The Surfrider Foundation is a California-based nonprofit dedicated to preserving our coasts. Their five-point mission is to fight plastic pollution, protect oceanic ecosystems, ensure beach access for all, preserve coastal features and protect clean water sources. It’s a noble organization fighting for great causes.
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The Surfrider Foundation is 35 years old, which antedates the Black Lives Matter movement, if not the social injustice which led to it. And their symbol is an American flag rendered in all blue, with the stripes turned into waves, both elements expressing their ocean-preserving mission. All fine and good.
But as I was looking at the Surfrider Playmate Elite 16 Qt Cooler, the result of a recent collaboration between the Surfrider Foundation and cooler manufacturer Igloo, I recalled news images I’ve seen and thought, Oh no.
What I’m picturing is, a crunchy and well-meaning Surfrider supporter purchasing the cooler to support them (a portion of the proceeds go to the foundation)–then being accosted by a social justice warrior and accused of either supporting Blue Lives Matter or disavowing Black Lives Matter. Or Blue Lives Matter supporters purchasing the coolers to co-opt the Surfrider Foundation’s established logo and inject meaning into it that was never intended by the designer.
Has the current climate changed everything, where now even seemingly innocuous design decisions–or in this case, design decisions based on an incumbent design–can draw fire independent of their original intent? If you design something, and a divisive political organization later designs something similar, do you now have an obligation to react to that? It’s a complicated question, and one I’d love to hear your thoughts on.