interest in effective design, we all benefit. We continue to do work with new campaigns and plan on working with the Ocasio campaign through the election. We’ve also been lucky enough to develop relationships with some extremely admirable and forward-thinking organizations. We are, for example, very proud of a campaign we recently completed with Planned Parenthood and look forward to whatever’s in store for Tandem.
ARE THERE ANY SPECIAL CHALLENGES, OPPORTUNITIES, URGENCIES IN 2018?
These are unique times for a number of reasons, but the current collision between technology and ideology has created something unprecedented in human history. Information is vast and attention is finite. We’ve seen the emergence of dominant tech giants like Facebook and Apple. We’ve become acutely aware of the battle for our attention, and boycotting brands and holding them accountable is a new form of advocacy.
That said, we believe that change can ultimately come only when people are civically engaged. People often ask us how they can make a difference; our answer is for them to donate their skills. Some of us at Tandem volunteer with a group named Progressive Hacknight here in New York, a technologist meet-up designed to promote activism and engagement across the political spectrum. It all boils down to promoting civic engagement one way or another.
In particular, we have to get citizens to vote. What’s special about this moment is that people are more activated than ever. The 2017 women’s march was the largest single-day protest in US history. This is our moment. We all have the opportunity to alter the course of human history through our involvement in the democratic process. In order to design a compassionate, inclusive, and healthy society, we need to first think about how we can reach the most marginalized and unengaged among us and invite them to participate in our system of governance. Design can play a vital role in the revolution of participation.
PICTURED ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT: Carlos Dominguez, Designer; Shaun Gillen, Co-founder/Principal; Maria Arenas, Designer; Scott Starrett, Co-founder/Principal. Photo taken in Flat’s Fix, the taco shop we met Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in while she was bartending.