Understanding Internet Memes IDENTIFYING EFFECTIVE FRAMEWORKS FOR ENGAGEMENT
John Raymond Olson
Understanding Internet Memes IDENTIFYING EFFECTIVE FRAMEWORKS FOR ENGAGEMENT
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Communications Design. Pratt Institute May 2014
Jean Brennan Thesis Adviser
Jefferey Bellantoni Chair
Acknowledgments I would like to start this thesis by thanking my mother and father. Without their love and support I would not have had the courage to attend the Pratt Graduate program or make it through the last two life-changing years. Thank you. I would also like to thank my thesis adviser Jean Brennan, whoâ€™s insights and encouragement made this thesis possible. Additional Thanks James Olson // Terren Wooten Clarke // Tom Klinkowstein // Brenda McManus // Ned Drew // Nikko-Ryan Santillan // Alejandro Torres // Caroline Matthews // Andrew Levitt // Sierra Siemer
PREFACE // Why Memes 6 THEORY // 10 CHAPTER 1 // About Memes 18 CHAPTER 2 // Social Activism 44 CHAPTER 3 // Systems 56 CHAPTER 4 // Visual Projects 78 CONCLUSION // 98
Internet memes may seem an unusual topic for a Masterâ€™s thesis.
My interest in internet memes was spurred by an experience last November at the Pratt Manhattan Campus. On my way to class I saw a poster advertising spec work in the hallways of the Pratt studio building. Some company was apparently hoping to capitalize on the number of design students who use this building and thought it would be the perfect place to get cheap design work. The poster advertised a $200 cash price for a winning design. I knew this would spark outrage among my peers at Pratt. The Grumpy Cat meme features an angry looking snowshoe cat that rose to internet fame in late 2012. PREFACE
Most designers see spec work as exploitative, and such a small “prize” for what would undoubtedly be a large amount of work was laughably frustrating. The next morning I walked by the poster again, but this time an image out of Grumpy Cat had been pasted over the ad. Grumpy Cat is a popular internet meme that features a cat frowning with the word “NO”, or some other dissenting phrase, written over his face.11 This meme is widely used online to humorously express frustration or objection.
Are memes and the way they function something important for designers to understand? When I saw the image of grumpy cat I laughed out loud because I instantly understood the emotions that inspired its authorship. That silly picture of the cat quickly and effectively summed up everything I felt about the lame spec work poster. Talking with my peers in the Pratt studio, I discovered that I was not the only one who responded this way. That image and its placement collectively resonated with us.
This sparked my curiosity. Why was this meme so effective? Like most twenty-somethings I am quite familiar with internet memes, but I had never stopped to think about how they worked. While I see them everyday on Facebook feeds and in BuzzFeed articles, they had not before inspired serious study. Are internet memes more than just silly pictures of dancing bananas and frowning cats? And more significantly, are memes and the way they function something important for designers to understand?
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By examining memes, I seek to identify effective frameworks for engagement.
I have always been inspired by idiosyncratic design solutions. This is partially influenced by my multidisciplinary background. The unconventional intrigues me. Understanding this inclination, it makes sense that I was drawn to internet memes. Internet memes seemingly are everywhere. We scroll past them in our newsfeeds, attach them to text
Newsfeeds are used by social media sites to provide users with updates of their friendâ€™s posts and activity.
messages and reference them in casual conversation. They even pop-up in television commercials and branding campaigns for companies like Microsoft and Coca Cola. Internet memes have become ubiquitous elements of digital culture. Despite this familiarity, little is understood about the way internet memes function. Many dismiss them as trivial, but I am interested in how and why they work.
I have always been inspired by idiosyncratic design solutions. The unconventional intrigues me. Ask anyone with a Facebook account what makes memes so powerful and they will respond with any number of personal anecdotes. Social media users interact with memes on a regular basis. Internet memes are powerful because users create strong emotional connections with them. I interviewed one Facebook user about the Diva memes embedded into his instant messenger conversations. When I asked him why he chose these memes he responded â€œI am such an expressive person and I canâ€™t possibly survive online without divas to help me express all feelings!â€?. These images become conduits for 10 / 13
expression, emotions and ideas. In this way, memes function as a cultural shorthand for the digital age. These unique qualities position internet memes as powerful tools for creating public engagement and digital natives will increasingly rely on them as tools for communication. Creative professionals who recognize these characteristics often mistake this emerging tool as an imperative for designers to â€œmake memesâ€?. This is a foolish and futile goal. Internet memes can not be artificially created or controlled. Instead it should be a designers job to create systems that allow for users to visually participate; to create their own memes. This is the key to understanding internet memes and the logic behind them. This thesis will examine the internet meme phenomena and ascertain what it could mean for graphic designers. I will look at the way internet memes function with an aim towards identifying effective frameworks for engagement. By looking at the characteristics of a successful internet meme, and the way these are utilized in design solutions, I aim to build a typology of tools that apply these
Diva Memes feature female pop stars with superimposed text quotes.
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insights to the design process. I am seeking to build open frameworks for visual participation, to create designs that allow room for users to make and react to meme images. I will be addressing a number of research questions in this thesis. How do internet memes best function? What qualities of internet memes invoke participation, and what kind of participation? Which of these characteristics could be applied to a more traditional design process? How can we create open frameworks that emulate these characteristics? Are there specific design challenges that would best benefit from internet meme logic? Understanding the way internet memes successfully function will allow designers to more effectively create these frameworks for engagement. With this insight I hope to create more innovative and agile design solution addressing a growing range of new design problems.
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Memes are imitate-able, virally spreading units of culture.
Despite our familiarity with internet memes, the average person might have a hard time defining what a meme is. To borrow a phrase from former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, we simply know one when we see one.26 As history has taught us, this is not a constructive statement; to understand internet memes we must first clearly define them.
