Post 10: Hope and determination

By Erland Howden

Design proposition

Title: Hope & determination

Practice: Data visualisation and generative design

Issue: Asylum seekers and refugees

Possible change: Targeted at changing Australian attitudes toward asylum seekers and demonstrating to decision-makers, such as the Immigration Minister, that significant support exists in the Australian community for a change to more welcoming and compassionate policies around asylum seeker claims and resettlement of refugees.

Design action: A poster series to be distributed to local pro-refugee organisations that highlights one person or family each who has resettled or is claiming asylum in Australia. The posters would display an image representing the asylum seeker and an aspect of the person’s story chosen to engender compassion and empathy in the audience, with a clear message advocating a change in asylum seeker policy.

The scholarly research I conducted has strongly influenced this design proposal. One paper in particular investigated determinants of attitudes to asylum seekers and suggested that, “encouraging people to adopt a macro justice perspective may be a useful addition to community interventions.” (Anderson et al 2015) With this in mind, the policy change messages for the poster series would be designed to prompt a macro justice perspective. For example, they might include phrases along the lines of, ‘everyone deserves a chance to live in safety.’

The posters fit into the emergent practice of data visualisation in that they apply designerly thinking to visualise the data of asylum seeker stories, which have been collected by organisations such as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and GetUp, or published by news organisations such as The Guardian. Further to this, there is another element to my proposal that brings in an aspect of generative design – the poster series would also incorporate a template design that local pro-refugee organisations could use to highlight the stories of refugees and asylum seekers they are directly working with. In this way, the design proposition becomes something that applies research to create communications more likely to change attitudes, while being localised and as relevant as possible to the audience.


In discussing this proposal, the key feedback I received was around fleshing out the generative aspect of the proposal. Originally, I just wanted to create a strict template and guidelines for the poster, but since discussing the proposal with my group, I’ve been exploring ways to make the generative aspect more open and able to accommodate more diverse outcomes. For example, rather than creating a strict guide for photographic portraits, I was thinking that space could be created for a variety of images that might represent the person whose story is being told, like an artwork they created or an alternative photographic treatment. Additionally, rather than a strict print poster series, which might have limited uptake from under-resourced community organisations, I’ve been considering a digital template which could be used on websites and social media that delivers the same outcome in different media.


Featured image: US Department of Defense 1975, ‘South China Sea’, US National Archives / Flickr, viewed 27 September 2016, < >.

Anderson, J.R., Stuart, A. & Rossen, I. 2015, ‘Not all negative: Macro justice principles predict positive attitudes towards asylum seekers in Australia’, Australian Journal of Psychology, vol. 67, no. 4, pp. 207-213.


Post 8: the rhetoric of people smuggling

by Erland Howden

This week we worked as a group to brainstorm possible design responses and further define the problem space of the issue we are focusing on, asylum seekers and refugees. Collectively, we came up with a variety of ideas and it was interesting to see how the research process had informed the direction of our concepts and proposals. Throughout the discussion, each idea continually came back to something we had read or seen in the course of exploring the issue through our design research over the preceding weeks.

Problem space definition for asylum seekers and refugeesTo define the problem space, we talked through the focus areas of our research, covering attitudes to asylum seekers, perception of attitudes to asylum seekers by decision makers, mental health of detainees in Australian immigration detention, the legal framework for asylum seekers in Australia and the international sharing of responsibility for addressing the issue of displaced peoples.

From there, we looked at service design, brainstorming ideas around twitter bots to address racist attitudes to asylum seekers, designing guidelines for medical staff working with detainees, digital service design for finding places to live for resettling asylum seekers and digital service design around the idea of safe passage for asylum seekers to Australia by boat, free from exploitation by people smugglers.

We also discussed design responses in the area of data visualisation, including colour mapping emotions from asylum seekers first-hand accounts and the idea of quantitative comparisons of hosting and resettlement between different countries in the world and international responsibility-sharing.

Finally, we looked at a couple of ideas in the field of generative design, including building a framework for a photo petition of people wanting to host asylum seekers in their homes (rather than in immigration detention) and another concept that would pull or project live immigration data into a digital presentation that compares the number of asylum seekers and refugees coming to Australia with tourists and non-refugee migrants.

The idea I am thinking through following the brainstorm, and seeking to interrogate as a possible design response proposal, is the concept of a digital match-making service inspired by Uber or Airtasker. So-called people smugglers are a key part of the asylum seeker debate and the central rhetorical plank of the reasoning for Australia’s two main parties’ policies of offshore detention for “irregular maritime arrivals” of asylum seekers. So, what if, instead of criminals known to extort money and exploit vulnerable people fleeing persecution, one could demonstrate positive attitudes to asylum seekers by showing that there are ordinary law-abiding Australians who would volunteer to ferry asylum seekers to Australia instead. The actual product would match Australian seafaring boat owners with asylum seekers attempting to come to Australia, with the purpose not of creating an actual ferrying route, but of demonstrating the depth of support there is for people seeking asylum in Australia.

There’s a range of challenges and sensitivities to a proposal like this, so the concept requires significant interrogation before it would warrant progressing. For example, one would need to design the product with extreme care not to exploit asylum seekers who could mistake the service for a realistic means of reaching Australia, when in reality it is likely that even if the scheme progressed to a practical demonstration, it would be symbolic and almost certainly disrupted by Australia’s Border Force or naval vessels.

Post 9: brainstorming – the process

by Erland Howden

As a structure for the brainstorming exercise discussed in post 8, we divided our concepts into the different fields of emergent practices – service design, generative design and data visualisation. This was helpful in stimulating further ideas, by pushing us to consider alternative ways of approaching the problem space we had sketched for our issue area – asylum seekers and refugees. However, it also showed that there were some blurry lines between these fields, with some of the ideas we talked about potentially fitting into more than one category.

