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Ethics? Hahaha

A small excerpt from Milton Glasers’ presentation at the 2002 AIGA’s VOICE conference

A butcher was opening his market one morning and as he did a rabbit popped his head through the door. The butcher was surprised when the rabbit inquired �Got any cabbage?’ The butcher said �This is a meat market — we sell meat, not vegetables.’ The rabbit hopped off. The next day the butcher is opening the shop and sure enough the rabbit pops his head round and says �You got any cabbage?’ The butcher now irritated says �Listen you little rodent I told you yesterday we sell meat, we do not sell vegetables and the next time you come here I am going to grab you by the throat and nail those floppy ears to the floor.’ The rabbit disappeared hastily and nothing happened for a week. Then one morning the rabbit popped his head around the corner and said �Got any nails?’ The butcher said �No.’ The rabbit said �Ok. Got any cabbage?’

The rabbit joke is relevant because it occurred to me that looking for a cabbage in a butcher’s shop might be like looking for ethics in the design field. It may not be the most obvious place to find either.

I didn’t get the rabbit joke, but his conclusion makes it so true. If you have the time, download this PDF and read it, it is worth the time. It’s just a nice reflection on the work we do everyday and the importance of enjoying it and being honest to your clients, your client’s clients and yourself.

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PUBLISHED ON Sep.12.2002 BY Armin
Todd’s comment is:

Is there some reason to believe that a poverty of ethics is restricted to the design field? It seems restricted to any enveavor conducted by humans. There will always be a temptation to take short-cuts to get ahead. There will always a group, sometimes large, sometime small, that is willing to make short term gain at the expense of the community.

On Sep.12.2002 at 09:36 AM
Armin’s comment is:

No, there is no reason to believe that. I don't believe that, but I really couldn't care much about the ethics of accountants or burger-flippers. Since we are on a design forum it's fitting to talk about ethics in design. And I think the comments made by Glaser apply to any and all professions alike.

In the designers case, ethics to me, are important when you are designing a package for, let's say refrigerated italian food, and you know it tastes like crap, but you have the ability to make it appetizing and enticing to the buyer. Is this right? yes, no, maybe. I don't know. There are a alot of people you need to keep happy, how you go about it is your decision and the ethics you apply to your every day job.

On Sep.12.2002 at 09:50 AM
Tom Dolan’s comment is:

I want ethics in my burger flippers. :)

On Sep.12.2002 at 10:13 AM
Todd’s comment is:

I get the rabbit joke, I just didn't see what it applied specifically to design. Any-hoo.

Your example of what company to work for is not necessarily a ethical dilemma for designers in particular. We all have to make decisions about how far "down stream" we want to consider the consequences of out actions and our complicity with shakey moral endeavors. Personally, I have refused to work on projects for a major tobacco company, though that dilemma is a little more clear cut. Oddly, others at my firm did not seem to have a problem working out how to sell more cigarettes in underregulated Eastern European countries. Your example is more finely tuned, how to work for a company that you really don't believe in. And just how much do you have to "not believe" before you feel forced to throw in the towel?

A more designer-specific example has to do with the extent to which your mentors and design influences show up in your own work. There are subtle consequences of being too heavily identified with others, not so subtle when you are blatently ripping someone off. But where are the lines between influence, homage and theft?

On Sep.12.2002 at 11:57 AM
Armin’s comment is:

But where are the lines between influence, homage and theft?

Ooooh Boy!

There are times when it's obvious people are ripping somebody else's style. Best example is all the David Carson impersonators back in the '90s, nowadays it's either the Designer's Republic or the Attik's work that seems to be copied as much as possible.

There are times where you can sense an influence in somebody's work, but it's not a replica, instead you can see the designer's own interpretation of whoever (rand, carson, TDR).

In a perfect world everybody should have, and develop, their own style without having to resort to design annuals to copy the reigning best of show.

On Sep.12.2002 at 12:21 PM
Todd’s comment is:

Now we're on to something!

It seems you're suggesting that the line is dependent on the designer's intentions, which are difficult, if not outright impossible, to glean from the work itself. Yes, there are things you can say are obvious ripoffs, but can we consider the possibility that ripping off other's work (as long as you do the real work of stealing and not just copy/pasting) is a learning process and someone who does that is likely to eventually learn something about the design they steal, even to the point that they eventually evolve the stolen work into something of their own? Isn't this the process that was standard practice in the European arts pre-20th C.? Apprentices would literally copy the work of the master until they got a handle on the technique? I guess where the ethics come in is when you call a work like that your own or take pains to point out the process from which it was derived.

On Sep.12.2002 at 12:57 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Todd, I gotta do some actual work right now, even though I would love to do this (speak up) for a living. So I'll get back to you on this in a bit.

On Sep.12.2002 at 01:09 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>someone who does that is likely to eventually learn something about the design they steal, even to the point that they eventually evolve the stolen work into something of their own?

Ideally that would be the case. In some instances a lot of designers can get comfortable with the results they get, beacuse somebody else already made those solutions work for other clients. In other cases, they manage to understand that they have to move on and grow out of the imitating.

Personally, when I was at school I soooo wanted to design like Carson I embarassed myself, not that anybody noticed, because my class was a bunch of wannabe designers (who really didn't even wanted to be designers, they just saw Design as a bunch of easy drawing classes to get a degree). I also tried to copy a lot of things from annuals and books. But here is the kicker, I wasn't that good at imitating these people that eventually I developed a style of my own while trying to imitate and copy other designs.

It's a weird thing. And there is no objective way of saying "this is original" or "this is plagiarism" BUT you can always feel it in your gut when somebody is imitating and stealing.

On Sep.12.2002 at 02:54 PM
Todd’s comment is:

Something I ran across through the train of thought kicked off by Armin's awards entry:

From Bruce Mau's Manifesto:

35 Imitate. Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You’ll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable. We have only to look to Richard Hamilton and his version of Marcel Duchamp’s large glass to see how rich, discredited, and underused imitation is as a technique.

On Sep.16.2002 at 09:50 AM