â€œI know it when I see itâ€? was famously used by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in 1964 to describe the threshold test for obscenity. ABOUT MEMES
There is unfortunately not much serious academic writing about internet memes. This could be because internet memes are such a new phenomena. There may also be a stigma against seriously researching something that many see as silly and substanceless. The few academic writings that do focus on internet memes don’t use a consistent set of language or definitions. The word “meme” means different things to different people and much (if not all) of the existing writing confuse the terms and use multiple definitions interchangeably. To start out writing about memes, we must first come to agreement on what the word means. I will begin this thesis by clarifying terms and giving a brief history to the word meme and the separate but related term internet meme. THE ORIGINS OF MEMES Memes are imitate-able and virally spread units of culture. This is an intentionally broad definition because the word itself defines a very broad concept: how human culture is transmitted. The word “meme” was first coined by Richard Dawkins in the late 1970’s. In his novel The Selfish Gene, Dawkins referred to memes as bits of information or culture that are replicated and disseminated through adapta18 / 21
tion and imitation.29 These bits of information could be anything - from music, to religion, to hairstyles. This was Dawkins original thesis: memes are tools to organize and catalogue the way culture is formed. Dawkins argued that everything cultural, from the language we speak, the clothes we wear, to the systems of government we choose, is organically created through this evolutionary process.24 Memes cover anything that can be spread and imitated from one person to another. Dawkins argued that memes suited to survive in our cultural climate are adapted and copied while unpopular ideas are not shared and eventually die off. This process mirrors Darwinian evolution. For an idea to survive it must be replicated by a substantial number of people; it must go viral.23 Dawkins proposed that these units of information (these memes) were how all human culture is created, shared and evolves. THE ORIGINS OF INTERNET MEMES Dawkinsâ€™ work has since been co-opted by tech culture. The word meme has been redefined.29 When used colloquially it no longer refers to the dawkinsian meme. When most people use the word meme today they are really talking about internet memes. For the rest of this thesis we will distinguish between ABOUT MEMES
the Dawkinsian meme and the separate but related term internet meme. â€œSo when anybody talks about something going viral on the internet, that is exactly what a meme is and it looks as though the word has been appropriated for a subset of that... We are talking about a subset of memes where they are hijacked from their original meaning... or made of multiple meanings to create a new one and are virally disseminated.â€? - Wired UK 29
Dawkinsian memes describe many different types of cultural communication. Each of these categories has countless subcategories with a meme for each idea or behavior. For example one category of dawkinsian memes may describe language. Under this category there are countless subcategories for different languages and eventually a separate meme for each word we use. The phrase internet memes conjures images of silly cats, crudely drawn cartoons and movie stills with funny text overlaid. These (and many other examples) are all a specific subset of the dawkinsian meme. INTERNET MEME PRECURSORS Whether it is graffiti drawn on the walls of Pompeii or vinyl stickers on the streets of New York, images 20 / 23
have always resonated and entertained us. The impetus for these popularly shared images may be humorous (a desire to make someone laugh ), a political message, or vandalism. Whatever the message, the image has always been an accessible and commonly used form of pop culture communication. This is the category within dawkinsian memes that I want to follow when talking about internet memes. The shared pop culture image. This is where internet memes emerged; these are the cultural ancestors they evolved from. Before we delve into the digital age, I want to take a moment to look at pre-digital, pre-internet pop culture image memes. These are the evolutionary ancestors to the internet meme, serving as the “lucy” to our modern day internet meme. ALFRED E. NEUMAN Readers of MAD magazine will be familiar with the gap toothed face of Alfred E. Neuman, but what many do not realize is that this image is an early example of a pop culture image meme. Prior to his appearance in Mad Magazine in 1956, this illustration was quite common in many places in America. Images of a grinning gap toothed character similar to the Mad Magazine face appeared as early as 1900 on everything from postcards to matchbooks. The phrase “What Me Worry” also made various appearances, ABOUT MEMES
POP CULTURE IMAGE MEMES Frodo Lives Alfred E. Neuman
LOL Guy Grumpy Cat Condescending Wonka
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with iterations like “Me Worry?” to “Bah, Me Worry?”28 Although the initial creator is a mystery, it is commonly thought to have evolved from crude anti Jewish and Irish caricatures from the turn of the century.
Images are imbued with cultural meaning and gain weight as symbols. By the mid 1900s this image had been replicated thousands of times and lost its original racial context. In the early twentieth century the Alfred E. Neuman face appeared on anti-Roosevelt campaign material portraying an uninformed voter. Through repetition and iteration, this image was imbued with cultural meaning and gained weight as a symbol. The grinning face came to represent “the buffoon”. The face evolved beyond its original intended meaning and become a meme for something new. This remix and conceptual appropriation is similar to the image remixing that becomes the cornerstone of internet memes in the 21st century. The gap toothed idiot
MAD Magazine is an American humor magazine first published in 1952.
image’s popularity reached its pinnacle when it was adopted by Mad Magazine, named Alfred E. Neuman, and codified as part of the magazine’s branding.28 Mad Magazine did not create that image but instead borrowed it from popular culture, where its meaning had been defined by the masses. FRODO LIVES The phrase “Frodo lives” is another example of a pre-internet pop culture image meme. Referencing the Lord of the Rings novels, this phrase began appearing as graffiti in the 60s and 70s. As it was replicated this phrase took on new life. Scrawled on bathroom walls and high school textbooks, it became a cultural identifier.42 While this is a word based meme, it relies on being written and seen (as opposed to something that people would say in casual conversation) Because of this I am going to consider it an image meme. Like Alfred E. Neuman, Frodo Lives took on a new cultural context as it was iterated. It took on new cultural context as it was shared. The image became a rallying call for an emerging subculture. Cultural outsiders (hippies and sci-fi/fantasy fans) related to this phrase and left it as an identifier. This happened organically and without conscious direction. People found, related to and replicated this mark. 24 / 27
These are just two out of countless image meme examples. This is the branch of the Dawkinsian meme tree that would evolve into the internet meme. THE BIRTH OF INTERNET MEMES The late twentieth and early twenty-first century is marked by a shift in the speed of communication brought on by digital technology. This has changed the way we culturally relate to one another. It has altered the ways we communicate. Not everyone recognizes it but itâ€™s a profound change. This change is what really transformed pop culture image memes. The mode and speed by which these images were shared changed. Instead of scrawling images on bathroom stalls we began digitally sharing these images at a speed never before imagined. Making and sending images became easy. The internet did not invent theses memes, but made them more accessible. In fact, this change was so powerful that it is reflected in its very name: internet meme. We seem to have forgotten that these types of images are not new and attribute their creation to the internet. The medium overpowered everything else. Internet memes would become the preferred image medium of a new ABOUT MEMES
generation, their popularity mirroring the growing popularity of the internet. Even though internet memes come in countless forms, there are some general characteristics that they all share. These defining factors fall into two categories, the visual characteristics that define a meme (the color, fonts, images) and the functional characteristics (how they are used and what they represent). VISUAL CHARACTERISTICS Internet memes developed independently from the world of organized graphic design, within message boards and chat rooms of the early internet. Most have a visual styling that reflects this origin and are the result of early technological or professional limitations. Memes were created fast with the tools at hand. Most of the fonts and colors associated with internet memes result from the standards that were available on computers at the time of their creation. Arial and Impact are common meme fonts because they came standard on many computers. MS paint and other basic editing software have influenced the look and feel of these memes.32 The editing, masking and superimposing is rough. To a traditional graphic designer it may seem very amateur looking.