Design responses and problem space brainstorm - Erland Howden

Problem space definition for asylum seekers and refugeesAnother tool we used to guide the discussion was to carry forward a system we created during our collaborative research phase. When sharing information, we created a system of hashtags related to each group member’s areas of focus, that would identify the key aspect of the issue to which a particular source pertained. For example, we used #resettlement, #attitudes and #mentalhealth. As we got into the problem space definition, we then brought these categories – along with the relative expertise that each person had built in their focus areas – into defining key aspects of our issues’ problem. We also brought to bear the findings and reflections from the recent issue mapping exercises that identified key polemics within our issue.

The key strength of the brainstorming exercise was that we were able to generate a wider latitude of concepts and interrogate them to immediately make them sharper and more relevant by discussing them with a small group, rather than ideating individually. At the same time, working with just a few people was likely more productive than trying to collect and document an ideation process with a large group of 10, 20 or more. On the other hand, despite a large body of research between our group members collectively, not a lot of the research we had each done focused on recent solutions, campaigns or tools and I think we faced a weakness in potentially replicating existing projects and not being able to apply learnings from a deep analysis of existing design responses.

Post 7: issue mapping through controversies

by Erland Howden

This week we revisited our early stakeholder maps as a starting point for a more detailed issue-mapping exercise around asylum seekers and refugees. It was interesting to see what we’d missed and where we could go into more detail. For example, we had originally noted the Immigration Minister as a key stakeholder in the issue, obviously, but in this second exercise we pulled this apart into the actual individuals who have held that office, as far back as the “Pacific Solution” was first implemented as Australian Government policy in 2001.

Updated stakeholder map.
Updated stakeholder map.

The process our group used to map the issue after identifying a series of controversies was to select three that we decided were most central to the issue and begin plotting the stakeholders engaged in that debate around the polemic. We then went back through as we found actors who were engaged in multiple issues and colour-coded them to match the controversy. Finally, we went back again and overlaid the fora in which those debates were mostly taking place. Conducting this issue mapping collaboratively was useful, as each person involved contributed a different perspective and was able to flesh out different aspects of the issue. For example, we hadn’t really considered religious institutions much before in my research group, but within my issue-mapping group, we heard from someone who has extended family applying for asylum in Australia and a religious community directly engaged in the debate and advocating for refugees.

Polemics & emotions. Erland Howden.
Polemics & emotions.
Polemics, actors and fora.
Polemics, actors and fora.

The issue mapping exercise as a whole provided some useful insights, particularly helping to distil the broad and complex issue into a few of the key themes and points of tension. This in turn starts to open a window to potential areas of focus for a design proposal, rather than being faced with an amorphous mesh of possibilities. Isolating the 3 areas we focused on in the issue mapping – legitimacy of asylum seekers, Australian immigration detention centres and international responsibility for solving the refugee crisis – a few possibilities began to surface for me drawing on the research I had already conducted.

Around legitimacy, there are a few components feeding this controversy: racism, misinformation and propaganda, fear and underlying economic and social context. There is an opportunity here for a system design approach that seeks to understand and educate people about refugees – why they are fleeing, facts around how many turn out to be “legitimate”, their contribution to their communities after resettlement, etc. It could be implemented via social or traditional media and engage people in stories about refugees who have been settled in Australia.

The issue of international responsibility seems ripe for a data visualisation approach – looking at the problem globally, illustrating the key root causes of forced migration and the links between these and the actions of the countries who are signatory to the refugee convention and demonstrating equitable shares of the global refugee population that need to be provided for and resettled. This approach aligns well with the other facets of the issue map we were building – the key stakeholders engaged in the discussion and the kind of fora in which the debate is taking place.

Thinking about the final polemic, detention centres, and the actors involved in this debate raises a lot of questions about sensitivity and appropriateness of design solutions, when we are talking about people who are self-harming, being abused and in a state of desperation and despair. One needs to consider very carefully if potential design interventions will genuinely help or hinder the situation and the impacts on the individuals who are very personally impacted by this debate. Those caveats notwithstanding, one of the possible design actions in this area is to focus on the public in Australia and giving voice to people opposing mandatory and offshore detention for asylum seekers – and creating the social conditions for people who support the current policy to learn more and potentially change their minds. One way to do this would be through a photo petition web interface, where individuals could upload a photo of themselves perhaps with a message taking advantage of recent social media trends as discussed in post 6, like #BringThemHere. This begins to visibly demonstrate a breadth and depth of support for asylum seekers and against immigration detention centres and also influences peers of the people who upload those photos and maybe post them to their social media profiles.

Post 6: Moments and voices

by Erland Howden

As part of my ongoing design research into asylum seekers and refugees, I wanted to shift my focus from the events, policy and decisions surrounding this issue to look at the voices and advocates for change. This will allow me to get a better understanding of what is being done to change asylum seeker policy, particularly in Australia, in turn giving me an insight into constructive areas for my own design proposal.

I decided to use the twitter archiver demonstrated in our tutorial class as my tool to help survey and analyse some of the advocacy on this issue. I made this decision based partly on the context I had distilled from my ongoing news media research:

  1. a lot of the focus of pro-asylum seeker campaigners and organisations in Australia is targeted at government policy change or the companies involved in immigration detention;
  2. Government policy aimed at limiting access to and reporting about Australia’s offshore immigration detention makes purely image-based research more challenging; and
  3. Twitter is a key platform used by advocacy organisations to spread their messages and engage both their audience (people sympathetic to policy change on refugees) and targets (politicians and corporate decision-makers).

Additionally, there are a number of key moments in recent pro-asylum seeker advocacy that specifically sought to capitalise on Twitter’s functionality and its place in Australian political discourse, which is partially summed up by Axel Bruns, a professor of media and communication at the Queensland University of Technology, “It’s not a pure representation of political opinion in Australia … but we see in #auspol a distilled version of overall political debate, probably a little bit exaggerated, a little extreme.” (Bogle 2016)Two of these moments are specifically named for their hashtags (an internet phenomenon itself first brought into widespread use by Twitter): #LetThemStay and #BringThemHere.

