Monday, 27 October 2014

So is responsible design also good design ?

'Shouldn't all graphic design be responsible ? Not just protest, advocacy, cautionary, or information design- all graphic communication aimed at the public should be conscientious, and, therefore, good. 
Yet not all aesthetically commendable design conveys worthy messages or promotes harmless products.

For instance... Cigarette packet generally come in a delightfully coloured box, designed for lurking youngsters to buy cigarettes, while the graphics for the antismoking campaign Truth, aimed at ending teenage tobacco abuse, are not always well designed.' 

- Past Principles: A History of Good, Ethical Graphic Design, Steven Heller (section within Conscientious Objectives: Designing for an Ethical Message, written by John Cranmer and Yolanda Zappaterra. 2003) 

As this book was published over ten years ago I feel that the some elements of the above statement have changed, but I feel in principle that it is still true. Cigarette packaging now is plain packaged in some countries, and in the UK ...

(Old Packaging)

(New Packaging)

Plain cigarette packaging, also known as generic, standardised or homogeneous packaging, refers to packaging that requires the removal of all branding (colours, imagery, corporate logos and trademarks), permitting manufacturers to print only the brand name in a mandated size, font and place on the pack, in addition to the health warnings and any other legally mandated information such as toxic constituents and tax-paid stamps. The appearance of all tobacco packs is standardised, including the colour of the pack.

Meaning that the design of cigarettes is now supposed to be off putting as well as this supermarkets in the UK have also been banned from displaying cigarettes

and so the above statement is dated, but it has an underlying principle, that the harmful products or bad ideas are sometimes a lot more persuasive, effective and 'good' in design terms in comparison to there anti works. 

However I do feel that campaigns against things like this are increasingly becoming equal in their design.

for instance I saw this recently...

A too young to drink campaign, against women drinking when pregnant, created by the Italian studio Catalogodiseno. I think that the imagery is striking and effective, the imagery is very realistic and I think it has been done extremely well, its not over the top, but it is shocking to see. The designers have done really well and not just its aesthetics but the concept is innovative.

'Yet some believe that veneer is only a small part of the design equation. Milton Glaser declares "Good design is good citizenship," which is probably the most perceptive definition of responsible design I've heard. Good citizenship is the inalienable duty of participants in the social contract to take responsibility for their actions- which means design that does not adhere to the standard of good citizenship is irresponsible.' 

I feel that this view is valid, Milton Glaser has clearly connected the world of design to the real world, and it is obvious that he believes that design does have an effect upon society and that responsible design, is good. But this does not explain the good aesthetics= good design for 'bad' causes/ solutions.

'Starting with the minor misdemeanours and building to major indiscretions, the following 12 prohibitions suggest the lines he believes designers should not cross.

  1. Designing a package to look bigger on the shelf.
  2. Doing an ad for a slow, boring film to make it seem like a light-hearted comedy.
  3. Designing a crest for a new vineyard that suggests that it has been in business for a long time.
  4. Designing a jacket for a book whose content you personally find repellent.
  5. Designing a medal using steel from the World Trade Center to be sold as a profit-making souvenir of 9/11.
  6. Designing an advertising campaign for a company with a history of known discrimination in minority hiring.
  7. Designing a package for children whose contents you know are low in nutritional value and high in sugar content.
  8. Designing a line a line of t-shirts for a manufacturer that employs child labor.
  9. Designing a promotion for a diet product that you know does not work.
  10. Designing an ad for a political campaign whose policies you belie would be harmful to the general public.
  11. Designing a brochure for an SUV which has a tendency to overturn in emergency conditions, and is known to have killed over 100 people.
  12. Designing an ad for a product whose frequent use could result in the user's death.'
I think that the list has some valuable points, but it is also slightly blurry to me, I can see where he is coming from but I do not think as the designer you would always know the policies of the companies, and in fact it is them that should address their policies, but if you are fully in the know then it would be irresponsible to work for a company ' that employs child labor.' As well as this the more designers that turned down these sort of works would mean the company would hopefully not be as well promoted and would perhaps change their own practice. 

As well as this the list does not cover the huge spectrum of responsible choices designers may be faced with as well as this it doesn't address personal circumstance. 

Five Questions about Design Ethics: Milton Glaser

Design Less Better recently had the opportunity to talk to one of our favorite designers, Milton Glaser, about our favorite topic, design ethics. We are very proud to bring you this interview.                                               


DLB: We all know about your socially conscious design work: the war buttons, Light Up the Sky, We Are All African, and of course the Design of Dissent anthology. Aside from making work with explicitly ethical messaging, how do you express your values in your day-to-day design practice?

