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Under the Microscope

Good design is good citizenship. —Milton Glaser How do you define good citizenship as a practicing designer?
What does being a socially responsible designer mean to you?

Do you refuse to work for cigarette companies?

Do you hate paper not made of post-consumer waste?

Do you contribute part of your salary to a cause like cancer research?

Do you take a pay cut at a non-profit, whose values you believe in?

Do you work only on digital projects to prevent wasting paper and pulp?

What is the role of the socially responsible designer?
What constitutes being a socially responsible designer?
Give examples of socially responsible design or be honest,
and tell us you don’t have time for such ideals.

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ARCHIVE ID 1807 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Feb.01.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

I think every designer is responsible. Not as in "versus irresponsible" or as in "conscientious", but always responsible. No matter what we do, we're responsible for it.

On Feb.01.2004 at 12:45 PM
Jason’s comment is:

What do we do and how are we (or you specifically) responsible?

On Feb.01.2004 at 01:01 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Tom--

Well said.

For me, being responsible in the AIGA sense of the word or whatever, is pretty simple but I try to be as specific as humany possible.

Basically this entails treating the audience with respect, addressing them as individuals and not as demographics, psychographics, or whatever other dehumanizing profiling devices there are now. I think its important to be honest and upfront as well; none of this is particularly new or outrageous or complicated.

There are other things too, such as treating vendors with respect, paying printers and illustrators and photographers on time, billing the client fairly, all that.

Political beliefs really have nothing to do with it in my mind; I've known a small number of so-called liberal designers who think that because they lean left they're automatically "more responsible" or something. Ideologues can come from anywhere, the political spectrum is more of a circle than a line, so if you deal with political/social issues and the like, adhere to the basic principles of honesty and non-manipulative communications and you're cool.

On Feb.02.2004 at 02:56 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I've always been curious as to what being a socially responsible designer entails. Are there varying degrees? Does helping old ladies cross the street count? I don't think I necessarily worry about being socially responsible as an end in itself. I (like to think) am a good person so if I stick to what I do I will somehow be a socially responsible designer… I think, I don't know. Do I have to do pro-bono work? Or community work?

On Feb.02.2004 at 02:57 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

One possible rewording of the question is how does your work as a designer reflect your social responsibility as a human being? The answers could vary, of course, based on one's notion of social responsibility:

One aspect of social responsibility is contributing to the general good. Getting up and going to work is one valid expression of taking that responsibility. I don't think that it is far fetched to say "I contribute to the wealth of my clients; the wealth of my clients enhances the general welfare. I make money and pay taxes; my taxes support specific aspects of social welfare." (BTW, the complete dismissal of the value of wealth for society in the first First Things First manifesto is an example of why you should never trust graphic designers for economic analysis.)

Of course there are aspects of social responsibility beyond (is that the right word?) working and paying taxes. Some of them probably can't be reflected in or enhanced by graphic design. Some can.

On Feb.02.2004 at 04:19 PM
Justin Smith’s comment is:

(BTW, the complete dismissal of the value of wealth for society in the first First Things First manifesto is an example of why you should never trust graphic designers for economic analysis.)

While wealth does have a value for some of society (at the very least), that doesn't necessarily mean that the benefits out way the costs. In other words, it is arguable that contributing to an economic system that disproportionately helps the wealthy at the neglect of the poor is not beneficial to society as a whole.

For instance, it is most definitely debatable wether the the average material wealth of the United States is increasing. The average inflation-adjusted hourly wage in the United States is below what it was 35 years ago.

On Feb.02.2004 at 05:25 PM
Jason’s comment is:

The issue of wealth related to design and FTF is interesting, but there's more at the heart of this issue. What are the degrees of responsibility? Client, product, society, work, or self? Can you be responsible to all of them? Are we leaving something or somebody out of the mix? Is socially responsible just about being unselfish?

On Feb.02.2004 at 06:28 PM
Mark’s comment is:

I believe designers often underestimate their roles and their influences on social change. To be realistic here we have clients to answer to and we are hired to present their messages and create their materials but I believe every decision we make and present to our clients is an opportunity for positive change - in message and in materials. While not all our clients have a goal to save the world we can explore every opportunity to educate our clients on their choices.

Some examples of choices we have made:

We have turned down work from clients whose ethics we disagree with, we donate thousands of dollars worth of time to design for causes we agree with both local and global, we give a percentage of our profits to charity each year, we work with not-for-profits, we treat our employees and clients fairly, we have moved print publications to electronic, we use vegetable based inks, recommend paper choices (have yet to print on tree free hemp or weed yet though), waterless printing, direct to plate, and even buy our own paper directly and design our projects to fit with the least amount of waste. We support the communities we live and work in. Our entire office gets to work by biking, walking and public transit. We make our lunches and recycle our waste. Every little decision counts.

It goes beyond work - its a lifestyle choice. At home we make every effort to reduce and reuse, we support small local farms, shop at organic markets, grow some of our own food and make our home energy efficient.