I used the Twitter archiver tool to look at these two hashtags: #LetThemStay and #BringThemHere. What is interesting is that they embody the way in which social media has changed and become integrated in social change advocacy. The #LetThemStay hashtag was coined as a significant indicator of pro-refugee policy during the catalytic events surrounding the hospitalisation and release of a number of asylum seekers at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, particularly the then 12-month old girl known as “Baby Asha” (Slezak 2016). When the Immigration Department wanted the asylum seekers discharged to be returned to immigration detention on Nauru, hospital staff refused and many Australians rallied to support them, citing the danger to the asylum seekers’ wellbeing represented by a return to Nauru.

Twitter archive for #LetThemStay initiated by Erland Howden
Twitter archive for #LetThemStay initiated by Erland Howden

The #BringThemHere hashtag essentially became a follow-up to this campaign moment – extending the call from the small number of individuals being returned to Nauru to the hundreds of asylum seekers being held in offshore detention. This call is centred on the original argument around the conditions in immigration detention and the risk that represents to detainees’ health and wellbeing.

Twitter archive for #LetThemStay initiated by Erland Howden
Twitter archive for #LetThemStay initiated by Erland Howden

Once I had scraped the data from twitter, I used a couple of simple analysis tools to start to unpack the data. First, I analysed how many of the tweets were “re-tweets” – interestingly, despite the fact that there were only about 650 #letthemstay tweets compared to 6147 for #bringthemhere, almost exactly the same percentage were retweets (73% and 72% respectively).

Twitter archive for #LetThemStay initiated by Erland Howden
Twitter archive for #LetThemStay initiated by Erland Howden

Second, I noticed that campaign organisation GetUp was cropping up a lot as I ran my eyes over the spreadsheets – so filtering for the word  “GetUp”, which is also the organisation’s twitter handle, showed any tweets of theirs that was retweeted, as well as their original. 8% of the ‘stay’ tweets mentioned GetUp, compared to only 3% of ‘bring’ tweets, indicating that GetUp was a more central player in the events surrounding ‘stay’, whereas the ‘bring’ campaign is operating more like a movement without a central campaign organisation. My final analysis was looking at the tweets with the most reach. Simply filtering for the top 10 number of followers give us:

  • For ‘stay’, 2 from GetUp, 4 from Greens politicians, 2 from journalists, 1 from an NGO and one from a prominent conservative.
  • For ‘bring’, 4 from GetUp, 3 from journalists, 1 from an NGO and 2 from celebrities.
Twitter archive for #BringThemHere initiated by Erland Howden
Twitter archive for #BringThemHere initiated by Erland Howden

From here, I think another direction to take in analysing these results might be to use a sentiment calculator to get a sense of the emotions and broad perspective across the large volume of text. In terms of data visualisation, this could then be mapped to colour and maybe to the user’s location (of the tweet or via text on their profile) and a map of people’s state of mind (eg. black for depression, red for anger, etc) when discussing these issues could be created.


Bogle, A. 2016, ‘#auspol: The Twitter hashtag Australia can’t live without’, Mashable Australia, 21 March, viewed 5 September, <;.

Slezak, M. 2016, ‘#LetThemStay protest takes to Sydney harbour in fight for 267 asylum seekers’, The Guardian, 14 February, viewed 5 September, <;.

Oriti, T. 2016, ‘Let Them Stay labelled a success, more than half of 267 asylum seekers in community detention’, ABC News, 2 April, viewed 5 September, <;.

Post 5: An international perspective

by Erland Howden

Following the earlier tasks, largely concerned with finding and analysing the perspectives of journalists and experts on the issue of asylum seekers and refugees, I was excited to undertake the peer semi-structured interview exercise to dive into this “design ethnography” methodology and find out what people who had no specific interest in the issue thought about different aspects of it.

I have to admit first, I drafted the questions for my peer interview in discussion with my research group but without a lot of thought for the individual I might be interviewing. However, the semi-structured nature of the process allowed me to take it in an interesting direction.


My initial questions, referencing the news media research and analysis of authors and perspectives, as well as trying to draw on the unique perspective of a peer, were as follows:

  1. Do you have a general personal view about asylum seekers and refugees?
  2. Do you feel like some media outlets have a particular bias on this issue? If so, in what way?
  3. Do you think there’s a need for policy change in Australia on asylum seekers and refugees?
  4. How would you characterise the issue of refugees globally today?
  5. What responsibilities do you think Australia has as a country toward people seeking asylum?
  6. Do you think there is a common view of this issue among your friends and peers?
  7. What aspects of this issue do you think would benefit from design interventions? Can you think of an example?


Some of the key insights from this ethnographic research were as follows:

  • Perception and information is seen as a key issue – that there is (negative) misinformation about asylum seekers, that to make a change or design intervention in this area, people’s perception of the problem and the people involved needs to change.
  • (Lack of) proximity to the issue (physically and emotionally) is an impediment to engaging with it – and peers of the interviewee are seen as not engaged or interested.
  • Broadly, “refugees” as an issue is seen within the frames of disaster and humanitarian crisis response.
  • The language used in the media consistently reinforces the ‘othering’ of migrants – that they are different to ‘us’ and by implication won’t ‘fit in’
  • In terms of helping refugees, leaving aside the punitive issues related to mandatory detention, Australia should be providing more practical assistance – healthcare, long-term support and employment opportunities.
  • Despite the thesis that the key problem is awareness/perception/attitude of host-country residents, design interventions should focus on outcomes for asylum seekers and refugees themselves – ie. making them feel more visibly welcome.
  • That Australia is actually seen as dealing with this issue better than another country – in this case, the interviewee’s home country, Korea which was described as more racist and less caring (or perhaps less people that care) about the plight of refugees.

