Theo Deutinger is an optimist, though it’d be easy to assume otherwise. The multi-hyphenate designer, who runs a Vienna-based studio for architecture, illustration, and data design, recently released a new book called Handbook of Tyranny, and it’s an illustrated guide to the world’s most depressing problems.
Ever wonder how many animals get killed per second in the name of hotdogs and hamburgers? Duetinger’s got you covered. Or which country has the smallest prison cells? He knows that, too. Over the course of five years, Deutinger gathered startling statistics on a range of topics including refugee populations, defensive architecture, and border walls. For Handbook of Tyranny, he turned those data points into stark visualizations that leave very little to the imagination.
Deutinger has worked in architecture and illustration for more than a decade, and he’s no stranger to the immediate impact design, in its various forms, can have on the world. He believes there’s a common misconception, though. Designers tend to be idealistic—their education holding them to an unspoken hippocratic oath that their work is meant for the advancement of humankind, not the destruction. The reality, of course, is much more complicated than that. Design isn’t always altruistic. “I wanted to show how design could actually be used against us,” he says.
In Handbook of Tyranny, Deutinger exposes the seen and unseen forces that have lead to a culture of distrust and abuse. Each chapter focuses on a new area of injustice—walls and fences, terrorist groups, crowd control design, prisons—that Deutinger is able to unpack and simplify through his drawings.
Some of his illustrations are straightforward infographics showing the scale of problems like the number of terrorist groups or how many countries have a closed-visa process. Others zoom deeper into a topic with detailed diagrams that show readers the layout of a slaughterhouse floor and a taxonomy of architectural tricks cities employ to combat protesters.
The drawings themselves are no-nonsense and dutifully rendered. They almost look to be neutral, though Deutinger’s intentions are clearly anything but. Deutinger says he wanted his illustrations to be devoid of beauty because beauty can help soften even the harshest injustice. For that reason, each of his infographics is rendered in black, white, grey, or red. “I think it represents the brutality behind all of this,” he says.
Though the book can, at times, feel like a lesson in abject misery, it’s clear that Deutinger doesn’t illustrate with the intention of making people feel badly. In the introduction he writes that the book is meant to serve as a pair of binoculars that can zoom in on the details people often don’t—or choose not to—notice.
The illustrations are a reminder that design decisions are often entangled in webs of cultural norms, fraught global relationships, and self-serving pursuits of power—and that those webs can lead to the litany of terribleness chronicled in Handbook of Tyranny. For Deutinger, drawing is a way to “minimize, realize, and internalize,” what’s happening in the world. It’s a way to detangle the webs and see the world clearly. The first step to fixing problems is acknowledging they exist. The next step is to do something about it.