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This visual style has been further promoted by online templates like Quick Meme and Know your Meme. These are two examples of the many meme inspired web sites which have capitalized on the trend and offer automated systems for meme creation. A user can plug in a basic set of information and use the website to generate a meme image. These programs accelerate and encourage this visual style. While these generalizations do not apply to all internet memes, for the most part this democratically created visual style reflects their cultural value. Internet memes are authored by anyone and everyone. Authorship is not important, content and cleverness are. FUNCTIONAL CHARACTERISTICS More important than the visual characteristics of a meme are the functional characteristics. These describe how a meme is used and what it represents. Meta Haven is a Dutch design firm that produces experimental research based design work, much of which touches on interactive media and digital technologies. In a recent essay on digital activism, Meta Haven describes the success of a meme as dependent on three qualities: Longevity, Copy Fidelity and
Fecundity.23 These three categories provide a strong framework for understanding internet memes and I will use and expand upon them as I outline an internet meme’s functional characteristics. Longevity is important for an internet meme’s success, especially given the lifespan of most internet trends. The speed of communication is ever increasing, and inversely decreasing is an audiences attention span. In order to make a cultural impact, to be recognizable, a meme must sustain itself long enough to be seen and copied. Copy Fidelity is the second and arguably the most distinguishing characteristic of an internet meme. This is the ability of the meme to withstand reproduction and mutation. Like genes, the memes that withstand and survive mutation and duplication the best survive the longest. Memes are created through a form of participatory design. In order to survive and thrive a meme must be shared. In her TED Talk on meme activism Xiao Mina, a contemporary meme expert, calls this the “remix element”.36 Participatory design solutions are becoming increasingly popular and meme remixing fits this cultural trend. In this sharing process the user participates with, alters, edits and adds to the image. The context and meaning of a
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meme evolves by this act of appropriation and customization.
“It’s that little act of creating, shifting and putting in your perspective that makes memes very powerful” -Xiao Mina
The internet meme remix process often involves the addition of new images or phrases. As new information is added to a meme, the elements become transformed. They are infused with new meaning and carry symbolic value. They become a type of cultural shorthand and succinctly reference larger cultural themes and ideas In her TED Talk on memes, Mina highlights the perfect case study for this process. The example is the Chinese internet meme Grass Mud Horse. In Mandarin the name for this animal sounds very similar to the Mandarin phrase “fuck your mother” and the image has been adopted as an intentionally
TED Talks are a series of popular conferences themed around the slogan “ideas worth spreading.”
vulgar and funny symbol of political protest.36 Chinese citizens create gif images, make mud horse costumes and post pictures with Grass Mud Horse stuffed animals; there are endless iterations of the Grass Mud Horse meme. Through this remix process the Grass Mud Horse has become a powerful tool of dissent. Because it is such an organic and evolving system it works especially well in such an authoritarian regime. The Grass Mud Horse also highlights another powerful characteristic of internet memes. They are not tied down to a single author. The Grass Mud Horse meme resonates well with people because they immediately understand its meaning. This is in part because so many people have directly participated in this image making process. There is not a specific creator, but rather meaning and symbolism is created by a community of people iterating and sharing.41 Remixing gives content and remixing can not be done by a single person. It is very hard for the government to crack down on something that takes so many different and unexpected forms. The Grass Mud Horse is the perfect case study for the power and success of remixing a symbol, which is the heart of a successful meme.
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Fecundity is the third and final functional characteristic of a meme’s success. When Meta Haven uses the term fecundity, they are referring to the popularity of the image and the desirability for people to re-create and disseminate it. This is the most abstract quality of a meme and one that is very hard to quantify. Looking back to Dawkins, we see that the survival of a meme in the cultural evolutionary cycle is dependent on desirability. Internet memes are all attention grabbing. They are clever, or catching, or funny. There is something about memes that grabs the viewer and makes them pause their page scrolling. When the first LOL Cat was posted online it would have been hard to imagine that this image would create such a wildly popular genre. A silly photo on 4Chan had transformed in scale to the 2013 Walker Center of the Art’s first annual Internet Cat Video Festival, an art film festival that screens films inspired
LOL Cats are popular memes featuring humorous photos of cats superimposed with text written in a form of broken English known as “lolspeak”. 4Chan is a popular imageboard website where many internet memes originate. ABOUT MEMES
by the meme trend.20 How does this happen? What qualities makes these memes so popular? This is one of the reasons I think designers would be naturally drawn to memes as a medium. Creating this â€œitâ€? factor is something we wrestle with and aspire to in all of our work. Predicting what makes something trend is an almost impossible task, and I would argue a futile one.32 But there are some characteristics that many memes share which may add to their desirability, the most common of which is humor. HUMOR While not all memes are funny, the vast majority use some comical elements. It is so common, itâ€™s easy to take humor for granted when it comes to discussions of internet memes, but humor historically has made many forms of messaging successful. Humor capitalizes on the unexpected. When successful, a joke or laugh can create an enjoyable moment of surprise. These unexpected moments of levity make people want to pay attention. This makes humor a powerful tool to facilitate messaging. By making you laugh, humor makes you pay attention. This is the reason so many political movements ABOUT MEMES
use jokes, mockery and humor as effective tools to convey a message. If you look at restrictive and oppressive governments, the first thing that is attacked and repressed are artists, entertainers and comedians. We have seen this countless times, most recently in post-Mubarak Egypt. The comedian Bassem Youssef has been arrested and continually harassed for jokes against the military regime on his nightly talk show.23 Why is it that comedians and satirists are seen as such a threat? It is because jokes easily tear through social barriers and because of this can easily convey ideas and messages that in other settings might be less receptive. A lot of the time the humorous element of an internet meme facilitates a message. This message is not always lofty or political (it can be something as simple as an emotion or cheap laugh) but that doesnâ€™t negate the fact that humor is being used as a design tactic by the internet meme. Itâ€™s an element which a meme uses to convey its message. The Dada movement provides another example of humor as a design tactic, a tool of intentional disruption.14 Dadaism evolved as an art movement Dadaism was an art movement of the European avant-garde in the early 20th century. 38 / 41
out of early 20th century Europe. The artists and designers involved in this movement were largely reacting to the increased mechanization and commercialization of the world. The First World War brought about a climate of political authoritarianism to Europe. Mechanization was replacing manual labor. The Western World was becoming very structured. Dadaism used irony, humor and chaos as tools to combat this. Humor and nonsense were a successful design tactic not only because they served as a contrast to this overly structured world, but because there is something inherent in human nature to which humor appeals. Human nature can be surprising, irrational and silly. This is just part of our genetic make up andmay explain the current appeal of internet memes. While we are not facing the same societal changes the Dadaists lived through, we are experiencing the influence of digitally instigated rationalization and systemization of our lives. Developers are attempting to digitally understand and quantify every aspect of the human experience. When the world is overly structured and organized, there seems to be a need for an outlet - a space for the irrational elements of human nature to creep out. Perhaps internet memes are serving this purpose for our contemporary digital culture. ABOUT MEMES
All of these qualities work together to make a meme successful. Through the remixing process memes are transformed and embedded with cultural information and symbolism. Through interacting with and participating in the creation of memes we all come to agree on their symbolism. Meta Haven describes this process as the creation of cultural focal points. A focal point is an object that gets its meaning not through prior agreement but out of shared cultural expectations. Meta Haven cites the following as an example of a focal point: when two men agree to meet at Grand Central Station without a designated
â€œMemes can be focal points in man-made information space.â€? -Meta Haven
meeting spot they will most likely meet by the central clock. This is the assumed cultural expectation of this situation.23 Through our exposure and experience with them, internet memes become similar focal points. These cultural expectations are the degree of knowledge and experience it takes to understand the meme. I will elaborate on this by using the meme Rick Rolling as an example.