I'm not saying I don't design print pieces or I don't drive a car - I make realistic decisions. These are our choices I make every day and I feel good about it.

So I don't believe there are boundaries for being a responsible designer (or individual) I believe there are choices we have to make in life and those choices define who we are.

I hope this is what you are looking for Jason.

On Feb.02.2004 at 09:36 PM
JT Helms’s comment is:

Would it help clear up confusion if we changed "socially responsible" to "socially concerned"?

I think maybe then we can discuss what kind of projects concern the designer with a betterment of society.

This is something I've been wanting to direct my career goals towards greatly, but finding the best avenue for this is difficult given the still 'young' state of the profession. I'm not sure I can consider myself a socially concerned designer if my work speaks of nothing more than "logo" or "marketing". Designers are taught to understand their profession this way because most work in Graphic Design's short history strictly lends itself towards the advantage of bussinesses.

I don't believe for a second that Graphic Designers should abandon this traditional and solid understanding of the bussiness. Marketing is the root of our history (I am speaking of history as in the last century). But teaching only this way seems to immediately close the door on many much greater opportunities that haven't even been fully researched.

Mass media certainly has a much greater power now than it did when historical giants like Saul Bass and Rand were primarily designing trademarks. In our visually driven culture I think the socially concerned designer is one that understands their power (and responsibility for that matter) to redirect cultures opinions and present truths (or not).

While understanding this I hope to do my part in finding new outlets for graphic design that contribute to greater social activity than just 'sales'. Maybe it is working with goverments or organizations to help solve a major problem...just think about what more these groups could do if they only had the understanding of communication that Graphic Designers do.

On Feb.02.2004 at 10:43 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Well said, JT. You really bring it home near the end of your comment and help redirect our discussion. And thanks to Gunnar for this clarification. . . One possible rewording of the question is how does your work as a designer reflect your social responsibility as a human being?

On Feb.02.2004 at 10:47 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Wow, Mark, your efforts are quite commendable and are far above the norm. It's great that you've taken the time to find all sorts of ways to subtly make a difference.

And I agree about making choices in life. Most people don't really stop to consider that they can make alternate choices. They just keep in step with the herd.

For my own part, I try to do the little things that I can during the course of my day. I'm not running a big successful business with the ability to make larger impacts to situations. But in my own way, I try. And I'm certainly not perfect in all ways and probably never will be. But I try to do what I can and stay aware.

I haven't yet and will not work for certain companies (e.g. military-industrial complex, etc.) I don't sell wasteful, self-indulgent solutions to clients. I recycle printer paper, cans, and bottles. I try to promote recycled paper, soy-based inks, and so forth, with my print jobs. On the home front, my wife and I give to a number of earth-friendly, liberal charities and lobbying organizations. We buy things from local small business whenever we can. And we almost exclusively eat organic and sustainably-raised foods.

And, frankly, creating my design theory and putting it into practice is a way for me to be a socially responsible designer. Because even though I really like being creative and hip and I like helping my clients improve their brands and revenues, I need my involvement with design to be more than just pimping and whoring products and services and making money. I want to try and touch larger issues and concerns. In developing and promoting my thoughts, I hope to create interest and affect change in others, even if it's to just make someone stop, think, and question.

So, maybe being a socially responsible designer means taking an active part in promoting and actualizing one's moral and social values, in whatever way or means one can reasonably do.

On Feb.02.2004 at 10:55 PM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

I like how this post follows a nice linear "AIGA" path now that my message has been censored, not that it was all that great.

Bradley hit on an important point when he mentioned that leftist politics don't have much to do with responsibility. He was just talking about basic business ethics, not recycling and drinking fair-trade coffee. True, a left-lean doesn't make you more responsible. Gunnar went further to show how a right-lean is quite responsible as well. Justin went back left. Mark is the perfect example of a "responsible" designer. Armin is also totally responsible in his ambivalence. And JT did an excellent job of clarifying this impossible topic for the politically correct, while allowing me to continue along the now-invisible line of questioning I may or may not have inappropriately started, which challenges the rhetoric of social responsibility for concealing a secret bias: the maintenance of the status quo.

Far from being, as Steven said, a call to develop your personal morality, "social responsibility" is the primary vehicle for "herd" morality, a nice piece of professional rhetoric. According to Gunnar's idea, I "should" want to work. But I don't, and that makes me irresponsible, lazy, and ignorant. "Responsibility" becomes, rather than an amoral brute fact, an instrument of power and exclusion. According to the more liberal, I "should" remain blind to the fact that, as a janitor, I know 95% of the paper offices "recycle" goes into the same dumpster with the regular trash. Whatever I "should" do usually benefits someone else and not me, because I have no say in this collective "should". I'm censored; unless of course I agree.

On Feb.03.2004 at 03:19 AM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

I think Gunnar's comments are on the mark. I have always held being a socially engaged citizen above my design work, but also as an integral part of my design work. This is a discussion that keeps coming up again and again(though I can't find the entries right now).