Milton Glaser (1/3)
MG: I don’t think my ethics in ordinary design practice are different than anybody else’s. Fundamentally, I try to do no harm, not to lie, and to have the same sense of responsibility to the community that any good citizen would have. My idea is that if you have a definition of good citizenship, you behave within that definition. I don’t think it’s terribly complex.
DLB: Could you expand on what’s involved in being a good citizen?
MG: Well, it’s a long and moralistic definition, but I think everybody knows what it means. It means that you don’t deliberately go out and attempt to move people to anything that will harm them; you don’t misrepresent anything that you’re responsible for transmitting. It’s not a very complicated idea. Telling the truth is simple. But the truth is also full of ambiguity. Sometimes you don’t know the truth. Sometimes the truth can produce pain and difficulty.
But I think the fundamental thing in the design field is not to urge people to buy something or to move toward something that would harm them. Beyond that, it gets into a long and maybe overly complex series of issues.


DLB: Let’s talk more about a specific kind of moral complexity in this field. We’ve written about Citibank’s campaign that claims that there’s more to life than the pursuit of money, Unilever’s campaign suggesting that the beauty industry is unhealthy for the self-esteem of young girls, and the many green campaigns that credit card and oil companies are now running.
In one sense, all these messages are good, ethical messages, but in another sense it’s unclear whether those companies have the moral authority to make them. What do you think about designers and marketers delivering values as a form of advertising?
"I think the fundamental thing in the design field is not to urge people to buy something or to move toward something that would harm them."
MG: We know the story. If a company uses that as a marketing ploy, you still have to look at the other 99% of their activity. The idea of gratuitously saying that there’s more to life than money and then spending every other moment of your time making people think only of money is a little bit, to say the least, hypocritical.
This morning, I read that there was ademonstration at a gallery in London opposing BP’s activity. And BP said that, despite this, they were not going to withdraw their funding from supporting the arts. They give a million and a half dollars to the arts each year. A million and a half dollars. That’s the cost of a lunch at BP! So that kind of cynical bullshit is enough to make you gag. You know that, in this case, giving to the arts is totally for public relations. It has nothing to do with commitment to the arts, or with BP considering the arts to be significant. If you are BP, and you think that the arts are significant, you’d give them a billion dollars for god’s sake. A million and a half dollars a year. C’mon!


DLB: Truth-telling and hypocrisy are obviously important to you. In fact, famously, your Road to Hell test gives designers a way to establish their level of discomfort with bending the truth. It helps designers figure out what they’re willing to do for a job. On that note, can you tell us about a time when you turned down or gave up a job for ethical reasons?

MG: All moral questions are sensitive to the context in which they arise. I can’t recall a specific idea I gave up, but I will say that it is a single overriding element in my life to do my best to avoid lying to people, misrepresenting things to people, or doing things that I think would have bad consequences. But as you know it is not easy to determine the consequences of any act. As the Buddhists say, “good yields bad, bad yields good”.
It is not a simplistic series of catchphrases that we want to be concerned with. You have to take people’s intentions into account. Experience often shows that things that you think will be helpful to someone turn out to be harmful to them, and things you think will injure them turn out to strengthen them. So we cannot diminish the complexity of these issues nor do we want to make it simplistic. But I do know that I feel better when I benefit the people I communicate with and I’m deeply embarrassed and feel awkward and inauthentic when the work I do ends up hurting people in any way.
I can’t talk about individual cases of course, although I’m constantly turning down work that I think is harmful. But so much is harmful that it’s easy to leave yourself without a basis for your economic life, and that, of course, is the conflict that everybody faces. Everything is a matter of degrees and not absolutes. I will say that as a general principle, I attempt to be truthful and not do harm. How that works on individual cases is very often a complex story.


DLB: In several of your AIGA talks, you have been a very staunch advocate of the importance of ethical thinking for designers. But, outside of a few isolated instances, there does not seem to be a great deal of professional concern about this issue. 
Do you find that designers seem resistant to talking about ethics, and if so, why do you think that is?
MG: Well, I think it’s difficult to talk about ethics. In part, it’s difficult because designers are very often pressed into situations where ethical considerations are in conflict with financial needs. If you’re earning $300,000 a year and you’ve got two kids in school, leaving BP would be a very difficult decision. And everybody in life — except for saints and maybe those who are more obsessive than anyone I know — has to compromise in order to balance the elements of their life, and has to arrive at conclusions which don’t hurt them too much ethically, financially, personally and so on.
"It’s very difficult to [tell] someone else to be more virtuous, to be better or more ethical or as ethical as you are. I hate that crap."
It’s very difficult to put yourself in a position where you’re telling someone else to be more virtuous, to be better or more ethical or as ethical as you are. I hate that crap. I hate the kind of ethical baloney that people talk about in their presentation, and then it turns out that they don’t live their life that way. And it’s not something you want to check on in others. All I can say is that you have to determine in your life when you’re willing to lie and what you’re willing to lie for. It is not a question of absolute decisions. Every decision is relative to everything else that is in your life at the time.
But one of the terrible dangers of ethical discussions is that they soon shift to posing and then it’s like listening to politicians on television. Where does all that preening and posing and posturing come from? The idea of appearing ethical seems to be something that is attractive to people but then when you penetrate the appearance and get to the actual reality of what’s going on, it turns out frequently to be something very different. So I hate to put myself in the position, among others, of saying “I’m an ethical person you should be more like me” because I recognize that everyone is compromised in their lives.


