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Designing Parecon Finland


After the decision had been made to start an organization focused in participatory economics in Finland, [1] we began to think of communications strategies for it. What are our goals, both short-term and long-term, and how can we achieve them? At the moment, there are three of us actively taking part in the project, so we obviously have to plan accordingly. We've started small, but have tried to implement everything (materials, strategy, approach) in a way that can be useful and give guidelines and ideas long into future. Here are some notes from our process, written hoping they can provide assistance and help to others working in participatory projects elsewhere.
 
The Website & Strategy
 
We knew we had to make a website, flyers and a presentation but we needed a coherent strategy. To who is our message and materials speaking to, and what is our message? What should our website and publications contain or look like? These are some of the questions that have to be aswered in a focused manner when collecting materials for a website, with the aim of convincing the reader in a quick read-through. Hopefully enough so, that they see the worth of following our writing (blog), attending our presentation, reading some of the works related to parecon published in finnish (which means the books Parecon – Life After Capitalism and The ABCs of Political Economy), or contacting us directly.
 
In Finland activists and the left can easily be pushed in to the marginals, even when they are bringing forth sensible, well-thought agendas with sound arguments. The effect may not be as strong today as it was ten years ago, 1970's imagery and Soviet style vocabulary combined with traditional left-wing colors and symbols are not very welcoming by nature in Finland. [2] They bring some nostalgia to a small group of "ultraleftists", but it's not really a great starting point. There is also a sector of groups, that are usually doing environmental work, which share a youthful image of – for the lack of better description – "having fun together". They do important things, they have reasonable amount of resources but there is something exclusive in the way they present themselves. One possible problem with this "cheerful" approach is how it struggles to combine the awareness of the most serious, most horrific conditions of human suffering (such as created by global warming, poverty in third world countries or suffering of the majority under capitalism everywhere) with the underlinedly happy, youthful and also exclusive imaginery and attitude. [3] It's difficult to pin down, but many "regular folks" feel that it is not for them. And instead of trying to blame others for being passive, we should try to make everything possible to welcome everyone aboard. 
 
We took some shortcuts with the website. To get an impressive and substantive website up and running in a decent time frame, we couldn't start from scratch. Two of us had some rudimentary coding experience, but weren't really fluent in HTML. Thus, we chose WordPress to our platform of choice, because of the scalability and huge availability of themes and support online. We looked at free themes but weren't convinced, so we bought a set of themes online with flexible licenses. We chose a clear and attractive theme with support for everything necessary – dropdown menus, subtle animations, easy customization etc. Somewhat ironically, the theme was called The Corporation. [4] 
 
Even with the theme already designed and coded, customizations took a lot of time and energy. When you are using someone else's design, it takes time to fit all the substance to a site in a meaningful way. Many feel it's not even possible, but we think Parecon Finland's site turned out pretty good. It's accessible because of the big buttons and conservative use of colors, content is divided logically and some highlights are featured in the homepage with some graphics. We tried to get a US server provider in order to save a little money but that was a mistake. In Finland every .fi domain goes through Communications Regulatory Authority, [5] and the whole domain registration process is much easier with Finnish service providers. We took a more expensive server solution, and everything has gone quite smoothely on the server side.
 
Colors & Typography
 
When we began to design the look of Parecon Finland, we decided from the beginning that we had to abandon some colors. Red and black or red and yellow together, for instance, are a cause of alarm for many people, and we didn't feel like we were letting go of something necessary for our aims so we decided to look for something different. Green is now used almost everywhere because of the "environmental responsibility" trend in the Finnish advertising scene, so green was out, and so on. We finally settled on a classic look of black and white, and on the website it's accompanied with some color elements, to brighten it up a bit. Black and white designs are also practical because at first our printing possibilities are limited to photocopiers and laser printers in the University of Helsinki. If the layout and design are intended originally as black and white, we can avoid some of the amateurishness that usually plagues fliers and small publications, and still make them cheap.
 
We applied the same kind of reasoning to typography. We knew we wanted to use the font Helvetica because in Finland it easily relates to widely respected and trusted symbols of public services like hospital signs, bus stops and road signs. The font is used practically everywhere, it's considered "neutral" and it's great for body text, because of it's easy readibility, even in small sizes. We also wanted our site and publications to look reliable and authoritative, so we chose to use a classic serif-font [6] Georgia in our headlines. [7]
 
Right now we are putting finishing touches to our website, having collected feedback and comments from many friends and colleagues that have improved many aspects of the site as well as it's contents. Tehnically we also need to make sure there aren’t any surprising glitches by testing the site thoroughly and finish all the introductory text content presenting participatory economics in finnish and with "localized" examples and language. The ideas and message of participatory economics is unorthodox and unknown in Finland, and we have to make sure that the main entrance to parecon in Finland feels as trustworthy and sharp as possible, and paves the way for future success.
 
Some screenshots of a few aspects of our site below, as ideas for others.

 

 

Notes
 
[1] Parecon Finland's background can be read in an article "Parecon´s first steps in Finland". http://www.zcomm.org/parecons-first-steps-in-finland-by-antti-jauhiainen
[2] Some examples can be seen here. http://www.attac.fi/, http://skp.fi/
[3] This contradiction is actually more profound than might initially seem. German psychologist Erich Fromm has a good, thorough and argumentative examination of it's effects and consequences on individuals in the modern society in his book "The Sane Society".
[5] Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority. http://www.ficora.fi/en/etusivu.html
[6] Serifs are details on the ends of some of the strokes that make up letters and symbols.
[7] Both fonts work pretty well on screen and in print, and are included by default on most operating systems. Backup fonts are still needed, for example Arial, which is practically identical to Helvetica, and used widely in the Internet. 

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