Personally, I don't work for things I don't believe in, it's as simple as that, and I don't use (advertising) techniques that I find reprehensible in my work, be it from the use of stock photograpohy, to idealising objects, to exploiting sexual representations or minority stereotypes.

Furthermore, I actively use my design work to express my politics and to make critiques. I know this can be seen as wearing my politics on my sleeve, but honestly, as an engaged citizen, where else am I gonna keep 'em, locked up inside my skull. I think dialogue and education are the crucial means for our society to move forward, and that can't happen if we have to bite our tongues for the sake of proffessionalism.

Anyways, not to be seen as shameless self-promotion, but check out my thesis and the conference I worked on years ago for much more related information on design and social responsibility. I'm really looking forward to carrying this discussion further...

On Feb.03.2004 at 08:49 AM
Bradley’s comment is:

If I come off as a schmuck, please forgive me--

One thing that I started paying attention to about four years ago was the gap between how someone practiced design, what they created, the messages they sent, their basic techniques, and how that same person...lived their life. Judgmental? Unrealistic? Probing?

Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

The principles that everyone has mentioned here are extraordinarily admirable; what I appreciate most is that people have their beliefs, take pride in them, but aren't forcing them upon anyone. The attention to detail is nice too.

And based on what I know of the people who come to Speak Up, they're all decent human beings who live their lives much like they design. With honesty, passion, and kindness.

Four years ago is when I started noticing disparity though--obviously I won't mention names, but I clearly remember a lecture by a designer about being "socially responsible," who then scorned anyone who disagreed with his way, at one point cheated on his wife, and did an awfully good job at talking the talk but not walking the walk. I saw it others too, who would preach certain values and then not practice them themselves; or failing that, they'd be sneaky, underhanded, and false.

This again is nothing new--hypocrisy is as old as any human trait and of bad things out there, there are probably worse. But for my money, anyone who's simply straight-up is at least somewhat responsible--there are limits, but still. Be real.

On Feb.03.2004 at 12:04 PM
James Craig’s comment is:

Nothing at work irks me more than having a project manager print out 30 pages of a project plan or bug list for every member of a meeting. I’d much rather view that information in digital form and many of these PMs will do this several times a week for minute changes... Argh. I guess I should do more to voice my opposition to that practice; it’s common around here.

I don’t typically donate my paycheck, but I have done pro-bono sites for non-profits and regularly work with a local charity group providing web accessibility training free-of-charge to designers and developers. Riding the bus to work is more of a benefit for me (reading time) than for the environment, though it’s a nice plus. Steven’s comment about recycling woes brought up a memory: I once snapped at a UT janitor for putting the recycle waste in with the regular trash, but I never followed through with campus management. I had completely forgotten about that incident until now. How much of it becomes our responsibility? If we use a recycle bin, is it to benefit us via a "warm, fuzzy" feeling, or is it to benefit the environment? Did I snap at the janitor because of the few pieces of paper he didn’t recycle or because he shattered my ignorant bliss of the reality of their recycling policy. It was probably both.

One complaint I had in design school was that the faculty wanted every project to have a social message, though they never explained how that could work in every practical project. At the time I thought it was because they lived a sheltered life under the umbrella of academia. Now I think they probably just wanted to ingrain the ideals into us so that we could execute when we had the chance. Has anyone found a way to include a social commentary in every design project? I’m not looking for an answer, because, of course, every project and designer is different. I guess I’m looking for acknowledgement that not every project warrants or can handle it, other than the obvious reduction of waste in print runs, etc. What about an all-digital web site for a mom-and-pop shop? Okay, I don’t really know where I’m going with this, but hopefully it will get someone else thinking. Please feel free to expound on my rambling ideas.

On Feb.03.2004 at 01:35 PM
nancy mazzei’s comment is:

“Are there varying degrees? Does helping old ladies cross the street count? Do I have to do pro-bono work? Or community work?”

WELL...

I think it comes a little more from the “heart” not with a list of “here’s what you can do.” To make it easy pick ONE thing to focus on last year I decided no sweat shop labor in making t-shirts..and we do many. We’ve been using americanapparel, which by the way has the best ad campaign in recent history, funny. it’s never been mentioned here. Also, I think like any “social” decision you make in your work —don’t do it to announce it, that makes it “cheap”.

On Feb.03.2004 at 04:59 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Bradley-

what I appreciate most is that people have their beliefs, take pride in them, but aren't forcing them upon anyone.

But for my money, anyone who's simply straight-up is at least somewhat responsible--there are limits, but still. Be real.

I completely agree with these statements.