What I found most interesting about the interview process and the places it went, is that I hadn’t properly considered the prospect of interviewing someone who didn’t have some political stake in Australia. Of course, to an international student who didn’t necessarily plan to stay in Australia after their study, the response of their own country is of more interest than Australia’s. Diving into attitudes to refugees and migrants in South Korea was an unexpected tangent that brought insights into Australia’s situation by comparison – that even if our treatment of asylum seekers in detention centres is some of the worst among refugee intake countries, it may be that attitudes of the general public are actually more sympathetic than some other places. This gives rise to the interesting tension about where to consider applying design interventions that seek to make some change on the issue – whether towards improving attitudes of host-country residents, focusing on the immediate needs of asylum seekers and refugees themselves, or some other intervention that targets government policy and the possible disconnect between it and the views of the public.


The probe exercise that my interviewee conducted for me was to review two refugee support organisations and provide a brief analysis of their functions and the relationship to their visual design.

Design ethnography probe: interviewee's report on refugee support organisations, comparing and contrasting their visual communication styles.
Design ethnography probe: interviewee’s report on refugee support organisations, comparing and contrasting their visual communication styles.

What this revealed, looking at Refugees International and the UNHCR, is a commonality of symbols – particularly the use of hands to indicate help and humanitarianism – and also some typographical alignment, using simple sans-serifs to convey a straight-forward, practical approach.

The choice of these two organisations by my interviewee is itself interesting, as it diverges from most of the core of what we discussed in the interview, having no strong relationship to Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers (other than the UNHCR’s criticism of Australia’s regime) or attitudes to migrants in South Korea. Instead, the two profiles are focused on practical assistance by large organisations closer to the source of crisis that drives refugees to leave their home country.

Post 3: Contrasting perspectives

by Erland Howden

In our group stakeholder mapping exercise, we used a two-stage process, first brainstorming all the actors we could think of and then broadly categorising them to help visualise the outcome and make the results of the process clearer to understand.

One of the first observations following this process was that one can immediately see that the categories do not represent a unified view on the issue. For example, within the category of media, you obviously have widely varying perspectives, from a media organisations like The Guardian or New Matilda who have a stated editorial opposition to Australia’s current policies toward asylum seekers and News Ltd publications who have been variously supportive of current government policies purportedly aimed at ‘stopping the boats’. One can also see significant points of difference between stakeholders in the ‘service contractors’ category, between, eg. Broadspectrum (formerly Transfield, now owned by Ferrovial [Doherty & Kingsley 2016]) who have stuck by their immigration detention centre management contracts despite sustained attack by refugee advocates and whistleblowers such as Paul Stevenson who shared a strong and detailed critique of conditions in immigration detention with The Guardian.

Based on my first lot of research, looking at news media sources on the issue of refugees and asylum seekers, there are a number of actors across categories that seem to share similar values in relation to this issue. If you look at the way, for example, that liberal and left-leaning media such as New Matilda or The Guardian have reported on views from the UN High Commission for Refugees, or refugee advocates like the Refugee Council of Australia. One can determine shared values based on the tone and alignment between editorial stance across stories and the critiques those being reported are sharing. On the ‘other side’ of the debate, looking at actors who are less critical of Australia’s current treatment of asylum seekers, one can also perceive a strong alignment of values between some News Ltd publications and government ministers, based on border security, deterrence, etc.

Image research

In choosing these ten images, I’ve tried to find a selection that represents the key different aspects of this issue, but also reflects the direction of my own research to date and how I perceive the issue.

Left: A boat intercepted off the coast of Australia at the start of last month is taken to Christmas Island (Millcock 2010); Right: Fleeing through the eye of a needle (Kiliç 2015)
Left: A boat intercepted off the coast of Australia at the start of last month is taken to Christmas Island (Millcock 2010); Right: Fleeing through the eye of a needle (Kiliç 2015)

To place the images in a logical context, to me the image of the baby at the Syrian-Turkish border (Kiliç 2015) and the boat of asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters (Millcock 2010) represent the heart of the refugee issue globally – over 60 million people desperately fleeing war, persecution and danger, willing to take great personal risks to reach a place of safety and security. What isn’t visible in these images are the majority of refugees who live in refugee camps, most frequently in a neighbouring country in relatively close proximity to the place they have fled. What also isn’t shown are the smaller number of refugees who arrive, generally by plane, for resettlement in wealthy countries after their asylum applications have been assessed and approved, or the higher profile asylum seekers who have the means to enter countries like Australia on eg. tourist visas and then apply for asylum, sometimes in a public way, once here.

Left: Germans hold signs welcoming migrants (ABC 2015); Right: Hungarian video journalist caught tripping and kicking refugees on camera fired (Joyner 2015)
Left: Germans hold signs welcoming migrants (ABC 2015); Right: Hungarian video journalist caught tripping and kicking refugees on camera fired (Joyner 2015)

The image of Germans welcoming refugees at Munich train station (Unknown 2015) and the well-known image of a Hungarian journalist kicking (or tripping) asylum seekers (Joyner 2015) contrasts two country’s approaches to “welcoming” asylum seekers at one point in time. The image from Munich communicates the compassion and solidarity shown and the safety provided by some communities to asylum seekers. Meanwhile, the image from Hungary shows the suspicion, contempt and lack of respect that other communities show asylum seekers. There are many questions about why different people treat asylum seekers differently, but one influential aspect to consider that might be contributing to individual behaviours and attitudes is political leadership and communication. In Germany, the government’s key message to their citizens was “Wir schaffen das” (we can manage – ie. that Germany should take responsibility, even leadership, as a wealthy country better placed even than others within the European Union to cope with the large numbers of asylum seekers arriving). On the other hand, Hungary’s President, Viktor Orban, has consistently communicated hostility toward asylum seekers and his government’s most well-known policy response has been building a massive fence along Hungary’s borders designed to keep asylum seekers out. On the other hand, these images both obscure alternative views and approaches within these countries – for example, Germany has seen a significant increase in attacks on asylum seeker residences by right-wing groups and individuals (Associated Press 2016), let alone the failings of the system for processing the large volume of asylum seekers there and the broad shift in attitude of the German public to a more negative view of asylum seekers now compared to late 2015.

