The Power of Communication: A Reflection

Design student Irina Ivanova was one of the 2007 TRTMSTATBGDSTAUHC recipients and was recognized at the 2007 HOW Design Conference. Here’s her winning essay:

My grandfather became a cripple at the age of 19. His body was riddled with 22 bullets, one severed his spinal cord, and his right hand was blown off during the battle of the Soviet Army with the Nazis for the Gotland Island in the Baltic Sea. World War II was at full pitch when my grandfather, barely alive, was captured and taken to a Nazi concentration camp in Salas Peals. His parents received a notification that their son had perished as a hero and was decorated with the highest combat award—The Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union—posthumously. But my grandfather was still alive when the Soviet troops liberated Salas Peals in 1943. Almost unconscious, after passing several "screening" tribunal commissions—obviously he did not surrender to the enemy —he was sent to a hospital and not swiftly dispatched to Siberian camps like many others who had survived Hitler but would not survive Stalin. The decoration that he had received posthumously was not valid any longer; it was replaced by the shame of captivity.

Being raised by my grandparents throughout my childhood, I remember how painful it was for me to listen to desperate debates between my wandering "pro-western" mother and my grandfather who in his disillusionment continued to rectify the ideals for which he had fought during the war with the brutal realities of Stalin’s regime. I witnessed the tragedy when everything a person had believed in for a lifetime was shattered, became exposed and ugly.

Soviet propaganda lined streets, buildings, halls of schools and hospitals for generations. Everyone was bombarded with the messages of Communism. Very many believed it. Later, when the first McDonald’s opened in Russia, the new advertising blitz became powerful and popular. I stood in line with my friends and their parents for seven hours determined to try the Big Mac. New visual mass media had invaded Russia subtly, but with a force that would send the Soviet Union toppling to its demise. It was more than just selling products—it could sell ideas, dreams, fantasies that became realities and could reshape the world.

My mother and I set out for the U.S. in January 1992. During the flight, as a 9-year-old child, I imagined America as an uncertain pink and friendly place, but New York City was not long in disenchanting me. I could not speak English and was unmercifully teased at school, incapable of response. I communicated with my teachers with the help of drawings. It took me six months before I was able to stand up for myself at the NY public school, but the message of communication’s power was burned fast in my brain.

My family eventually settled in Louisville, KY, and when I was old enough to attend college, I went to the University of Louisville (UofL). I quickly discovered that, although my educational opportunities at UofL were somewhat limited by the university’s financial restraints, I still could, through determination and vision, expand the boundaries of what could have been a disappointing undergraduate experience. My resolve was firm. I wanted to enter the world of ideas communicated quickly, powerfully, and poignantly. I wanted to enter a world where lives of people were changed through a nearly magical combination of words and images. I had seen it happen to my grandparents, to the whole country of the Soviet Union with the invasion of new ideals—there was no doubt about the power of visual media.

Once I graduated from University of Louisville, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in Graphic Design at Pratt Institute. The decision to move to New York germinated out of my longing for inspiration and my quest for a mentor. I came to a realization that my drive for creativity is internal and that it earns to find direction and purpose. My inspiration breeds in changing environments, while observing people, studying history, my surroundings and accepting the many little things that constitute my routine. For me, finding inspiration is a continuous struggle that requires discipline.

I have been very fortunate in my academic career to have had great teachers, but I have yet to find a mentor—an individual that becomes the guide, that is involved in a selfless way, and that is the inspiration behind everything. It is my enormous desire to carefully hone the tools of my trade, my skills to communicate with the multicultural world around me. Every person, every organization, every community, and even every country needs the ability to deliver their vision to those they want to lead, assist, and understand. I would like to become part of this great world of visual communication that influences the humankind much more effectively than wars in order to carry through human values and freedoms I have learned and started to appreciate in the United States.

It has always been the role of visual communicators to critique the world in which we live, to deliver ideas we want to pursue. Although designers are not the most direct of political players, they have always offered the masses a voice, an image, a language that people can easily access and comprehend. Graphic design possesses the unlimited ability to rouse in people the desire to change the world around them for better.