A/D/O by MINI | Tucker Viemeister: designing the resistance

Tucker Viemeister: designing the resistance

Designer and vocal Trump critic Tucker Viemeister is using his creative arsenal to take a stance against the US president.

It’s a design meant to shock. The blood-red field and white circle at its center are chillingly familiar, and trick the eye into seeing a swastika instead of the slanted black “T” that forms the core. Tucker Viemeister’s proposal for a flag for Donald Trump, which he created and shared on his instagram page during the 2016 election cycle, is an unsubtle, but powerful, visual representation of a familiar criticism of the US president. 

New York-based Viemeister has become a sort of unofficial graphic designer of the “resistance”. In addition to the Trump flag, he designed a rebuke to Attorney General William Barr’s decision to heavily redact the Mueller report earlier this year. For that project, he began with an American flag and obscured segments of the white and red stripes with heavy black lines to mimic the way redacted documents are edited. “A democracy needs to have freedom of speech and freedom of information,” said the 70-year-old industrial and graphic designer, “and redacting the flag sort of made it look like covered up part of what it stands for, but also looks like its like shot up or missing something.” 

Viemeister created a Nazi-style logo for Donald Trump following the 2016 election

Design’s capacity to be harnessed as a tool for good or evil is a theme present in much of Viemeister’s work. Several years back, he completed a project showing designs on either side of that divide. On the “evil” side, he displayed Mein Kampf and Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal. “The pieces were there so when he was running for office, I realized, this guy is really a Nazi and I made that logo with just taking the T and slanting it,” said the designer, who was inspired by a similar work by a German designer who had replaced the swastika with a cross to criticize the church. 

“It’s not a brilliant new idea,” Viemeister told The Journal, “but the scary part is, I was afraid they might use it. I could see those supremacist people like jumping on it. So I was kind of glad it didn’t make it into the mainstream.” The design didn’t catch on among the Trump crowd, at least to Viemeister’s knowledge, but it did make the rounds on Twitter and several design media outlets.

It’s not the first time Viemeister, previously better known for his work on the ubiquitous Oxo “Good Grips” line of kitchen tools than for his activism, has used design to comment on American politics. After the 2000 elections he took part in a Parsons show where a handful of artists and designers took the infamous voting machines from that election and remade them into statements about democracy. Viemeister turned his into a chair and printed on the phrase:

“Do not rest until your vote is counted.”

Though the designer seems to relish opportunities to throw barbs at those in power, using design as a way to engage with political discourse is an extension of a design ethos focused on improving people’s lives. “I think that everything is political, so definitely design has a bigger role than it wants to play,” he said. “Designers used to think their work doesn’t have any social ramifications, but it does, everything does. Everything is some kind of sign, everything has some kind of social value or meaning. From steps being a barrier to people with mobility issues to a t-shirt that says something on it.” It’s a comforting fiction designers tell themselves that design is neutral, and designers need to be engaged and conscious of the implications of their work. 

Viemeister’s most recent design is for a functional (non-conceptual) voting machine, called ElectionGuard. This was a serendipitous opportunity to apply his talent for elegant and practical industrial design to a political problem that has vexed him and many others going back at least to the 2000 presidential election: ballot design. As anyone who remembers hanging chads can tell you, confusing ballots make for a messy democracy. “I was talking to this friend and we were bitching about how ballot designs are so bad, and why don’t we just design it for them,” Viemeister said. After talking with a group of designers engaged in such a project, he learned that the regulations for ballot design are extremely strict, providing would-be ballot redesigners limited wiggle room. But they put him in touch with Microsoft’s Defending Democracy program, which was looking for an industrial designer to build an interface to demonstrate voting software they are developing.

The ElectionGuard ballot machine is designed to make voting easier

Viemeister explained that his design is just the beginning. Designing for a better world requires an iterative process and a healthy dose of optimism, testing ideas, seeing how users respond to a product, and adapting based on what you learn. “It’s another case where your concept might be different than what happens in real life,” he said. “The machine does everything they wanted it to, but now we have to see what regular people think and how it actually works.”

Just as there is always the risk that Trump supporters might adopt Viemeister’s flag, there is the risk that though the machine behaves as expected, people don’t. The design is intended to reduce as many barriers to voting as possible, with large type, headphone jacks, and braille, but the designer is sure that he will learn something new when it is put in front of users. “It’s always interesting and enlightening,” said Viemeister. “Industrial designers go into those relationships hoping to be surprised.” It is that hope to be surprised, and hope to design something that will improve upon what already exists, that keeps Viemeister working towards change.

Text by Ethan Tucker.

Images courtesy of Tucker Viemeister.