Left: Rudi, 11, fled Syria with his family after his house was destroyed in the fighting. They are trying to get permission to live in Germany because it is too dangerous to go home. Rudi (centre) was one of a group of children, mostly from Syrian families, taken on an excursion to Wilhelma Zoo by a group called Flüchtlingshilfe Stuttgart, or Refugee Help Stuttgart, late last year. (Howden 2015); Right: Manus Island regional processing facility (DIAC 2012)
Left: Rudi, 11, fled Syria with his family after his house was destroyed in the fighting. They are trying to get permission to live in Germany because it is too dangerous to go home. Rudi (centre) was one of a group of children, mostly from Syrian families, taken on an excursion to Wilhelma Zoo by a group called Flüchtlingshilfe Stuttgart, or Refugee Help Stuttgart, late last year. (Howden 2015); Right: Manus Island regional processing facility (DIAC 2012)

Again, we have a set of contrasting images showing the conditions in which asylum seekers live while having their claim for asylum processed. On one hand is an image I took of a young Syrian boy while on an excursion to the zoo with a pro-refugee organisation in Stuttgart, Germany (Howden 2015). On the other hand, the image of tents at the Manus Island detention centre (DIAC 2012) represents the punitive imprisonment that most asylum seekers arriving in Australia experience, whether offshore or at various onshore detention centres such as Villawood in Western Sydney. While somewhat confronting, the fairly mundane image of the Manus Island facility fails to communicate the shocking conditions under which asylum seekers live and the psychological harm it causes. Similarly, the trip to the zoo represents a reprieve for asylum seeker children from one facility in Stuttgart, compared to their daily living conditions coping with the stress of the asylum application process while dealing with the trauma of the journey to Germany, in which most have a story of witnessing friends and relatives be injured or die through drowning or violence.

Left: Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru protest after the death of their friend Omid. (Macken et al 2016); Right: Free the refugees and let them stay - protest march (Howden 2004)
Left: Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru protest after the death of their friend Omid. (Macken et al 2016); Right: Free the refugees and let them stay – protest march (Howden 2004)

Next we have a set of images showing the responses from asylum seekers and their allies to their situation once they have arrived in a destination country. The first shows a recent protest by asylum seekers at the Nauru immigration detention centre following the shocking death of Omid, the Iranian detainee who died in Brisbane hospital in April after setting himself alight during a visit by United Nations officials (Macken et al 2016, p13). In this image and its necessary context, I read depression and desperation, but also determination and resilience. Given the conditions we know asylum seekers live under on Nauru, it is incredible, brave and powerful that the people pictured managed even this small gesture in the name of their friend. As one of the small number of images of detainees that makes it into the media, there is much we don’t see here – for example, what reprisals or consequences might these protestors have suffered for taking this action, if any? I see pride and defiance in their faces in this image, but what would we see in those faces over the course of a “normal” week living there? The second image I took at a protest march, lead by an Afghan refugee, down Sydney’s George Street (Howden 2004). The interesting thing to consider here is the solidarity shown by people who had experienced immigration detention and been finally granted asylum, with people still caught up in the tortuous process and conditions. On the other hand, we’ve heard anecdotally, for example in the tutorial workshops in this subject that there are many others from refugee backgrounds or communities who feel negatively toward current asylum seekers and agree to varying degrees with current immigration policies.

Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton appearing on ABC TV's 7:30 Report (ABC TV 2016)
Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton appearing on ABC TV’s 7:30 Report (ABC TV 2016)

Second to last, we have an image of Peter Dutton (ABC TV 2016), during the interview in which he simultaneously postulated that asylum seekers were likely to be illiterate and also likely to take jobs away from current citizens. I chose to include this image as it links back to the research from media and peer-reviewed sources in posts 1 and 2 – the ‘banality of evil’ line of thinking. What we see in the image is a carefully constructed scene – a background chosen by the television producers to connote the context of a political interview, a man who we know has been assisted by others to present a particular image – clean, professional, conservative, serious. What we know the image represents, between the widely-publicised logical flaw of the argument he presented and the expression one can read into Dutton’s face, is perhaps representative of the core of the banality argument – that it is a lack of thinking, or ability to think and empathise with the consequences of one’s decisions that can precipitate, in the right conditions, so-called “evil” deeds. I would re-characterise this to say that this image represents a man so insulated physically, emotionally and procedurally – through his privilege, his context and his choice to not think deeply or emotionally about the personal impact of his decisions that he can blurt out logical fallacies with a straight face and be responsible for the cruel and inhumane treatment of other people.

Don’t feed the rumour workshop at the Seomara da Costa Primo secondary school (URBACT 2015)
Don’t feed the rumour workshop at the Seomara da Costa Primo secondary school (URBACT 2015)

Finally, we have an image that I would argue embodies hope. This photo (Unknown 2015) from a workshop in the pilot of the ‘Don’t feed the rumour’ project in Lisbon, Portugal, shows a woman training school students to become messengers in a campaign to challenge and break down stereotypes about migrants and refugees in the local community. Here is a practical initiative, now rolling out across a number of European cities, aimed at improving communities through the building of respect and appreciation for multiculturalism and the contribution migrants make to the communities in which they live. While this project represents a practical answer to issues surrounding resettlement and integration – reducing racism, violence and tension within communities I believe it also could have long-term effects on the attitudes of people engaged by the project’s messengers. The messages the project is delivering, if taken on board by participants, represent values associated with equality and justice principles, internationalist thinking, community and mutual aid – laying the foundation for communities that are more welcoming to future migrants and refugees and may even foster advocates for migrant and refugee rights.


Doherty, B. & Kingsley, P. 2016, ‘Refugee camp company in Australia ‘liable for crimes against humanity’, The Guardian, 25 July, viewed 19 August 2016, <;.

Kiliç, B. 2015, Fleeing through the eye of a needle, AFP Correspondent, viewed 1 Aug 2016, <;.