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Rick Rolling is an internet meme in which a provided link misdirects you and connects not to its described content but instead to a video of Rick Astley’s 1987 pop song “Never Gonna Give You Up”.29 It is meant to be a humorous disruption of an expected internet experience - a kind of digital prank that became popular in the first decade of this century. Because this became such a commonly iterated experience, the phenomena was imprinted with expectations and understandings. When the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC was interrupted by an impromptu live performance by Rick Astley, many immediately saw the connection and understood the joke.30 Rick Rolling (like all successful internet memes) had become a cultural focal point. As these symbols and expectations are put on memes they collectively form a visual vocabulary of emotions, feelings, events and ideas. Internet memes become a form of cultural shorthand that an increasingly large percentage of the population are comfortable with and proficient in using. They are an effective form of communication and in many instances faster than using written words. Furthermore, unlike traditional short hand, it is not a language that you simply learn. We all communally contribute to its creation. Meme shorthand is an ever evolving and growing language.
This makes it a unique and very powerful tool for engaging people and allowing them to express their opinions, thoughts and emotions in unexpected and exciting ways.
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Internet memes are positioned as powerful tools for creating public engagement.
The participatory nature of internet memes makes them appropriate tools for social activism. In the last few years we have seen a number of advocacy groups harness (or attempt to harness) internet memes to rally and galvanize a constituency. While this is not an exclusive quality of memes, I think they are uniquely suited for such endeavours and we will continue to see more activist organizations utilize the potential of internet memes.
GALVANIZING A PUBLIC The first hurdle for any activist or social issue organization is to create community engagement around an issue. From womenâ€™s suffrage, to the civil rights movement of the 60s to the movements of today ( ongoing racial equality, LGBT rights, immigration, economic inequalityâ€Ś etc) the first goal of an activist organization is to bring together a constituency around an issue that affects them. A community must be educated and mobilized. Although this is sometimes an overlooked step for social activism, nothing can happen until it is successfully accomplished. In his essay Design and the Construction of Publics, Carl DiSalvo analyzes the organization and creation of publics. DiSalvo defines a public as a defined group with a population that is formed around the current and future concerns of an issue. Referencing the work of early twentieth century scholar John Dewey, Disalvo states that designed solutions are uniquely suited for organizing these publics.6 While designed problem solving often analyze how a public will react to design solutions, how things can be made for a public, DiSalvo contends that a more important question is how publics are
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created. The designer is in a prime position to understand these process and exploit them as tools to foster the creation of publics. The gay civil rights struggle uniquely illustrates the need for a public to be organized within an activist movement. Unlike many other minority struggles, gay and lesbian people are not visibly identified from birth. LGBT people are not usually born to queer parents and live in invisibility or hiding for much of their early lives. This is why the act of galvanization is so important to the LGBT struggle. People do not realize that these issues affect their friends and loved ones until they come out and express this concern. Harvey Milk, an early LGBT activist, continually expressed the need for LGBT people to come out and identify themselves and their concerns in the early queer rights movement. â€œGay brothers and sisters... you must come out... to your parents... come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake.â€? - Harvey Milk 38 Harvey Milk was an American politician who became the first openly gay person elected to public office in California. SOCIAL ACTIVISM
Milk was attempting to galvanize a public in these speeches. Obviously not all movements face the same challenges, but this bold example applies in some way to all organized social movements. Constituents need to understand how an issue affects them, become invested and declare their position and stance. Design tactics can be used to facilitate these tasks. THE IMAGE AND ACTIVISM The image has always been an effective tool for social activism. When you think of traditional activist movements, images of hand painted protest posters, buttons, and shirts emerge. Symbols bring people together. One of the most iconic images associated with an activist movement is the peace sign. The peace sign was created in the 1950s for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It was a combination of the semaphore signs for N and D. The mark was created specifically to galvanize the early anti-nuclear movement but was eventually adopted by the anti-war movement and the hippie generation.8 As the symbol was iterated and adopted throughout the late fifties and early sixties you could find peace symbols printed on t-shirts, plastered on vans and painted on faces. Much like an internet 46 / 49
meme this symbol was embraced, iterated, and infused with new meaning by a group of people. CHANGES BROUGHT BY DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY Much like the meme, digital communication has profoundly changed activist movements and the tools that contribute to their success. In many ways digital technology has lowered the learning curve for involvement. Digital tools make the whole process far more accessible. Messaging, publishing and coordinating can all be done through the same device with very low overhead.8 Todayâ€™s activist organizations function through a form of digitally enabled direct democracy. The anonymity digital media provides is also important. In places like the Middle East, where autocratic governments work actively to stomp out dissent, this digital anonymity has been very important.23 Even here in the Western world, the anonymity afforded to us by the internet has helped to break down many institutionalized roles of communication. The defining factor of the Occupy Wall Street movement was its leaderless organization.33 Decisions were made through consensus, and there was no figurehead calling the shots. We no longer see cults of personality, but instead organization through collaboration and SOCIAL ACTIVISM
multiplicity. Digital natives are bringing new cultural assumptions into the act of protest. THE IMAGE AND DIGITAL ACTIVISM Instead of relying on cardboard and poster paint, organizers now have access to more tools. Ideas and images can be quickly shared and edited. Digital devices allow for easier collaboration. “Every era, every generation, has to construct and reconstruct its political beliefs, and subsequent visuals, out of stuff that surrounds it at any given moment. Protest signs will be made out of the cardboard, paper and textiles available at that given time and place at a local hardware store. There is no hardware store selling ‘political’ cardboard, even at that material level a transformation always has to be made. The same goes for the visual stuff of the internet. Every generation will construct new, ‘political’ beliefs out of it; out of all kinds of stuff, which seemed initially non political.” - Meta Haven 23
Ethan Zuckerman, a professor at Harvard University, theorizes that user generated digital images are the perfect outlet for contemporary activism. His Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism theorizes that user generated internet content serves as the safest place for radicalized political messaging. Because “sharing 50 / 53
pictures of catsâ€? is so popular and the technology is so robust (due to its popularity) these platforms will always be protected and defended. Using such a popular medium makes it a safe and effective platform for activists to manipulate.23 All of this seems to point to internet memes as having great potential for social mobilization. What is more powerful than not just using an image, but participating in that imageâ€™s creation? Internet memes invite participation and engagement, but more importantly they foster honest dialogue. Building support for social issues relies on the honest emotional investment of its participants. These are precisely the type of feelings that internet memes create. Internet memes are collectively created, and their message can not be controlled by a single author. They are made through conversation and visual dialogue. This process is how an honest narrative naturally emerges. This is why understanding and harnessing the power of memes is important. Internet memes can serve as prime visual illustrations of this new democratized, collective action.
