The idea that “actions speak louder than words” suggests that talk is cheap. It implies that the conveying of intentions and thoughts through words does not suffice in convincing the other party of what we are attempting to portray. While in social settings, there is strong reason for believing that actions speak louder than words, talk is not always cheap. In fact, in the realm of design, bypassing the processes of using words to navigate through expectations and discussions is imperative. Often, we rush to produce the end product as a gesture of our intentions without giving pause to converse and discuss. We imagine that the culmination of our desires as designers in the “action” of designing would weigh more than words. To buy into the idea that there is less value in words than in the final product would ultimately be erroneous. This is succinctly curated through Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck’s documentary named “Fatal Assistance”, who critiqued the situation surrounding foreign aid offered to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. The film portrayed the detachment in the use of funds on infrastructure, without sensitively considering the needs of the environmental refugees. Dialogues with the refugees were absent, and it was evident that in a bid to take action post disaster, resources that could otherwise provide necessary and practical aid were diverted.
In a world where we are forced to navigate through countless situations, we carry with us the need to appeal to each other, and to attempt to communicate our intentions. However, to build our interactions based on the thought that, “Actions speak louder than words” is narrow minded. Homo sapiens have developed in a much more sophisticated manner compared to our counterparts, or the other species that coexist with us today. Our interactions with each other and the evident ability to make up stories and imagine things is built upon the one tool that we uniquely have - our language. In that, it is not simply vocalisation or mimicking of sounds that conveys warnings or desires that one may have. Rather, our human minds and social systems have developed a highly robust vocabulary of expressions to describe situations that goes beyond our primal needs. We manage to rely on a finite library of words to communicate a whole myriad of stories and information, shaping the ways we interact with each other and to cope with situations in our everyday life, as well as on a larger scale such as navigating through diplomatic situations. The ability to communicate on this level allows us to meet an entirely new stranger and to decently converse with each other, sharing topics of interests or gossip - subject matter requiring a diverse use of language. The sophistication of human communication is highly unique to the human species, and distinguish us from other organisms.
In 1977, the Voyager Golden Records was sent out by NASA into space, which included selected sounds and images to reflect what the life on earth was like. Apart from everyday sounds, greetings in 55 different languages were also included. It appears that communication in the form of words form the bedrock of our social relations. Yet, the thought that “actions speak louder than words” implies our tendency to be impulsive in our actions, and reveals our underlying disregard for dialogue and conversation.
We assume that acting upon something would serve as a more powerful tool than conversing in order to prove our intentions. We arrogantly believe that the product of our actions is a clear indication of what we want to convey, and we unreasonably prescribe that same expectation unto the receiver. We presume that the other party would understand our intent, without first consulting their beliefs and practices. Aggression that manifests as a show of anger and impulse, physical affection representing one’s love for another, the buying of a gift for someone who we think would need it; these, to name a few, are ways in which we express through action, our beliefs to someone else (and similarly impose our beliefs on them). We rush into arriving at a solution without taking the time and patience to converse and to understand each other. My scepticism on actions being louder than words is not to be misunderstood. To put it across bluntly, to discuss and debate without acting upon the solution is not a viable option either. Rather, it is the notion that we are more capable of arriving at a conclusion without understanding each other that is so sinister about that idiom. What makes us so quickly believe that there is a straightforward manifestation of sending a message to someone?
The idea that actions speak louder than words reveals the desire for showmanship, a demonstration of our intentions that go beyond words. In the field of design, the flaw in that idea is that we attempt to show and actuate something without first processing it. There is virtue in words - the processing of ideas through conversing with others, and taking the time and effort to discuss can result in a refined outcome. Oftentimes, our actions are a culmination of our emotions and impulses with which little thought is given, and doing that in design is problematic in that we act without thinking. In effect, it could cause more harm rather than resolving the issues that design was meant to have solved.
As designers, we come to believe that the product of our thoughts are the end in itself. Deadlines and briefs fuel us to strive for the completion of something that is a culmination of meeting the expectations of clients, tutors, as well as the need to express ourselves. But to arrive at that work without the conversations and dialogues with people would be meaningless. Those are the processes that empower us to create something as a culmination of the outcomes of such conversations. In the case of the Haitian earthquake crisis in 2010, if we were to look at an issue of homelessness and rush into designing houses in our bid to show concern about the situation, it is unlikely that it would do much help at all as we assume the kinds of needs and outcomes that are required to resolve the issue. With regards to creating a product or a final piece of work, acting without dialogues and conversations results in an incomplete narrative, a design and experience that is not fully resolved. Though the idiom “actions speak louder than words” extends a call to act upon the intentions and beliefs that one might have, misunderstood, however, it can have severe detrimental effects.
Talk is not cheap, certainly not for designers. The participation of stakeholders in conversation contributes heavily to the outcome of a project which sometimes even has an extensive impact of society, and actions under the influence of impulses could manifest from wrong judgments and irrational behaviour. Should we so narrow-mindedly believe that our actions as designers are more valuable than words, then I fear we may be left with designs that serves no one.