Design tools to facilitate dialogue to test the scope of participation in graphic design,
while co-creating an identity for Sudanese, Ethiopian and Afghan immigrants in Paris through football.
“When I’m playing with the team, I forget all my troubles and unfortunate situations.” Hooman Ahmadi, one of the best players of Equipe Sans Frontieres, Paris, says in French, a language he’s picked up to be accepted into a new culture. As a 19 year old from Afghanistan searching for a new life in France, Ahmadi associates himself with football, a neutral game with no hegemonic strings.
ESF, Paris, a football association that works for the inclusion of migrants was founded in 2017 by Chloé Cassabois, an English school-teacher. This project was born to give opportunity and access to the passionate people across the world to practice this sport within a heterogeneous team. Aspiring players discover this club through organisations such as BAAM (Migrant Welfare and Accompanying Office), Medical Doctors, CADA (Home Applicants Welfare Center) and often by word of mouth.
“We are a football club built on a solid foundation of love, solidarity, friendship, and collective support”, says Chloé, the club’s president. Identifiers such as ‘immigrant’ and ‘refugee’ are political terms that have too often been used to dehumanise groups of people by alienating them from their identity. Chloé believes that, through the common language of football, we can seek to give back a soul and personalise a political issue that has, for too long, sowed discord.
“Football has also provided a fertile source of empowering local myths, all the more effective when they have gained purchase within the national imagination. In this sense, football culture arguably helped cement social stability.”
FOOTBALL CULTURES AND IDENTITIES
The players have Afghan, Ethiopian, Sudanese and Eritrean origins. Coming from culturally different backgrounds, football is a tie that binds them together. Designing across borders, for social and cultural integration, cannot be done merely by designers who haven’t lived through the experiences and transitions that these players have. For the players to be reminded that the club is not just for them, but made of them, it goes without saying that they play a constitutional role in the creation of a visual identity that will represent them.
How might we design cultural strategies for community development to address the issues faced by migrants, refugees and asylum seekers?
PARTICIPATION IN IDENTITY DESIGN
The need for this association to be perceived as a football club and not just a Not-for-Profit Organisation was a necessity to elevate how it’s players are represented. The club has now come to consist of a family of players, coaches and volunteers; each one united by the language of football.
The processes behind creating this representation required us to innovate ways to integrate a community bustling with unimaginable stories, backgrounds and passion. Julien, the men’s team coach expressed that there’s a lot for the world to learn from this family. He narrated how “sometimes one wants to give up on themself, but this team shows that by reaching out to others, they can go a long way…with just a ball and a field.”
We identified early on that questionnaires, forms and other cold ways of collecting information are a dreadful reminder of the impossible bureaucratic processes migrants are put through to be accepted as a part of civil society. So, we developed a system to collaborate in a way that reinstated agency back to the players.
In ‘Designing for Cultural Diversity: Participatory Design, Immigrant Women and Shared Creativity, Mumtaz (2010) writes,
“Krippendorff (2006) elaborates that for designers, listening may take several routes from engaging in ethnographic research to inviting those interested to participate in a development team. He professes that participatory design starts with overcoming the voiceless user.”
Agency and Control
To inspire a dialogue amongst the players about how they would like to be seen, we gamified the process of gathering information by making the interaction as enjoyable and intuitive as possible. The idea was to assure them that their voices mattered here and that they were in control of curating their identity.
To design a non-invasive way of interacting with the players, remotely and on the field, we created a toolkit. We needed to surpass language barriers and pandemic restrictions, and we designed interactions that could enrich the experience of sharing and making collective choices.
I worked with Chloe in making this toolkit. She volunteered to facilitate the entire process because she had a close relationship with each member of the team and her familiarity would help make this a more personal process.
In the first few sessions, we acclimatised the team to the idea of having a unified identity, one that we could co-create and proudly wear on our chests.
After enticing some scope of reflection into “Who are we?”, with the help of players themselves acting as field assistants and translators, we began documenting conversations with the team on- and off-field. We brought in the coaches, volunteers and community members to describe their dreams, stories and memories of the club.
The team shared their proudest moments and failures, their fantasies and rituals, their spaces of comfort and apprehension. The flexible conversation guide that we created then ushered us into a direction that helped us formulate a collective narrative for ESF, Paris.
I deconstructed identity systems from the existing online and offline football cultures and repurposed it’s fundamental elements with signs, symbols and imagery that is contextual to ESF, Paris’ discourse. I then went on to create tools to verify these insights and eliminate my biases by providing them with choices to assemble a visual representation of their narrative. I used inputs from the players’ discussions, their social media presence and aspirations as possible ingredients for the identity that the team could create through the amalgamation of these ‘ingredients’ in preferred amounts.
“For those who have moved, whether as migrants or refugees, from choice or necessity or some combination of both, there are more specific questions too, including varying degrees of choice – or lack of choice – in relation to national identity and ethnicity, continuity and change, inclusion or exclusion, integration or cultural pluralism.”
Cultures, Communities and Identities: Cultural Strategies for Participation and Empowerment
The final identity was created with much back and forth between the players, volunteers and staff. The finished representation was a creation that attempted to bind the voice of each player, her vision, her coach and the club’s history.
Illustrations by Shagnik Chakraborty
Learning and limitations
This project was an experiment in visual communication to test the application of academic theories on participation. As a designer, I tried to simply remain a tool in this process and allow the participant’s dialogue and desire to take its course. However, to say that the process had the highest degree of participation, wouldn’t be true. The decisions I had to take to create a process were a result of my education, biases and knowledge, and the participants had little to do with it. The sensitivity of the issue, fleeting levels of interest to participate, resources and technology were some of the project’s biggest obstacles.
I did, however, learn that volunteering to design with people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to invest enough in design can be very powerful. Visual communication can aid in empowering large social communities and genuinely inspire interest in associating themselves in movements bigger than themselves.
On Design Research
I learnt that the depth of the body of research in communication design can only be determined by its capability in engaging with cross-disciplinary complexities. To remain unbiased, it is also important for designers to acknowledge their political stances in order to remain out of muddy waters while conceiving something into a largely political world.
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