From the public sphere to multiple, networked publics

I begin this study (part of a larger PhD study) with the premise that the contemporary audience for communication design is fundamentally changing its behaviour and its relationship to design. This change brings with it the need to reassess the practice of design, expressly its communicative characteristics. The study is located in publication design, which is literally the act of making public. This action of bringing forth an idea or information and putting it up for public consumption has been the core purpose of graphic/communication design. Since graphic design emerged out of an integrated practice, bound in with printing, to stand alone as a profession, it has been at the interface between the idea and its audience.  So it is useful to build a comparison between this historical interface and the contemporary interface with their respective audiences. I do this by looking at the audience from the perspective of communities, publics and networked publics, all within Habermas’ concept of the public sphere.

A second premise is that to understand this change it is useful to locate communication design within what is known as the media. In other words that, as media such as newspapers, television, internet and radio; communication design is a vehicle for expressing values, opinions, beliefs, differences and so forth. While it is clearly has roots in a craft based discipline, communication design transcends its origins. It acts, as do other media, to create the public that it enters, and is in turn constructed by that public.

With these two principles in mind I then argue that as part of the media communication design is required to respond to the same changing conditions that impact on all media. These changes are best observed in the surge towards social media and what it means a propos the relationship between idea and audience.  I use a current research project into the ABC social networking site Pool to delve into what these changes are and how they appear to be playing out in that specific audience. Pool is an online community of media practitioners.


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