MEMES AS NEW VISUAL TOOLS An increasing number of design campaigns have experimented with internet memes, and as I postulated earlier many of these have centered around social advocacy issues. It may be their casual nature, or the fact that memes are a young medium, but many critics have dismissed these campaigns as trendy and shallow. These examples are lumped together with other related forms of digital activism under the term “slacktivism”, implying that they are lazy and ineffective ways for people to participate in a social movement.39 A slacker’s form of activism. I think the term slacktivism is unfairly dismissive and used as an excuse to avoid further research and inquiry into the meme phenomenon. The possibilities for internet memes are as diverse as the memes themselves and there is much to be learned from leveraging their capabilities. Many brands and agencies are seeking to capitalize on this trend. Designers are being instructed to “make things that will trend” and create memes, but I would argue this is foolish.
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Many critics would argue that the inherent nature of memes makes them impossible to control. Memes rely on complicated and often arbitrary series of events to start trending.32 “Memes offer no explanation as to exactly why some of them work and others don’t. They are hard to orchestrate at a larger scale; their success is always also an accident. Sheer quantity is about the only working strategy available.” -Meta Haven 23
I propose that a more productive and achievable goal would be the design of systems within which memes can flourish. Internet memes cannot be artificially created or controlled. It is instead a designers job to create these open frameworks that allow for users to visually participate; to create their own memes.
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I am looking to build open systems for visual participation.
In the past “design systems” referred to a series of related designed elements. Logo variations, color schemes and flexible branding applications can all be created with a system-like logic. In a world where digital technology and software is increasingly taking over the “making” in design, systems takes on a new meaning. It is now possible for much of the visual content to be created not by the designer, but by software, digital processes or even the users who participate in the design process. When contemporary SYSTEMS
designers use the term “design systems”, they are talking about a designed set of rules and guidelines that facilitate an outcome.4 I think that internet memes can be understood through a systems-like approach. By breaking down and systematizing the characteristics of successful internet memes we can better understand and effectively utilize them. TYPOLOGY Gore Vidal once said that categorizing things “is a uniquely American pursuit - and a foolish one.”38 I would argue that at times it is a necessary practice and one that is quite valuable when looking at a phenomena as recent as internet meme design solutions. Earlier I defined what an internet meme is. Now I will attempt to bring order to the successful qualities of internet meme design solutions. These include the ways they manifest and the unique characteristics that make them effective and successful. By doing so we can understand these solutions and intentionally apply our learning to future projects I am breaking the typology down into four categories. Each of these categories deals with one unique and defining quality of a successful internet meme design solution. I will mention a few well known case stud56 / 59
ies and map their characteristics within each newly established category. For each category I will also go in depth into a case study that most effectively illustrates that concept. After looking at each category separately, we can compare them together and take a larger systematic view of each case study.
CHINESE GRASS MUD HORSE - Early 2009 99% (THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT) - August 2011 TRAYVON MARTIN HOODIE - February 2012 CHEN GUANGCHENG SUNGLASSES - April 2012 LETâ€™S GO! ARCTIC - June 2012 HRC FACEBOOK CAMPAIGN - March 2013 SENATOR WENDY DAVIS FILIBUSTER - June 2013 REAL EQUALITY WEARS PINK - July 2013
REMIXABILITY “Remixability” is the most defining characteristic of an internet meme, so naturally this category factors heavily into the success of an internet meme design solution. This is the ability of the image to be customized and edited by its users in meaningful and interesting ways. As Xiao Mina asserted, this act of creating and editing can be a very powerful tool. I envision “remixability” on a horizontally sliding spectrum. At its most conservative, images are simply replicated. Examples of this include the Trayvon Martin Hoodie protests and the Chen Guangcheng sunglass phenomena in China. In the Trayvon Martin Hoodie protests, participants 58 / 61
wore and posted pictures of hoodies as a sign of solidarity.34 Similarly when activist Chen Guangcheng was imprisoned by the Chinese government, his supporters began snapping selfies wearing his signature black sunglasses.2 Both of these memes show replication without much alteration. The hoodies and sunglasses did not visually change much from post to post, user to user. On the other end of the spectrum is a more radical and aggressive form of remixability. Memes like 99% and the Chinese Mud Horse appear in almost limitless variation, taking on surprising and undirected evolutionary forms. HRC FACEBOOK CAMPAIGN For the highlighted case study I will focus on the HRC Marriage Equality Facebook campaign. The HRC Facebook campaign is an example of an intentionally designed internet meme design solution with a high level of remixability and is arguably the highest profiled use of internet memes in a social activist campaign.
HRC is the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States.