This is why I readily admitted that I'm not perfect. Hell, I like wasteful 50's luxury cars and I have a client whose brand requires the frequent use of silver ink. (Granted, I'm not saying that cars should be built like that now; and indeed, I think my adoration of these metal behemoths has to do with the fact that they are so very absurdly over-indulgent, baroque, and inefficient. And the use of silver really does reinforce the high-end, high-technology orientation of my client's brand and it dramatically separates my client from her competition. Silver really has a lot of leverage for her.) Admitting irregularities and hypocracies in my actions is my way of being honest and true. Frankly, we're all hypocrits, in one way or another. It's impossible not to be. And I absolutely did not become didactic with statements about what people should be doing because then I would be forcing my values on others, as well as bringing the spotlight to my own deficiencies.

Tom-

Ya know, while I too enjoy short-circuiting things, sometimes I think you like to take the contrarian position simply to be contrarian: the great illuminator of falsehoods. I'm not saying that it's completely bad to be this way, but I have to wonder when it starts to feel like this is the only way you engage in discussion. And this tactic also can become didactic, in and of itself.

I don't think that people are "censoring" you. I think that some of us may not be responding to your line of thinking simply because it's not really the main gist of this thread, which I infer as being the actualization of one's beliefs within our professional and personal lives.

Far from being, as Steven said, a call to develop your personal morality, "social responsibility" is the primary vehicle for "herd" morality, a nice piece of professional rhetoric..."Responsibility" becomes, rather than an amoral brute fact, an instrument of power and exclusion.

This condition is only true if people within this post are saying didacticly how we all should be behaving, which, as Bradley has noted, people in this post have avoided. A herd morality can only exist if people are unthinkly following a path not of their own making. From what I've read so far, everybody seems to have thought a lot about their actions or inactions. So I'm left wondering where this herd mentality is being demonstrated.

According to the more liberal, I "should" remain blind to the fact that, as a janitor, I know 95% of the paper offices "recycle" goes into the same dumpster with the regular trash.

Where have we said that we should remain blissfuly blind to actions that counter our recycling efforts? Moreover, we can never be sure that our eco-friendly efforts are being totally seen through to their desired end. But then, are all of our actions or efforts irrelevant? Are we somehow individually responsible for the subsequent actions of others? Is the fact that the paper is put into a dumpster rather than being recycled the fault of the person putting the paper into the cube recycling bin or is it the fault of the janitorial service or the building maintainence? I think the latter.

Whatever I "should" do usually benefits someone else and not me, because I have no say in this collective "should". I'm censored; unless of course I agree.

Well, as I noted above, nobody in this thread is dictating how we should be acting. So, nobody is marginalizing you, except yourself, really.

I, for one, would like to know what your personal view of social responsibility/consciousness is, irrespective of what you perceive to be outside pressures. Hell, maybe you feel that you owe nothing to society, that you're not concerned with the larger social construct, that life is really all about self-fulfillment and intellectual enrichment. But, if you do have feelings toward society, what are they and how do you actualize them within your own actions or efforts?

Nancy

I think like any ?social? decision you make in your work ?don?t do it to announce it, that makes it ?cheap?.

I think this is what Michael Vanderbyl was saying at the AIGA conference, when he said, "Do it because it's right."

On Feb.03.2004 at 05:20 PM
jill’s comment is:

I (like to think) am a good person so if I stick to what I do I will somehow be a socially responsible designer…

I agree. Social responsibility and ethical standards reside within the individual, not one's profession. Certainly, my work-related decisions are influenced by my values, but a checklist of what any of us do (probono design, contributions to worthy causes, etc.) seems an impossible gauge of whether we are socially responsible designers.

And while I agree with Nancy's point that our acts of good citizenship as practicing designers should require no audience, I am grateful for the ideas that have been shared here, in this context.

On Feb.03.2004 at 08:15 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Hey Tom, I'm not trying to come down hard on ya. I'm just trying to point out that if you project censorship, you might very well manifest it. And that would be a shame.

On Feb.03.2004 at 08:42 PM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

sometimes I think you like to take the contrarian position simply to be contrarian: the great illuminator of falsehoods.

I try not to be a methodological contrarian. Sharon Poggenpohl made a good argument for why it might be good to do so, at least in the context of design education, but I have actually thought about the negative side to this approach in general. To be a contrarian is to be a deconstructivist, really, and that’s not totally what I’m about, although it is a part of it. I like to think that we can really make some progress, but this does involve a certain amount of ripping apart.

I was telling this to one of my teachers once. I kept saying that I wasn’t being difficult just for the sake of being difficult. He knew the word for it, “contrarian”. I mean, I don’t just do the opposite of what everyone says. That would be a foolish consistency. I have a vision that I try to stick with, but it very often conflicts with the norm.

As far as "great illuminator of falsehoods"...

I take, with Habermas, the Freudian (actually pre-Freudian) idea of a "talking cure", but Habermas makes it clear that this the critic/society relationship is not like the therapist/patient or teacher/student relationship. "in a process of enlightenment, there can only be participants." My method of critique is different because I am not trying to solve your problems, I am not trying to put myself in a superior position; I want US to solve OUR problems...and this follows through to the ideas like Paulo Freire's, who thought that the teacher shouldn't be dumping his knowledge into the student's mind, but both teacher and student should bring what they have into conversation, so a mutual process of learning can occur.