Millcock, A. 2010, A boat intercepted off the coast of Australia at the start of last month is taken to Christmas Island, The Daily Telegraph, viewed 28 Aug 2016, <;.

Unknown, 2015, Germans hold signs welcoming migrants, ABC The World Today, viewed 28 August 2016, <;.

Joyner, A. 2015, Hungarian video journalist caught tripping and kicking refugees on camera fired, International Business Times, viewed 28 August 2016, <;.

Associated Press 2016, ‘Rightwing violence surges in Germany’, The Guardian, 24 May, viewed 28 August 2016, <;.

Howden, E. 2015, Rudi, 11, Crinkling News, viewed 28 August 2016, <;.

DIAC, 2012, Manus Island regional processing facility 2012, Wikimedia Commons, viewed 28 August 2016, <;.

Macken, J., Bacon, W., Curr, P., Lawrence, C. & O’Connor, C. 2016, Protection denied, abuse condoned: women on Nauru at risk, Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru, Sydney.

Shall I strive 2004, Erland Howden, Flickr, viewed 28 August 2016, <;.

ABC TV 2016, Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton appearing on ABC TV’s 7:30 Report, New Matilda, viewed 28 August 2016, <;.

Unknown 2015, Don’t feed the rumour workshop at the Seomara da Costa Primo secondary school, URBACT, viewed 28 August 2016, <;.

Post 4: Do not feed the rumour

by Erland Howden

I chose to focus on this interesting service design project out of Portugal for a couple of reasons that are relevant to my broader research into the issue of asylum seekers and refugees.

First, my personal experience living in Germany during the peak of refugee arrivals towards the end of 2015. I met people who had fled Syria, read about attacks on refugee centres and homes by far-right groups and talked to people from different European countries about their respective approaches to the crisis. This sparked an interest in the different ways communities were dealing with “integration”, racism and introducing multiculturalism to hitherto fairly monocultural communities.

Second, my research so far had focused mostly on Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and social and psychological determinants of attitudes towards refugees. I wanted to reach beyond our shocking national situation to places where countries and communities are dealing with the growing number of asylum seekers in more humane and constructive ways – and what lessons could be learnt that might be applied to changing attitudes here in Australia.

Não alimente o rumor‘ (Do not feed the rumour) is a project by Amador City Council, a municipality on the outskirts of Portugal’s capital, Lisbon in partnership with the Council of Europe. Its goal is to challenge rumours and misconceptions about migrant communities, which make up about 10% of the local population (Council of Europe 2016). Visual communication design on the project was done by GBNT, a design and communication agency based in Lisbon. The project is research-led, beginning with surveys to identify prevailing stereotypes about migrants and followed up with analysis of how views had changed as the project progressed, facilitated by an academic team from the Centro de Investigação e Intervenção Social/Instituto Universitário de Lisboa. (European Commission 2016)

The project has been described as a communication campaign, but has aspects that place it within the service design sphere (Adams 2016). One of the most interesting aspects of the project’s implementation was the choice to train school students in the pilot phase as the key “anti-rumour agents”, so the design of the program is really about designing the process by which stereotypes about migrants and refugees could be broken down – identifying effective messengers for the target audience – i.e. peers; designing workshops that empower the “agents” with the information, skills and confidence to transmit the project’s key messages; and supporting the messengers to follow-through with their commitment. This approach demonstrates how emergent design practices can be significantly more engaged with their audience and sphere of operation than traditional approaches to a ‘communications campaign’ which might have just involved designing and placing advertisements.

The project has now moved beyond the pilot phase to a broader roll-out across the city, as well as being trialled in cities across Spain, Germany, Ireland, Greece and Poland. Demonstrating another aspect of service design, the project has also been turned into a guide by the Council of Europe, “Cities free of rumours: How to build an anti-rumour strategy in my city” (Baglai 2015).


Featured image: GBNT 2014, GBNT – Shaping Communication / Não Alimente o Rumor, GBNT, Lisbon, Portugal, viewed 21 August 2016, <>.

Council of Europe 2016, Amadora – Anti-rumour agents trained in Amadora’s school, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France, viewed 21 August 2016, <>.

European Commission 2016, Do Not Feed the Rumor: How Amadora City Council is challenging stereotypes against immigrants, European Commission, Brussels, Belgium, viewed 21 August 2016, <>.

Adams, E. 2016, ‘‘Migrant crisis’: what can cities learn about new service design?’, URBACT, weblog, European Union, Paris, France, viewed 21 August 2016, <>.

Baglai, C. (ed.) 2015, Cities free of rumours: How to build an anti-rumour strategy in my city, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France, viewed 21 August 2016, <×21.pdf/c01ea15a-0195-494f-820f-00ada611f01f>.

Post 2: On Australians’ attitudes to asylum seekers and the nature of evil

by Erland Howden

Following my news media research into the issue of asylum seekers and refugees, two themes emerged that I wanted to pursue in more depth with a review of scholarly articles.

First, public attitudes toward refugees and asylum seekers, looking at what drives people to develop their views and what might be contributing to the dehumanisation of people fleeing war and persecution. Second, I wanted to pick up the thread of the discussion around ethics and personal responsibility that McLoughlin (2016) touched on in his New Matilda article, The Banality of Peter Dutton.

Not all negative: Macro justice principles predict positive attitudes towards asylum seekers in Australia, Anderson J., Stuart A. and Rossen I. – Australian Journal of Psychology, 2015

Anderson, Stuart and Rossen (2015) published an article in the Australian Journal of Psychology that unpacks the first issue in a very interesting way. In my research I discovered a number of articles (eg. Trounson et al, 2015) that dealt with the psychological drivers of negative attitudes toward asylum seekers, but Anderson, et al (2015) was the first I could find that took an alternative approach and sought to find what could be a predictor of positive attitudes toward asylum seekers.

What is pertinent to highlight in the first place is that the authors declare in their conclusion a specific intent for their research to contribute to the “development of communication designed to reduce prejudice towards asylum seekers.” As a visual communication designer with an interest in changing Australia’s negative attitudes and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, this highlighted for me that I was potentially a key part of the intended audience for the research.

