The Rhetoric of Neutrality

Robin Kinross, in Design Issues 2:2, 1985
Read January 2010

Kinross’ article aims to convince the reader that there is no neutrality in information design. The moment a designer gives form to data, Kinross asserts, the data is no longer neutral, because the design still has some sort of effect on its audience. In order to explain why information design is often regarded as free from rhetoric, Kinross takes the reader on a short journey through the modernist movement, culminating in the post-World War II dream of an “ideologically neutral world made possible by advances in technology” (27). While acknowledging the desire for the human world to be “free from unpredictability” (27), Kinross nonetheless concludes his argument with a strong declaration that “nothing is free of rhetoric…that ideological vacuums do not exist” (29).

Kinross seems to be motivated by a great concern that information designers are in denial of the “rhetorical persuasion” in their work (29). While he does not expand upon this idea, he does end his article with a charge to be alert in “questioning and resisting” (29). I would argue that Kinross fears that the public will not be critical enough when viewing information design. I also strongly believe that designers should be aware of their ability to persuade, and have an ethical responsibility to take great care when presenting information. For my thesis, this article is an important example of the history of the theoretical links between information and persuasion, and a moment in history during which the discipline of information design began to take shape.

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