DLB: One last question about a specific AIGA talk, 10 Things I Have Learned. In that talk you mentioned that the AIGA ethics code only covers business ethics. It doesn’t talk about the ethical responsibility that designers have to the public. You also pointed out that professional licenses like those that doctors have are meant to protect the public from professionals. Do you think it makes sense for designers to be licensed? If so, why aren’t they? If not, why shouldn’t they be?

Milton Glaser (3/3)
MG: I don’t think you can do it. I don’t think there is a way you could practically, realistically license anybody in the design field. The nature of the design field, the nature of the exchange of goods in it, the nature of capitalism, and the nature of money all militate against arriving at a kind of statement of purpose that says you’re not going to be uniformly motivated by money. The practical difficulties are just insurmountable.
Finally, I might note that the AIGA statement is 10 years old. The AIGA has changed its stated position and become increasingly conscious of its responsibility to the public. So, while that was true 10 years ago, I don’t think it’s true any longer. They have been explicit about the fact that a designer’s responsibility is not only to the client and professional associates but also to the public. That realization was an important one and I think it is in practice now.
DLB: Thank you very much for your time.
MG: My pleasure.

'it’s difficult because designers are very often pressed into situations where ethical considerations are in conflict with financial needs.'- answers my earlier thoughts on personal circumstance,

'The nature of the design field, the nature of the exchange of goods in it, the nature of capitalism, and the nature of money all militate against arriving at a kind of statement of purpose that says you’re not going to be uniformly motivated by money. The practical difficulties are just insurmountable.' States the nature of subjectivity within this subject, the matter is full of issues, and things that effect it, it is also full of different degrees of moral/ ethical choices designers may face, it is a vast topic.