I don't think that people are "censoring" you. I think that some of us may not be responding to your line of thinking simply because it's not really the main gist of this thread, which I infer as being the actualization of one's beliefs within our professional and personal lives.

Well, my post was deleted because it was objectionable to the moderator, I’m assuming. I was attempting to find some clarification on how we clarified the topic of the post. I have been trying to actualize my “beliefs” by talking, questioning, opening up new areas for discussion. Obviously, since this is a very professional blog, some beliefs are incompatible with the constraints of this discussion, which I think is a shame. I’ll admit I’m radical; my “beliefs” have led me to avoid “working” in the traditional sense. If somebody wants to hire me to continue thinking this way, great…but in general, even in academia, hiring someone means to control their thinking or doing with money.

A lot of my teachers encouraged me to become a professor, and they told me that it would be “intellectual freedom”. But I’m not sure that this is the case. Design pedagogy is still pretty saturated with design-business professionalism.

From what I've read so far, everybody seems to have thought a lot about their actions or inactions. So I'm left wondering where this herd mentality is being demonstrated.

My point was that since in reality “responsibility” doesn’t mean anything about morality, the rhetoric of “responsibility” is an empty cover for the fact that there is no discussion about the basis for morality in design. When right-wingers, left-wingers, and people who don’t care either way are all considered “responsible”, nothing has been gained through this discussion.

Are we somehow individually responsible for the subsequent actions of others?

I think in a way we are responsible for everyone, yes.

It’s a very complicated problem; I don’t pretend to have any answers. It just seems to me that we shouldn’t cut short a more elaborate conversation just to leave everything as it is. And we shouldn't leave it to philosophers; Design is where thought is really lacking.

Well, as I noted above, nobody in this thread is dictating how we should be acting. So, nobody is marginalizing you, except yourself, really.

Power is used in discrete ways. I find myself making power plays all the time, unintentionally. I think we could shed some light on your argument here if we imagine that I was a woman, and you told me that I am marginalizing myself. It’s not that the womanizer makes the slut, but the slut makes the womanizer, or, it’s not that we’re neglecting female artists, it’s that there are no good ones, and so forth….it’s just a reversal, and although there is some truth to both arguments, we usually like to blame the Girls who Go Wild for their own stupidity, rather than a societal situation where women are covertly forced to think even of themselves as objects.

In a way, yes, I marginalize myself by not conforming. Another way of thinking is that you marginalize me by centering yourself. It’s a complicated, nasty problem, but the fact remains that moderators have power that I don’t. I trust in the force of the better argument, assuming that communication isn’t deliberately distorted. I’m open to have my views changed by people who can enlighten me.

I, for one, would like to know what your personal view of social responsibility/consciousness is, irrespective of what you perceive to be outside pressures.

Here, I’m taking a kind of Sartrean view of responsibility, mixed with some other things. I basically think that suffering is caused by an inadequate sense of responsibility. Anything that you don’t feel a sense of responsibility for is something that you can blame on others. And if you have a full sense of total responsibility, it leaves you with no basis for any traditional kind of morality.

Hell, maybe you feel that you owe nothing to society, that you're not concerned with the larger social construct, that life is really all about self-fulfillment and intellectual enrichment.

It’s hard to say what I feel. I think it’s clear that I’m concerned with the larger social construct, although I might not feel a reason to “owe” anything to society (that’s such a complex thing to get into, and maybe I'll spare you this time).

But, if you do have feelings toward society, what are they and how do you actualize them within your own actions or efforts?

Talking and writing is my action. I feel society needs to communicate better, and all I can do is try to encourage it.

On Feb.03.2004 at 09:33 PM
aizan’s comment is:

Why not work for the military industrial complex? Somebody's gotta do it, and it might as well be someone who doesn't like them so as to make dialogue, or learn from the experience so as to improve your dialogue.

On Feb.03.2004 at 10:30 PM
Jason’s comment is:

. . . or start a coup.

On Feb.03.2004 at 10:49 PM
aizan’s comment is:

well, you know, to have firsthand experience and understand where they're coming from, how to relate and such. would you rather resolve a conflict or wait until it ends by attrition?

On Feb.03.2004 at 11:45 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Allow me to play the SPOILER.

Excerpted from Industrial Design Magazine September/October 1993.

PAUL RAND Interview

by Janet Abrams

"Social Issues are not design issues. They're two separate things, as different as milk and corn beef."

Janet Abrams,

A major portion of our first meeting was taken up

with the importance of doing pro-bono work, and

donating to charity. He relates at some length, and in his customarily pugnacious storytelling mode, the occassion of when he was moved to give his copier-machine repair man several thousand dollars, to help bring the latter's family out of the Soviet Union. "And I didn't even know the guy." I remark that his gesture seems very generous. But he's off again.

PAUL RAND,

"This is a social issue, right? Or is it not? It has nothing whatsoever to do with design. Design Issues are form and content and proportion. And color. And texture. And scale.