The more widely published psychological research around attitudes toward asylum seekers, as discussed by the authors, centres around suggesting

“that prejudice is derived from threat- and competition-based dual processes, which relate to authoritarianism and traditionalism (i.e., right-wing authoritarianism, RWA; Altemeyer, 1981), and hierarchy and inequality (i.e., social dominance orientation, SDO; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999), respectively.” (Anderson et al, 2015)

However, the authors of this study have identified that macro justice principles – in other words, “the belief in equal distribution of resources across a society” are potentially a stronger predictor of positive attitudes toward asylum seekers than SDO or RWA are of negative attitudes. The caveat to this conclusion, aside from some common considerations such as sample size, is that the study sample was undergraduate psychology students from an Australian university. Given the conclusions, it bears considering this research with a sample more representative of the broader Australian population, but in the context of Visual Communication and Emergent Practices with its focus on a youth audience, this research provides an excellent starting point for consideration of design and communication interventions that could have a positive impact on Australian attitudes toward asylum seekers and refugees.

Are Arendt’s Reflections on Evil Still Relevant?, Bernstein, R. – The Review of Politics, 2008

On the second theme that emerged from my news media review of this issue – ethical consideration of the nature of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees – I uncovered a discussion of Hannah Arendt’s reflections on evil in the recent context of large refugee and stateless persons populations by Richard Bernstein (2008) in The Review of Politics. To first contextualise this paper, it assumes a basic knowledge of Hannah Arendt and her writing – Arendt was the New York Times journalist who coined the phrase “the banality of evil” in describing the character and actions of Adolf Eichmann, from her observations at his trial as a Nazi war criminal in Jerusalem in 1961 and subsequently wrote at length on the nature of evil, genocide and human rights. What is particularly relevant about Arendt’s writing to today’s context, as Bernstein (2008) points out, is that she discussed “the emergence of masses of refugees” as “one of the most intractable problems of the twentieth century.”

This paper brings into sharp relief two aspects of the refugee and asylum seeker issue in the Australian context that I found highly compelling.

First, that asylum seekers are uniquely vulnerable, sometimes as stateless people, not just to the horrors of their initial persecution or the perils of their journey to seek asylum but vulnerable also to abuse, mistreatment and the denial of dignity through their lack of belonging to a “political community that will protect and guarantee one’s rights as a citizen.”

“This is the condition where one becomes superfluous – a situation that is at once precarious and extremely dangerous. This is why Arendt argued that the most fundamental right is “the right to have rights”…” (Bernstein, 2008)

Second, the foundation of decisions and responsibility of political decision-makers that have overseen the torture, abuse, mistreatment and arguably internationally unlawful internment of asylum seekers, particularly in Australia’s offshore detention centres. Indeed, to extend the question, considering why the conditions themselves or the subsequent categorisation by a UN body of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers as torture, did not result in, for example, mass resignations from the Department of Immigration and the cancellation of contracts to manage the detention facilities by private contractors. Here, I think it bears quoting Bernstein (2008) directly in one of his concluding paragraphs:

“This is the primary lesson of the banality of evil. One does not have to be a monster, a sadist, or a vicious person to commit horrendously evil deeds. Normal people in their everyday lives, “decent citizens,” even respectable political leaders, who are convinced of the righteousness of their cause, can commit monstrous deeds. The bureaucratic and technological conditions of modernity make this phenomenon a much more likely and dangerous possibility. But, as Arendt emphasizes, this does not mitigate the accountability and responsibility of those who commit such deeds. Arendt wants us to confront honestly the “paradox” that even though normal persons may commit horrendous deeds without deliberate intention, they are, nevertheless, fully responsible for these deeds and must be held accountable.” (Bernstein, 2008)

McLoughlin, L. 2016, ‘The Banality Of Peter Dutton’, New Matilda, 25 May, viewed 30 July 2016, <>.

Anderson, J.R., Stuart, A. & Rossen, I. 2015, ‘Not all negative: Macro justice principles predict positive attitudes towards asylum seekers in Australia’, Australian Journal of Psychology, vol. 67, no. 4, pp. 207-213.

Trounson, J.S., Critchley, C. & Pfeifer, J.E. 2015, ‘Australian attitudes toward asylum seekers: roles of dehumanization and social dominance theory’, Social Behavior and Personality, vol. 43, no. 10, pp. 1641-1655.

Bernstein, R.J. 2008, ‘Are Arendt’s Reflections on Evil Still Relevant?’, The Review of Politics, vol. 70, no. 1, pp. 64-D.

Post 1: asylum seekers and refugees – a humanitarian issue

by Erland Howden

The Banality Of Peter Dutton, Liam McLoughlin – New Matilda

Writing in New Matilda, McLoughlin (2016) is positioned with a strongly negative view of current Australian government policies toward asylum seekers and refugees. New Matilda has a history of reporting on refugee issues with a perspective anchored on the ‘left’ of progressive liberal media. Additionally, this article in particular makes explicit reference to an opinion piece published some days before in the same publication by David Berger (2016) concerning the “case for comparing elements of Australian asylum seeker policy with aspects of Nazi Germany.” Liam McLoughlin extends this line of thought to an analysis of Hannah Arendt’s reflections on evil as they apply to the foundation of decisions and responsibility of political decision-makers that have overseen Australia’s offshore detention regime. The crux of the discussion is the idea of thoughtless evil – the inability, or unwillingness, of decision-makers to think critically about the actual human impact, and suffering, of their actions. This then extends to the responsibility of the population that supports or ‘allows’ these conditions to persist,

“in the Australian context, barring notable exceptions like the refugee movement and the Greens, these crimes are “accepted, routinised and implemented without moral revulsion and political indignation and resistance”.” McLoughlin (2016)

Australians want boat arrivals treated more harshly: poll, Philip Dorling – The Age

McLoughlin (2016), discussed above, in discussion about the Australian population’s support of the monstrous treatment of asylum seekers, references an opinion poll from January 2014, which suggested Australians wanted some asylum seekers treated even more harshly than they were at the time. Philip Dorling (2014) covered this poll for The Age newspaper and broke down additional findings of the poll which give insight into why these views might be held and by whom. This article is much more like a list of facts than some of the other pieces I considered, but what is obscured by the straight-forward reporting is who commissioned, as opposed to conducted, the polling as well as the position served by the selection, ordering and positioning of information within the article and its place in the newspaper.

