Winter 2002

Form follows purpose: Inkahoots (extract)

Does this Brisbane studio offer a role model for socially concerned design? [EXTRACT]

In 2000, a small, not widely known design company in Brisbane called Inkahoots published a book celebrating its first ten years. The images were intriguing but what really struck me were the book’s three texts. ‘We work mainly in the community and cultural sectors,’ wrote Inkahoots’ directors, Robyn McDonald and Jason Grant. ‘Not just because that’s where the best work is, but because we figure our environment is already cluttered with sophisticated corporate imagery that often doesn’t represent the community’s best interests. Alternative visual messages struggle to be heard above the rowdy din of dominant media. They need to communicate incisively with compelling power and drama, or even quietly with careful subtlety, just to compete.’

This was unusual. In the space of just 72 words, Inkahoots had used the word ‘community’ twice, evoking ideas about culture’s purpose from the years before Reagan and Thatcher. By the 1990s, an ideologically defined conception of community had more or less disappeared from discussions about design. Young designers might encounter such ideas from older teachers, but they would not be perceived as central or receive any reinforcement from design’s professional organisations and publications. Yet here was a fiery sounding team of idealists in Queensland placing ‘community’ at the heart of its practice. What was it about Brisbane, I wondered, that encouraged this way of thinking and working? Might Inkahoots’ approach be a paradigm for designers seeking to pursue socially concerned forms of design practice?

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