You can't say any of these things about social issues. Social Issues are not design issues. Design can help elucidate or explain social issues. Social issues are not design issues, though the visual arts have done a hell of a lot for social issues. They're two separate things, as different as milk and corn beef." (And we know from the scriptures, "thou shall not souse a kid in its mother's milk."

Janet Abrams,

It is not that PAUL RAND isn't interested in social issues. Rather, he has made his own decisions about which ones matter to him.

And he vehemently rejects what he sees as the corruption of design education, that is as he conceives it and practiced at Yale.

PAUL RAND,

They don't teach design because they don't know what design is. They'll give you a poster to do, let's for some social issue and they consider that teaching design.

Janet Abrams,

OK. So if we accept that design issues are only

form and content...

PAUL RAND,

That's all they are. They're never anything else.

Janet Abrams,

...then, what if the content of the poster is a social issue?

PAUL RAND,

Then the designer deals with it. He uses the power of design to express the social issue.

Armin, I apologize for the long excerpt and any copyright infringement. The post may impose. If you remove the post I understand.

However, I agree with RAND. Which is why I took time to Post the Excerpt.

Good design is good citizenship.Milton Glaser

Although, Glaser's comment is open for interpetation. I interpet the comment as Fostering Relationships via Ethical Business Practices. And giving your Best Effort

regardless of the monetary gain or lack thereof.

Charitable Contributions, Donating time and effort for a particular cause, political candidate or non profit seems to me to have more to do with one's SELF DEVELOPMENT, CONSCIOUNESS and AWARENESS.

In short one may Garner some Sweat Equity.

Social Issue Scenerio, My cousins best friend. A local fitness guru was embarking on producing his personal fitness video. He needed Packaging. My cousin read me the Riot Act on how this person was the epitome of

Professionalism. I've known him for serveral years. While were not good friends we always

exchanged pleasantries.

I wrote the guy a proposal. Sent him my capabilities brochure with Identity Design and Packaging samples. Never got a response. This person lives within two blocks of me.

My quote for inital consultation, analysis, strategy, exploration, and implementation were adequate and reasonable.

Eventually, I saw the guy walking his dog. I approached him about his project. He informed me he had a marketing team that was developing concepts. Which was a lie. He hired a videographer to produce and edit the video. However, he informed me he would consider my proposal. Saw him a couple of weeks later. He gave me the same song and dance. He knew some lady down the street that did paste up and layout for some local magazine. He may consider approaching her about Designing his package. I'm saying to myself. "What the hell does a Print Designer know about Package Design" e.g. the battle for market share and shelf impact. To place Greater Demands on Brand Equity and Brand Promise. Notwithstanding, creating effective Designs to catch the customers eye, sell the product and build Brand Loyalty. At the same time Analyze and Strategize Research to build exacting creative standards to help create solutions that have an immediate impact on Brand Awareness and Sales.

Having said that. My cousins friend decided to give the assignment to the photographer hired to shoot stills along with the videographer.

After two months of conversing with this person.

He needed the project within two weeks. I informed him my Fee would Double. Becsuse it was a rush job. And I don't due Quick and Dirty.

No ill feelings. I'm at a place in my life where I'm secure Professionally, Emotionally, and Financially.

While going to the supermarket. I saw this guy and inquired of the Packaging Project. He informed

the project was at the printer. And the printer had just informed him he could not print the file because the file was in RGB and

not CMYK.

He asked me how to trouble shoot the problem.

If I wanted to. I really could have been an

A$$HOLE.

Instead of being an A$$HOLE I took 30 to 40 minutes of my personal time to teach and enlightened someone that did not $PEND their money with me the virtues of RGB and CMYK in Photoshop and Illustrator. Furthermore, how to convert RGB to CMYK. Something a Chimpanzee can do.

Alas, Milton Glaser's comment, Good design is good citizenship.

My Design plan for this person was to do Qualitative Analysis and Quantitative Analysis.

Strategically position the video to build Brand Awareness via a personal website registered with all the popular search engines and Metro Transit Advertising. At the same time, use my connection with local Distributers to get his

video in stores such as Best Buy, Ciruit City,

Suncoast Video, Block Buster and a host of other video stores.

This person had no Distribution Deal. And wound up selling the video out of the trunk of his car.

Metro Transit Advertising would had been FREE.

Traditionally Metro Transit Advertising cost upward of thirty thousand ($ 30,000) to sixty thousand ($ 60.000) dollars for three months depending whether it is in a Subway Station or on the side of a bus.

He could have this for nothing. To include a Distribution Deal without a fee attached. Because he was a friend of my relative. He would only have to pay for Packaging and Brandmark.

Was he aware of the amenities? No. He would had found out once the project was completed.

Moral, I donate time and give work to organizations and people that Appreciate and Respect what I do.

My Social Consciousness, Character, Demeanor,

and Goodwill informs me to do so.