On March 25, 2013 HRC (the nationâ€™s largest LGBT civil rights organization) posted a red tinted logo to their facebook page and asked users to change their profile photos in advance of the Supreme Courtâ€™s decision on marriage equality. Within the next few days Facebook was flooded with red HRC logos. The post eventually appeared in 18,010,368 userâ€™s newsfeeds, and was included on celebrity and corporate profile pages, including Beyonce, Martha Stewart and the Budweiser corporation.21 While HRC intended this logo to spread across Facebook, the ways the image would be edited were completely unforeseen. Instead of simply reposting the logo, users began editing the image. Funny pictures were added, text was imposed and additional elements were replaced or overlayed. Facebook users created countless versions, all uniquely personalized.21 The unique design of the HRC logo lent itself well to these edits. The logo was simple and iconic, and even when it was drastically manipulated the color scheme and basic proportions were still identifiable. It was obvious that these various versions all stemmed from the same source.40 Seeing the responses to their logo, HRC embraced and celebrated this remixing.12 Untimately it lead to a more memorable, and thus more powerful campaign. 60 / 63
IRL Remixing is not solely a digital act. Obviously internet memes by definition originate online but many of the cited case studies go on to break that digital barrier and are replicated in physical forms. To use common internet jargon, they replicate IRL (In Real Life). For the second category of this typology I am going to follow the same conservative to liberal paradigm. On the left of the spectrum are the most conservative examples. These design solutions exist purely in one medium, the digital realm. But the more exciting and liberal forms of internet meme design solutions cross the digital barrier and exist in both physical and digital forms. SYSTEMS
TRAYVON MARTIN HOODIE On February 26, 2012, African American teenager Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by Florida neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. While Zimmerman claims the shooting was an act of self-defense, many saw his death as a racially motivated murder and outrage erupted in communities across the country. Following the outcry from this horrific event, digital strategist Daniel Maree published a blog post encouraging activists to wear hoodies while marching in a planned protest on March 21st at the United Nations in New York City.35 This call to action would go on to be called the Million Hoodies movement. In protests across the country citizens donned hoodies as a sign of solidarity with the family of Trayvon Martin. The act of wearing a hoodie was a physical meme. While the call to action went out online and much of the protest was documented on Instagram and Twitter, this meme relied on a physical act. There is something very powerful about seeing the digital barrier breached. Seeing the hoodie meme on your newsfeed send a strong message, but to have this visually reinforced in the physical world magnifies the strength of this symbol. The Trayvon Martin Hoodie meme became a visual rallying cry for a movement. 62 / 65
IMAGE CATALOGUE Once an internet meme is created it needs to be shared. This is where documentation becomes important; how will the images live on? Providing space for internet meme images to be catalogued is a necessity. Again there are two approaches to this. The more conservative approach is to create a specific image catalogue. A unique URL that features a gallery where users can upload and view images. The more liberal approach is to organically rely on existing platforms. Hashtags are a great tool to document and catalogue images on these types of platforms. By posting a picture to Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram SYSTEMS
and hashtagging them the existing community of users can easily search them. Websites like Buzzfeed also feed off this content, and if something is popular enough it will be reposted by the site’s editorial staff. For this category I am choosing to highlight two case studies. Real Equality Wears Pink Ohio showcases the more conservative image catalogue approach, while the Senator Wendy Davis meme shows a more liberal open sourced image catalogue. REAL EQUALITY WEARS PINK OHIO Real Equality Wears Pink is a campaign that started in Columbus Ohio in response to a series of gay bashings that happened in that city. Columbus has a large LGBT community and many were outraged and shaken when news of the attacks were published. In an effort to galvanize the community, the Real Equality Wears Pink movement was started. Andrew Levitt and Dr. Randy Sharma, both Columbus based community activists, brought together the straight and gay communities with a simple call to action. On the first Friday after the attacks residents were asked to wear pink as a sign of solidarity and support.19 An image gallery was created at wearpinkfriday.com for residents to post their “pink pictures”. 64 / 67
The event was supported by thousands of local residents, businesses and even the mayor.25 It quickly spread to other cities and communities, with posts from New York, California and even military personnel stationed overseas.19
SENATOR WENDY DAVIS FILIBUSTER On June 25, 2013 the Texas state senate was debating a controversial bill that would restrict abortion access. The bill (which had overwhelming Republican majority support) was being fought by a 10 hour long filibuster by Democratic Senator Wendy Davis.31 Issues like this are normally resigned to statewide coverage, but on the night of June 25th posts about Senator Davisâ€™ filibuster became national news when the internet erupted with tweets and memes documenting the political battle. The entire night was tweeted by hundreds of politically engaged citizens. Hashtags like #standwithwendy began trending on Twitter. Image memes of Senator Davis flooded social media feeds. While there is little visual consistency to these memes, most feature images of the Senator along with humorous images or text supporting her filibuster.31 They were created SYSTEMS
organically by utilizing existing internet networks, and their collective momentum was the catalyst for user engagement. While both of these examples show unique and interesting ways of cataloging images, in reality most of the case studies use a mix of both approaches. Images often exist both at a specific gallery URL and are also posted to existing social networks.
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ORGANIZATION The final category illustrates the level of organizational leadership behind the design solution. Some of these case studies were highly orchestrated by teams of designers while others occured organically in chat rooms and newsfeeds. Internet memes are best created organically and democratically, without specific design direction. Obviously this ideal is not always possible when a designer creates a campaign for a specific issue or cause. The important thing is to understand the way memes best function, and try to emulate these characteristics when designing your solution.
Like the three preceding categories, it is divided between conservative to liberal case studies. More conservative examples like the HRC Facebook meme were orchestrated by a team of professional designers with specific motivations. The opposite end of the spectrum showcases more liberal solutions, like the Grass Mud Horse meme. These formed without intentional design direction. SHELL “LET’S GO! ARCTIC” CASE STUDY Lets Go! Arctic is a faux Shell internet campaign created as a protest against Shell’s poor environmental policies. The Yes Men are a culture jamming activist organization that use non traditional and attention grabbing design tactics to tackle social issues, much in the vein of designers before them like Tibor Kalmun and the designers at Adbusters. Greenpeace partnered with them to highlight Shell’s poor environmental policies.18 The Let’s Go! Arctic campaign featured a series of YouTube videos and a mock Shell website at arcticready. com. The satirical website shows Shell’s readiness for Alaskan Arctic drilling. Let’s Go Public! is a user generated ad gallery within the Arctic Ready site. The page features an image creator.18 Users can choose a photo
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and add text to create their own Arctic Ready ad and post the results into the image gallery. The resulting images were overwhelmingly sarcastic and humorously critical of Shell’s policies. The main gallery is plastered with ads featuring phrases like “Turn the power on, It’s time to melt some ice” and “You can’t run your SUV on cute”.18 The images received a lot of internet attention and the site trended, tricking many into thinking it was an official Shell campaign. Despite the very “designed” nature of this campaign, the use of internet memes was incredibly successful. I would argue that this is because the designers understood the conditions in which memes thrive and tried to emulate them. The designers knew that being overly didactic and controlling with the message would turn users off and used this to their advantage. By presenting a “controlled” Shell message, they invited users to react against it. Obviously this specific example uses a degree of deception that many may feel uncomfortable with but I don’t think that takes away from its effectiveness. Not all campaigns have to (or should) use this deceptive method, but it clearly shows a strong understanding of internet meme culture. Let’s Go! Arctic ultimately lead to a brutally honest conversation about environmental policies, achieving Greenpeace’s goal. SYSTEMS
COMPLETE TYPOLOGY The final stage of this typology is to look at the four categories comparatively. Each can be vertically stacked and the defining characteristics mapped together. This structure creates a flexible and open system. Any number of unique iterations can be created using this framework. The parallel categories can also be expanded upon, with additional characteristics added from future study and research. Each of the four characteristics has strengths and weaknesses, and looking at them in this comparative visual system helps us understand them. Systematically this can be used as a roadmap for future internet meme design solutions, with choices based on the unique combination of all four categories.
