What are the central global issues humanity is facing today? How dire is the future really going to be? And what are possible ways to turn this world into a better one? These are the questions that the book Our World to Change! adresses, published in collaboration with Attac and Civic city.
On the occasion of the launch of Our World to Change! Lars Müller Publishers initiated a round table discussion with academics, non-governemental organisations and respresentatives from the fields of politics, art and design. The discussion took place at our studio in Zurich: With more than 20 people attending, we were able to have an intimate yet wide-ranging talk about the world we live in and how to change it.
Our World to Change! is a formal homage to the sociologist Otto Neurath and the graphic designer Gerd Arntz, who created the Isotype – an international education system by typographical images – in the 1920s. Graphic designer Ruedi Baur, who also co-founded the institute for critical design research Civic city together with Vera Baur, revived Otto Neuraths iconic Isotype figures to visualize the state of the world today. For this mission the Intégral Ruedi Baur graphic design studio teamed up with the globalization-critical organization Attac, which provided the necessary data. While people living in and around Zurich might already have spotted the figurines around the venues of last years' art biennial Manifesta 11, controversially themed "What people do for money," in Our World to Change! they take a more radical stance in critizising global inequality.
Since the mission of Attac is the "popular education on economic, social and ecological issues," as Thomas Coutrout, former co-president of Attac France states in the discussion, the Isotype figures are "an interesting way to show how this world is functioning or dysfunctioning." According to Coutrout, Our World to Change! tries to "connect the facts and figures to form a narrative of what is happening" around the globe. In this way, the book is supposed to function as an intermediate between activists and civilians. As Lars argues, "we gather here because we have to find a way to convince the billions of people who finally will be able to make a change," so we have to "create narratives to reach our audience."
While stories and narratives are a valuable tool to transmit abstract facts and figures, Geert van Dok, coordinator for political communication at the swiss NGO Helvetas, emphasizes that "storytelling is a chance, but it is also a risk," since "stories can be completely misunderstood," which is why the combination of facts, figures and narratives is invaluable.
In the course of the discussion, it becomes clear that new ways of thinking are necessary in order to change the world: "With the possibilities of the digital age, just do something new" says political scientist and writer Regula Stämpfli, while Vera Baur points out that a certain amount of naivety is essential to imagining a different world. At the same time, one should not forget that there is a huge variety of possibilities: "There is not one solution, there are thousands of solutions" says Ruedi Baur, one of them being the possibility of abolishing all nations so that everyone becomes an equal "citizen of the planet." Accordingly, for Thomas Coutrout grassroot mobilization is an indispensable action in addition to global initiatives. While “glocalization” is the number one solution for some activists, Geert van Dok refers to the contradiction between the request for more global initiatives regarding ecological issues like the Paris Agreement on one hand, and the reluctance to commit to global solutions on a political level on the other hand.
Besides the political dimension to the topic, the media play an important role as well: As Lars points out, due to current journalistic practices "we are victims of a softened and moderated language, which makes us accept facts and figures that are scandalous." It is therefore of great importance to find a new visual language to frame ongoing global developments.
This is the overall goal of this publication: While the black and yellow coloring of Our World to Change! reminds one of a radioactive warning sign, this book is a visual siren addressing the devastating global situation. By visualizing facts that concern each and everyone of us, these pressing issues are made visible. This is necessary since issues like inequality and climate change are often viewed as complex, abstract topics - and "if you don't see it, you don't do it," as Regula Stämpfli states.
Our World to Change! is a toolbox full of facts and stories that visualize the state of our world and possible ways to change it - a book that every informed citizen should keep under their pillow.