It has nothing to do with Design. If I were a Doctor, Lawyer, Pharmacist, Car Salesman, Trash Collector, Street Sweeper, whatever, I would do

the same thing. It is who I am. My physical makeup. How I was reared. To give to those less fortunate or in need. The reward will come back three fold.

In that respect I am wealthy.

Most important, I'm aware of People that view Design as a none essential service.

The Users and Abusers. I have an ANTIDOTE for them.

I'll give all my Sunday Sermon on that later.

On Feb.04.2004 at 04:03 AM
Carlo’s comment is:

I agree with Aizan's comment on, "to have firsthand experience and understand where they're coming from," because one cannot just instantly turn down a project or job just because someone else says so, or that someone released a morality manifesto for graphic artists and such.

I've always believed that: (hypothetically) If one does not see an object, he or she is unaware. But if one sees the object and disregards it, he or she is ignorant. So to say that if one rejects an unmoral project because their decision was biased, affected by a strong, morally-based statement quoted by an overly "experienced" designer, is obviously ignorant, right? Better yet, a conformist.

Forgive me, I may be naive because I have yet to conclude important aspects of being a designer (as well as a socially responsible designer). And the fact that i'm only 23, I can't wait to experience the fruits of knowledge that wait upon me, including this dialogue that we have.

So to put in my $.02 for this topic, I think being socially responsible, as Mark stated "there are [no] boundaries for being a responsible designer (or individual) I believe there are choices we have to make in life and those choices define who we are." So the formula goes, do Designers = Socially-Responsible-Individuals? Or do Socially-Responsible-Individuals = Designers? Honestly, I think i'm making this complicated but to simply state it, we shouldn't have to bend as super-moral people because we're designers. We should already be "responsible" no matter what. Some people treat their designs as for a good cause. But then when they're off of work, they're back to consumer-whoring and slaving off to mass-media pitches, spending money like it was the last day of their god-forsaken lives.

I'm sure there are people like that. Trust me, I used to be one. But sometimes i think i still am one. A hypocrit.

As much as I want to change the world with my wanna-be "above-average" conscious, politically-based illustrations and design work, there are tinges of my "old" self still attached. Maybe its my fear of alienating people. I still have that wretched feeling in my stomach when people ask what I do as a designer, overground AND underground. To have people cringe at my obscure thoughts and beliefs going against the grain, makes me feel uneasy. Should I feel sorry for that person who doesn't have a clue on what the United State's president is doing in Iraq? Or if he/she can't determine the ingredients on a typical fast food burger? Should I feel bad for them? Or should I feel bad for myself because I can't find a verbally expressive way to change their ways. Even worse, I don't have the balls to try to tell that to my friends and family. I guess I just don't want to be pigeon-holed, to be categorized as a social-elitist that can't ride with the norm. I know the norm, I want to be with the norm, but sorry, I'm too aware.

To be morally conscious is somewhat stressful not just for the artist/designer, but also for the people that you want to spread your beliefs to. Life is all always about struggle, pulling ropes and pushing boulders. The biggest boulder for me is actually CONVINCING people that i'm really socially responsible. I guess we gotta sacrafice right? Sacrafice the deemed important stuff for the greater goodness of moral conscious thought.

On Feb.04.2004 at 05:51 AM
Jason’s comment is:

Considering yourself matters most, Carlo.

On Feb.04.2004 at 12:21 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I’m not quite sure how Tom decided that my earlier post represented a “right lean.” I disavow any inference that I claim that Tom should want to work. (My wife laughed out loud at the notion of my being an advocate of the work ethic.) If there’s ever a competition for laziness I’ll kick Tom’s ass. As long as I’m picking on Tom, he said:

A lot of my teachers encouraged me to become a professor, and they told me that it would be “intellectual freedom”. But I’m not sure that this is the case. Design pedagogy is still pretty saturated with design-business professionalism.

One of the values I see as important in discussions of responsibility, ethics, and social good is honesty. It strikes me that most graphic design programs overtly or covertly sell themselves as a path into the design business. Given that, a design pedagogy (saturated or polyunsaturated) that does not directly engage and address “design-business professionalism” is likely being dishonest. It’s an interesting ethical trick to categorically reject the design business but teach design.

I’d like to hear more about Tom’s distinction that there is

no discussion about the basis for morality in design. When right-wingers, left-wingers, and people who don’t care either way are all considered “responsible”, nothing has been gained through this discussion.

Does this make political affiliation a strictly moral issue? Does it mean that those with other political conclusions are inherently less moral?

I suspect I’d pass most people’s tests for being “responsible” or “socially engaged” as a designer (even most of those who see such things in terms of leftwingedness.) I do more pro bono work than is wise. My clients (paid and unpaid) tend to be environmental groups, community groups, local progressive politicians, and arts, education, and health care research organizations. My current projects include a booklet/catalog for a collection in a local museum, an advocacy piece for an organization that translates textbooks for people with reading impairments like blindness and dyslexia, and a newsletter for a neighborhood council. (I’m sure a few people who know my politics think of me as right leaning although almost all self-identified conservatives would disavow any connection.)