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The natural conclusion for such a typology would be to test it on a new project. I tried to structure my observations in a way that can be applied to future design solutions. The goal was to create new work by making intentional and informed choices based on the typology system. The first attempted application of this typology was on a collaborative social advocacy project at Pratt: Invisible in NYC.
INVISIBLE IN NYC Invisible in NYC developed from a public intervention exercise in Professor Jean Brennan’s Graduate Design Advocacy class at Pratt Institute. The project’s purpose was to interrupt a public space with a random material, create a message and provide a means for interaction. Initially this design intervention started as a series of individual projects about public space, but Professor Brennan saw similar themes in her student’s work and encouraged collaboration. I began working with graduate design students Alejandro Torres and Caroline Mathews. By the end of our collaboration Invisible in NYC had become a guerilla marketing and social impact design campaign that engaged the public by mapping homelessness in New York City. 78 / 81
The choice to address homelessness came from our personal experiences living in New York City. Homelessness is a pervasive problem in New York. It is something we see everyday but upon reflection realized we rarely acknowledge. Most New Yorkers walk past people living on the street without a second thought or glance. Because homelessness is everywhere, we have become numb to the problem. As a team we decided that this was a worthy subject to explore.
3,2000 people sleep on NYC streets on an average night. We began walking around New York City observing, meeting with, and talking to people living on the streets. Our interactions inspired us. We wanted to help bring attention to this problem, to create a design solution that would make these people visible. After our interactions with homeless New Yorkers we often returned the following day to find the space empty. We began using neon tape to mark off the area. Neon tape was a material we experimented with in our early individual projects. By marking off the area we sought to disrupt the space and grab attention from passers by. Oddly enough the tape attracted a lot of attention; people would stop and look when VISUAL PROJECTS
only a day before they ignored the actual person living in that space. We also measured these spaces and calculated their monthly rent using rental averages based on the neighborhood. These numbers were posted with the neon tape installation to draw attention to the rising housing costs in New York City. The city is facing an affordable housing crisis. Many cite this as one of the contributing factors to the increasing rate of homelessness. INTERNET MEME LOGIC As the project evolved I saw it as the perfect place to test my typology. As we developed the concept I sought to infuse internet meme logic into its visual identity. The images created for Invisible in NYC needed to invite participation, and through that create engagement. Our goal was to organize a public around the issues of affordable housing and homelessness in New York, and I wanted to create a visual that could do that. A visual that worked like an internet meme. What qualities would we use to create this engagement?
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Earlier I discussed humor as a tactic for engagement. Many internet memes use humor to create engagement with their users. Obviously this is a powerful tool, but given the serious nature of our topic it did not seem appropriate. There is still something to learn from funny internet memes. Humorous memes create moments of surprise. They constructively disrupt experiences, forcing you to stop and take notice. We wanted to emulate this, to create something surprising and interesting. This was achieved by using bold shapes and colors that stuck out on the New York City streets. We chose the bright neon colors for this reason. Additionally, to add to the fecundity of the mark, we sought to create simple and iconic shapes. The graphic rectangular form was flexible and could withstand remix and iteration. It was an image that created a lasting and unique impact and is easily identified and imitated. Our design was also inspired by a number of contemporary artists and designers. Artist Eva Moser has created a lot of interesting and thought provoking installations around social issues. We were especially inspired by her High Water Line project. In this installation Moser used a chalk liner to create a bold white line through the streets of New York and Miami. The line represented how the cityâ€™s shoreline is expected to change due to global VISUAL PROJECTS
warming. The simple and bold mark was really effective at commanding attention and starting conversation. Candy Chanâ€™s work also influenced our design. Chang is an artist and designer whose work illicites interesting and engaging participation. The project Before I Die is a great example of this. By asking users to write their own answer to her prompt, Chang creates an intimate level of engagement. This was something we sought to emulate. But unlike Changâ€™s work, which relies on written words, we wanted to create this engagement with images. REMIXING Insight into the internet meme remixing process is the most powerful take-away from my research. Image remixing was something I wanted to bring into our project and into the visual identifier we created. Seeking to utilize already existing social media structures, we created the hashtag #invisibleinnyc and posted it with each installation. The initial goal was to get people interested and participating with the image. We hoped people would post it to Instagram and Twitter. These posts would eventually link to our URL invisibleinnyc.com through our social 82 / 85
media profiles. The URL offered the next level of engagement. On our website we supplied a tool kit and invited participants to make, install, and post their own Invisible in NYC rectangles. The rectangular box is not a static identity, but a system for engaging with the Invisible in NYC project. We did not seek to overtly control the design of the image, but instead invited others to interact with and remix the image. We wanted city residents to make the rectangle their own, and thus become more engaged with and connected to the message behind Invisible in NYC. RESULTS Looking at the internet meme typology, we can map Invisible in NYC. Remixability: While itâ€™s iterations were not as varied as some internet memes, the Invisible in NYC rectangle does lend itself to different environments, sizes and applications. The project relies heavily on remix and engagement. IRL: Invisible in NYC existed both on the internet and in physical form. The whole concept revolved around the interplay between these two realms. VISUAL PROJECTS
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Image Catalogue: While we did have an official website to which traffic was eventually directed, we did not create a specific image repository. Images and documentation were posted to existing social media sites and were organized with a consistent set of hashtags. Organization: Invisible in NYC was organized by a group of designers with a specific purpose. Despite this organization we tried to leave the parameters for design fairly open. Our specific design solutions relied on user participation. We tried to imitate the open qualities of successful meme design solutions. FURTHER DEVELOPMENT Quantifying success can be challenging. The best way to look at the success of Invisible in NYC would be to look at the two â€œremix goalsâ€?. The first goal was for people to share the Invisible in NYC rectangle installations on social media. Within the first four weeks of our project the design team created twelve rectangle installations. After each of the installations was created we (and peers aware of the project) posted pictures on social media. During that time, two people not associated with the project uploaded and tagged photos of the installation.