Aesthetics and happiness
First published in Eye no. 63 vol. 16 2007

For many designers the property of goodness lies primarily in aesthetics. When a piece of work is deemed ‘good’, really what we mean is either that it is to our taste or that we think it has merit for expressing the zeitgeist or being ground-breaking in some way.
However, if we consider aesthetics more deeply, it relates directly to ‘goodness’ in an ethical sense. Is our work good if it engenders happiness, for example – if it adds to someone’s quality of life by making the world a more delightful or pleasurable place? This argument runs contrary to the belief that ethical work is necessarily less visually engaging, the result of a misconception that design is a luxury add-on associated primarily with wealth. Perhaps this belies the notion that being an ethical designer requires a self-sacrificial subjugation of artistic drive, with a resulting dissatisfaction and unhappiness?
We don’t need to have experienced something to imagine what we would feel if we were in a similar situation to someone else. Almost all world religions and secular belief systems agree on one principle: the ‘golden rule’, or ethic of reciprocity, that says: ‘treat others as you would wish to be treated’. What this prescribes is consistency between our desires for ourselves and for others. Applying this rule within design might mean we are more polite, take plagiarism more seriously, argue for environmentally friendly print techniques or advocate inclusive design. But this is not as simple as it seems. Take the last example: most designers fear that in order to achieve access for all they will have to adhere to creatively restrictive guidelines. So accessible design could result in exclusion of a different kind – aesthetic refinement. Could it be argued then that goodness does not lie in the design outcome alone but that the intention of the designer has some bearing as well?
Our ethos is expressed both professionally and personally but consistency between the two is sometimes hard. In accepting a commission we agree to do a job to the best of our abilities, on time and within budget. In exchange, we have the right to be paid as agreed and not to be hindered in our job. How then do we justify marking up print and not telling the client, or saying yes to a deadline we know to be unachievable – lying in other words? Easy – because clients think nothing of pulling a job at the last minute, are always late themselves and, despite the fundamentally neutral nature of the exchange of money for services, abuse financial power all the time. Is the problem that the market decides all? Free pitching, for example, is unethical, in that clients are being given unprotected design ideas for free, but while ours is a buyer’s market it will continue. The market will not determine best practice, so would some kind of otherwise determined code perhaps be useful?
Having embarked on this investigation I find that a consensus is emerging. Grayling argues that ‘A code that says “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” is inflexible and fits awkwardly with real life, which is complex and protean. Therefore to devise an ethical code for designers, one would do better to say: here are examples of what a responsible and well intentioned designer might be like; go and do likewise’. Implicit in this is a belief that goes far beyond the immediate realms of design: that it is possible to change many things for the better.
The value of considering ethics in any activity lies partly in being forced to question the fundamental nature of things. For designers, the eye may be the window of the soul – but one that is looking out rather than in.
See also Lucienne’s talk for Eye Forum no. 1, ‘Burning Issues’, held at the RSA, London, 23 Sept 2006 and published in
Quotations below adapted from Good: An Introduction to Ethics in Graphic Design. (AVA Publishing, 2006) by Lucienne Roberts.
A. C. Grayling . . . on who to work for
'Even if you don’t personally agree with your client’s message, if the message is a legitimate one, do you take a stand based on your own personal morality or do you act as a professional and continue to provide a service? Professional interests and obligations are perfectly legitimate, and the value of free speech and the value of alternative points of view are so great that it must surely be up to individuals to decide what moral stance they take. It is a matter of personal conscience and degree. But all that said, it remains the case that if something were really such a serious matter for you ethically, then, even if it meant financial loss or other problems, the answer is very, very simple. If it really is a moral make-or-break issue for you, you don’t do things that you don’t agree with.'
Richard Holloway . . . on tolerance
'I know you can take this too far, in that you can become so understanding that you become immobilised, but I hate the way liberals are now dismissed as floppy, spineless people. The evolution of liberal democracy was based on profound ethical values. One basic principle is that tolerance is a fundamental and necessary value because human beings so notoriously disagree with one another [. . .] Don’t tell me liberalism is without a robust, sinewy moral code. But it also believes that on the whole we should leave people to get on with their own lives. John Stuart Mill’s great essay "On Liberty" taught us that the state has the right to stop me harming you, it doesn’t have the right to stop me harming myself.'
Jacqueline Roach . . . on having influence
'When it comes to graphic design, isn’t it better not to walk away from jobs on ethical grounds, but to ask if there’s some way that you can have influence, something you can bring? Otherwise, I would have said that the law is racist and sexist, and not had anything to do with it. Your job and mine are about influence and persuasion. A judge may well have certain views at the beginning of the case and different ones by the end. Most certainly those views are not going to be challenged if I’m not there.'
Richard Holloway . . . on capitalism
'The market is a glorious thing, but it is also a monster that devours its children. Many of us, designers included, have to admit to being prostitutes in that sense – selling a talent on behalf of this great monster, the most terrifyingly powerful thing on the globe [. . .] There’s nothing wrong with making money, and there’s nothing wrong with exploiting your talent, but I think you probably need a philosophy that says in addition to that: I’m a citizen of the world; I want the world to be as good a place for me and my children and my grandchildren as it can be; so I can’t simply be the hand that draws or the eye behind the lens; I also need to be committed and engaged in other areas.'
Delyth Morgan . . . on success
'I believe that we are better served by being part of a community and helping each other, than as individuals fighting for our own turf. I was motivated by the idea of us holding hands together and trying to create a better world together. I used to commission graphic design and so obviously I’m aware of how insecure the self-employed designer feels. I think it is a very wise person who understands how unimportant they are in the grand scheme of things and can rise above their immediate feelings of vulnerability and fragility. The important thing is to ask: ‘What am I really trying to do? What are my measures of success?’ For a designer there are perhaps sometimes incompatible desires, like wanting to make a difference in the world and be rated from a pure design perspective among your peers.'
A. C. Grayling on . . . self and aesthetics
'I’ve always thought that if you want to live a good life, and to do good in the world, you’ve got to be good to yourself. You have a responsibility to be a good steward of your own gifts, and you’ve got to take care of yourself in order to be a more flourishing, effective person [. . .]
'If one sought to be altruistic at the expense of one’s own interest all the time, the risk is that it would eventually undermine even one’s ability to be good to others. Ethics is an inclusive notion. It’s about the whole quality of life. The aesthetic becomes really vital to that because to live in a social and political setting which is pleasing, enticing and attractive, and which is full of interest, detail, colour and movement increases the quality of life [. . .] Every aspect of our lives is touched constantly by considerations of the quality of our experience. So there is a deep connection between the aesthetic and the ethical.'
Richard Holloway . . . on creative value
'There is a current philosophical debate in the arts community about the difference between an instrumental and an intrinsic good. An instrumental good is something that’s good for something else, whereas an intrinsic good is something that’s good in itself. The argument around fine art is that its value lies in its being produced for its own sake not for social regeneration or social renewal – but in fact it has always been both, it has never been just one. Good art is also good for other things. So good design will please your client, it will maybe help a product sell better, but it also improves life for everyone because it can become something that’s lovely in its own right.'

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