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They Rule

I first came across the group of artists and designers called Futurefarmers at a conference at the University of Montreal in 2001. They were there to talk about the development of one of their projects called They Rule. A blend of internet software wizardry and journalistic enquiry that allowed users to explore who sat on the board of directors of the US’s leading 100 companies and to take a “glimpse of some of the relationships of the US ruling class”.

The Apple company on They Rule

The They Rule website provides an interface for users to select companies across the spectrum of American industries, from entertainment to food, farming to oil; see who sits on the board of governors and from there from there find out all about them by accessing information already existing in the public realm, for example who they donated their money to.
Rather than just being a glorified search engine this interface encourages you to make connections between corporate organisations and the network of individuals behind them. It’s a question of joining the dots and in the process revealing some of the vested interests, values and inter-relationships. Click on the board to reveal the board members and if one of the members is larger than the others then they will sit on more than one corporate board. If they are huge, they are involved with several companies. Users undertake their own lines of enquiry and can save these ‘maps’ for others to view. The beauty of the site is the way in which they have blended a simple and enjoyable interface with a commitment to enquiry.
Ten years on and They Rule is still going strong; 100 companies have recently been replaced by 1000, and the research now links into both Wikipedia and LittleSis, an American database of who-knows-who at the heights of business and government. In this age of surveillance it is good to know that there’s a way to keep an eye on some of the most powerful institutions and individuals on the planet and in such an engaging and playful way.

Posted by author: Christian Lloyd
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6 thoughts on “They Rule

  • While this is interesting from a political and social viewpoint, I am curious to know in what way this project is seen in the context of the art community. OK, visual computer interface design may have a foothold in the artistic world, but the overwhelming effort behind this system must be based round the use of HTML coded web technology and it’s various interfaces to data and other IT systems.
    Surely the visual aspect is minimal and I just wonder if there is much value in relation to topics covered by OCA?

    • Representation of information in a graphical format. It’s not all photographs and oil paint. This is very interesting from a graphic design viewpoint…

    • One of the reasons I find They Rule fascinating and wanted to share it with the rest of the OCA community is the design thinking embedded in this project. It brings together design problem solving through how the information has been organised and represented; design and activism through it’s positioning of political ideas, information and the open inquiry embedded in the act of exploring it; and elements of design and gaming to entice you in and be creative within the system.
      The sparing use of illustration and graphic design belies it’s well thought through functionality.

      • Fascinating post Christian. My experience, teaching on a variety of design and design related courses over the years is that people first coming to the courses imagine that design is all about visual attributes and nothing else. It is only when they realise the importance of the problem solving, information organising, open inquiry etc. aspects of all design disciplines that they begin to make progress. This makes it so relevant to OCA students.

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