The second goal was to encourage others to create their own rectangle installations. Although we put instructions on the website, this did not happen. Both of these goals were affected by scale. Our design team consisted of three people and even though we aggressively worked on this project, there were not enough installations to get the feedback we needed. For a project like this to be successful the images need to be created on a larger scale. This would have been easier to do with digital images. Physical installations take a lot of time to create. Invisible in NYC is still ongoing so final conclusions cannot yet be made. The project is being featured in a few upcoming conferences, The UCDA Design Education Summit, The Pratt Show and The AIGA Design Educators Conference. For these events we are addressing the issue of scale by creating physical toolkits. Each toolkit includes a roll of neon tape, a measuring device and instructions for creating a rectangle installation. One hundred and fifty toolkits have been constructed and will be given out at these conferences.
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STICKER MEME Throughout this thesis, I postulated that internet memes have become a form of cultural shorthand. Internet memes have outgrown their small subcultures and become a dominant form of visual language. They have reached the mainstream and we understand and interact with them daily. Internet memes have developed into effective means to convey ideas and emotions. It is often faster and more efficient to use an internet meme image to express our thoughts than it would be to write about them. The second visual project in this thesis was intended to test this assertion.
TESTING â€œCULTURAL SHORTHANDâ€? To test these assertions I had to use existing internet memes, images that already carried cultural currency. The first part of this project revolved around researching existing internet memes. I conducted informal interviews with colleagues and peers by printing out images of internet memes and asking for reactions. Which memes did they recognize? What were their reactions? I also used the internet meme dictionary Know Your Meme to supplement my research. The next step was to find a visual form for my experiments. Vinyl stickers seemed to jump out at me right away. I cannot pinpoint where this idea came from, but conceptually it worked. Stickers, like internet memes, can be used in an act of appropriation and image making. Adding a sticker to a poster is very similar to overlaying an image in Photoshop. THE PROJECT The project was branded Sticker Meme. Sticker Meme is a design experiment made with vinyl sticker books based off popular internet memes. For the initial launch of the project I produced twenty four packets. Sticker packets were given out in sets of three. The first recipient was always someone I knew, someone 88 / 91
interested in the project. Upon receiving the packets they were instructed to give the other two sticker books to friends of theirs who I did not know. Each packet contained three sheets of internet meme stickers and a sharpie marker. The size and type of stickers varied. Some were simply images, while others included blank white spaces to write on. Text from Hillary is a popular internet meme in which an image of Hillary Clinton texting is featured along with a written text message. This sticker featured a blank box below Hillary Clintonâ€™s image for the sticker recipient to write or draw on. The packet also included an instruction sheet. The instructions told the recipient to play with the stickers and make something! After you use your sticker, take a picture of it and post the image to Instagram and hashtag the image #stickermeme. Stickermeme.com is the homepage for the project. The website contains an image gallery that autopopulates the Instagram images hashtagged #stickermeme. When you upload and hashtag an image, it is automatically posted on the website. The site acts as an image repository where Sticker Meme images can be shared and compared.
RESULTS Twenty four sticker books were handed out and within three weeks twenty eight unique images were created and hashtagged to the website. These images stemmed from the profiles of eight Instagram users. The results were interesting, varied and surprising. The posted images seemed to fall into three categories: Funny, Artistic, and Expressive. Funny Images: Many of the posted stickers were juxtaposed in surprising and humorous compositions. One recurring sticker was LOL Guy, an internet meme featuring a crudely drawn face laughing. LOL Guy was pasted in a number of subway ads over modelâ€™s faces, and the resulting compositions are very funny. Artistic Images: Other posts were beautiful and artistically composed images. Creative uses of negative space and juxtaposition created a few very striking pieces of art. Expressive Images: I found these to be the most interesting. Rage Guy was pasted over an apartment notice, expressing the frustration of the tenant over the overflowing toilets. Another participant posted the Texting Hillary sticker over a political manifesto 90 / 93
with the words â€œplease stop texting meâ€? written on the sticker. LOL Guy was used next to a piece of street graffiti highlighting USA poverty rates. I found all of these posts interesting, but the ones that drew me in the most were the expressive examples. These show that beyond being interesting images, these internet memes carry inherent cultural meaning. The participants using the stickers understood this meaning and used them to create new forms of messaging. As with Invisible In NYC, I believe Sticker Meme was not implemented on a scale large enough to properly judge its effectiveness. This is still an ongoing project, and in the weeks following the printing of this thesis more posts will be aggregated to the website. I am also interested in a second printing of the sticker packets. I would like to print a larger number and have a more diverse sampling of participants. The types of stickers that people gravitated towards using were also interesting. With more results to judge and compare I think it would be interesting to see how and why people made their sticker selections. What motivated participants to post the images they did?
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Things others dismiss as trivial and silly have always intrigued me. Given this natural inclination towards the idiosyncratic, it makes sense that I was drawn to internet memes. Their apparent frivolousness leads many designers to ignore them but everything has intention, purpose, and can be instructive. I was really surprised at how fruitful my exploration into internet memes has been. The insights made during my research and visual experiments have been valuable additions to my design processes. The field of design is growing. Everyday it encompasses more related disciplines and CONCLUSION
adds new roles for designers. Challenges are becoming more complex and require a broader and more agile skill-set from designers. To compete in this expanding profession, designers need to be versatile and able to quickly learn and master new skills. Among these skills is the creation of more openended and adaptable systems-like solutions. I do not claim that my typology and internet meme explorations have sufficiently answered any of the big questions facing our profession, but I do think they offer a few unique insights into the design process and the way we interact with images. These observations and the framework that structures them is a useful addition to the robust skill-set we already possess. They expand the tools and possibilities for engaging our audiences in meaningful ways. The curiosity that sparked my internet meme exploration is something that has always driven my design process, and I hope will continue to do so as I mature as a professional. Being open to surprises and unconventional insights, and adapting them to meaningful and engaging design choices are the hallmarks of the successful designer of the future. I am grateful that this thesis experience has helped foster these characteristics, and I am excited for the future challenges we designers will face. 98 / 101
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A Pratt GradComD Thesis