The key findings of the opinion poll being reported by this article were that “A strong majority of Australians, 60 per cent, also want the Abbott government to “increase the severity of the treatment of asylum seekers,” and that “59 per cent of people think most boat arrivals are not genuine refugees.”

There are two issues to unpack here.

First, bearing in mind offshore detention centres and their attendant abusive conditions were in full operation in January 2014, with Scott Morrison as Immigration Minister, this constitutes an indication, at the very least, that if asked in a certain way, most people in Australia condoned punitive treatment of individuals who have not been convicted of any crime.

Second, that these views can be very likely linked to false perceptions that people arriving by boat seeking asylum are not genuine refugees – the article goes on to state that “between 70 per cent and 97 per cent of asylum seekers arriving by boat at different times have been found to be genuine refugees.”

The worst I’ve seen – trauma expert lifts lid on ‘atrocity’ of Australia’s detention regime, Ben Doherty and David Marr – The Guardian

“In my entire career of 43 years I have never seen more atrocity than I have seen in the incarcerated situations of Manus Island and Nauru.”

This extended report (Doherty & Marr 2016), detailing the account of Manus Island and Nauru immigration detention centres by Paul Stevenson, a trauma expert, gets to the heart of the conditions Australia imposes on asylum seekers detained in offshore facilities by exposing the practical details of the abusive conditions and the mental state of detainees. It also goes to the question of how staff at these facilities can oversee this abusive operation on a daily basis, providing insight into the dehumanising working conditions they are employed under which contributes to a culture where neglect and abusive can thrive.

Importantly, The Guardian details up front in this report the bias and position of the source of this report, as well as the professional expertise that enables him to provide the information. Paul Stevenson is documented in the article as president of a branch of political party, the Australian Democrats, and it is acknowledged that the context in which Stevenson decided to come forward was during an election campaign in which he was a candidate.

“The impact that it has over time on the asylum seeker is … a kind of demoralisation syndrome… they have no control over their lives, so people relinquish control, and they vegetate, they start to get into this dissociative vegetative state that we know is very common with trauma, and then everything suffers.” – Paul Stevenson (Doherty & Marr 2016)

UN lashes Australian ‘contempt and hostility’ toward asylum seekers, Michael Gordon – The Sydney Morning Herald

This article by Michael Gordon (2015) in the Sydney Morning Herald details the comments by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the precipitating report by Amnesty International that both condemn in strong terms the Australian treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

In referencing this article, it is worth considering the history of the Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of this issue, which I would characterise as chequered insofar as they have editorialised against some of the most egregious examples of treatment of asylum seekers, but supported the government’s policies, or propaganda, at other points.

The significance of the comments reported in this article should not be understated. As a signatory of the Charter of the United Nations, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Refugee Convention, Australia has specific international responsibilities which it stands accused of neglecting, even as it neglects individual asylum seekers.

“The comments by Mr Zeid follow his accusation that Australia has committed a “chain of human rights violations” in its treatment of asylum seekers when he became the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights last September. They come after Australia was singled out for stinging criticism in a report by Amnesty International proposing a “paradigm shift” in the response of world leaders to “the worst refugee crisis of our era”.” (Gordon 2015)

Fleeing through the eye of a needle, Bülent Kiliç – AFP Correspondent

The final news item I’m looking at here, from AFP Correspondent, is a photo essay from June 2015 documenting one point in the exodus of people fleeing Syria at the Turkish border. Kiliç (2015) describes his first-hand observations at a point on the border that was closed near the Syrian town of Tal Abyad.

“Things started to take a dramatic turn on Saturday, June 13. We were driving near the border searching for refugees, when we heard that a lot of people had appeared near the crossing in Akcakale. We headed there to see a huge crowd massing in a field in the scorching heat – with Turkish forces using water jets and firing shots in the air to keep them from the fence.”

This article is a useful counterpoint to the other perspectives here because it provides the context of a view from the point where people are fleeing. Kiliç (2015) goes on to document the appearance of ISIS fighters who tried to corral people back to the closest Syrian town and how people “came flocking right back” once they had left. The flashpoint of the photoessay is when people finally start breaking through the border fence and people on the Turkish side rush to their aid, documented through the dramatic images showing children being passed through fences and people crushing through and over barbed and razor wire barriers.


Featured image: Kiliç, B. 2015, Fleeing through the eye of a needle, AFP Correspondent, viewed 1 Aug 2016, <;.

McLoughlin, L. 2016, ‘The Banality Of Peter Dutton’, New Matilda, 25 May, viewed 30 July 2016, <>.

Berger, D. 2016, ‘It’s Okay To Compare Australia In 2016 With Nazi Germany, And Here’s Why’, New Matilda, 22 May, viewed 30 July 2016, <>.

Dorling, P. 2014, ‘Australians want boat arrivals treated more harshly: poll’, The Age, 8 Jan, viewed 29 July 2016, < more-harshly-poll-20140108-30g97.html>.

Doherty, B. & Marr, D. 2016, ‘The worst I’ve seen – trauma expert lifts lid on ‘atrocity’ of Australia’s detention regime’, The Guardian, 20 Jun, viewed 29 July 2016, <>.

Gordon, M. 2015, ‘UN lashes Australian ‘contempt and hostility’ toward asylum seekers’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Jun, viewed 28 July 2016, <>.

Kiliç, B. 2015, ‘Fleeing through the eye of a needle’, AFP Correspondent, 15 Jun, viewed 1 Aug 2016, <>.