Why the Brazil Protests Matter to Designers

In the design world it is easy to be insulated from the ebb and flow of broader political events. Sitting at our desks it is hard to relate to things that happen half a world away. We deal with what is in front of us, we examine the details and the finer points as well as the contexts in which our problems are situated. Rarely do our projects ask, or demand, we consider the macro or the global. It is easy – sometimes too easy – to believe that these events are irrelevant to our lives and work.

I was thinking about this disconnection – a symptom of our media saturated lives more generally – as I tried to wrestle with what is happening in Brazil and why I should care. On the one hand it seems distant and not particularly resonant with my life and on the other it feels urgent, vital and a deeper sign of the times. Here’s a few reasons why those of us in the design world should take more than a passing interest in the Brazil protests:

Size and speed: These protests happened almost spontaneously and have grown exponentially. From afar we should take a serious look into the nature of how the affective politics of disenfranchisement (or any for that matter) can transform from moment to moment.

Voice: The protests have been described as ‘leaderless and amorphous’ meaning that they are a radically democratic representation of a kind of politics infused with a spirit of creativity, hope and faith in the possibilities (if not the outcomes) of the future.

Demographic: The protesters are not limited to the young and seemingly disenfranchised. The fact that many of the protesters would be defined as ‘middle class’ means that the protests have tapped into a latent dissatisfaction which is not restricted by categories of race and class (which have a long and violent history in Brazil).

The Everyday: Most important is the nature of what is being protested. Beginning with elevated bus and transit fares and extending to expenditures on the Olympics and the World Cup, the protesters have not targeted any abstract or utopian ideals. Instead they have focused on things like transit, hospitals, taxation, corruption, responsible government and fairness. These are everyday issues which unite and, crucially, these are issues which can be solved.

The Brazil protests evince a desire to improve the little things that can make our lives better, richer and more meaningful. As such they are of a different register – and grounded simultaneously in humility and hope – than many of the protest movements we are used to hearing about through the haze and clutter of media noise. As someone involved in researching and designing programs that aim to put people and human perspective at the center of anything we do, the Brazil protests serve as a reminder that politics isn’t dead, that people still care and that we can do better. Pay attention and prepare to be inspired by the efforts of your global neighbors.

the author

Dr. Marc Lafleur

Dr. Marc Lafleur is VP, medical anthropology at Idea Couture. See his full bio here.