Still I bristle at most calls to generalized dogooderness for designers. The last AIGA conference was, IMHO, a disaster. In addition to misunderstanding its audience’s needs or abilities, it seemed to define responsibility in graphic design solely in terms of not wasting resources and promoting “right.” The message was seemingly that all graphic design can do is to sell shit (whether tsatskes or ideas) and the only moral stance was to either sell good shit or quit. Is taking the “right” position really the only good accomplished by graphic design?

An aside regarding an answer to my earlier aside: Justin Smith’s statement that the accumulation of wealth often has costs that outweigh its value is (although worded in a manner that makes me want to quibble) basically reasonable. Anyone who thinks that wealth is a zero-sum game or thinks that the creation of wealth is not a general good needs to do some study. What my comment objected to was the first First Things First’s statement about “Cat food, stomach powders, detergent, hair restorer, striped toothpaste, aftershave lotion, beforeshave lotion, slimming diets, fattening diets, deodorants, fizzy water, cigarettes, roll-ons, pull-ons, and slip-ons. By far the greatest time and effort of those working in the advertising industry are wasted on these trivial purposes, which contribute little or nothing to our national prosperity.” [emphasis mine] Whether or not the products are trivial, the dismissal of their economic roll may help explain the dismal economy of early ’60s Britain.

I stand by the statement that this is good evidence that you shouldn’t trust graphic designers for economic analysis. Since I am a graphic designer I suppose I should shut up on this point. If you resist reading about economics because of the way people write about economics, check out P.J. O’Rourke’s Eat the Rich. While I don’t share his politics, the man can write. His failing is that, after he ably demonstrated the point about the creation of wealth, he did not acknowledge that it does not have to lead to “tax cuts” as the answer to all questions and that such value can be appreciated without being defied.

On Feb.04.2004 at 05:06 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Did I really write “economic roll”? I believe tha would be Parker House.

On Feb.04.2004 at 05:13 PM
Jason’s comment is:

: - )

On Feb.04.2004 at 05:48 PM
Steven’s comment is:

DesignMaven-

I almost think your story about the fitness guru belongs in the "Instant Design" thread. I think that it clearly demonstrates the low-end, bottom-feeders of clients: people that will always go the cheapest route, even if it eventually costs them more money in the longrun (and results in a pathetic "design").

But, in the context of being a morally adroit person, you did the right thing with verbally helping him. It sorta boils down to good Karma, IMHO.

Although, I have to say that I don't really agree with the traditional Modernist role of solely being a form-maker and professional services provider. I can't be just that and feel good about myself. I can't help but be connected to issues that matter to me, and I can't help but try to affect even the smallest amount of social change. I can't separate the two.

Aizan, Carlo, and others-

I don't want to work for the military-industrial complex because I don't agree with 90 percent of what they are about. And I'm not interested in becoming a Hawk or Neo-Con. Now certainly, there are people that do agree with what these companies produce and promote. Indeed, they may feel that working for, say, Lockheed-Martin enables them to be a "socially-responsible" designer. Good for them, Bad for me.

Now, I might be open to some other areas, given the right project and a not-quite-as-malevolent industry. I can't think of anythig off the top of my head at this point... Hmmm... Maybe a car or motorcycle company... Cigars... I dunno... I'm not a completely closed person. But I know for a fact that I would have a very hard time trying to come up with some slick campaign for missile warhead development. I don't think that I could even sit through a kick-off meeting without mouthing off.

And hey Carlo, don't be afraid to be political if it comes from your heart and is filtered through your mind. You might turn away some, but you also might attract others that share in your beliefs. It's better to stand up for what you believe in and take the heat, than it is to be slithering about with the weak-spirited.

On Feb.04.2004 at 05:54 PM
Carlo’s comment is:

I'm just thankful that there are others like you guys with similar and disimilar thoughts, to be able to share a fragile topic like this, when some people like me regard it as very significant in my life. Oh hey Steven, and Jason, thanks. =)

On Feb.04.2004 at 07:06 PM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

Gunnar

I’m not quite sure how Tom decided that my earlier post represented a “right lean.”

I’m using “right” and “left” not totally in a political way, just as a relative distinction between going to work and helping corporations create societal wealth and a different way of thinking that values what we do outside of corporate work. I think your idea was “right-wing” in that you said, basically, that just working normally can be a valid form of “social responsibility”, but I do separate you from the idea you presented, in a way.

I disavow any inference that I claim that Tom should want to work. (My wife laughed out loud at the notion of my being an advocate of the work ethic.) If there’s ever a competition for laziness I’ll kick Tom’s ass.

My point is that if “working” is seen as “responsible”, then not working is implicitly irresponsible. I took some liberties with what you actually said, because I wanted to stress the point that “responsibility” is meaningless when almost everything is a valid form of it. The military, wasteful of both materials and human life, thinks of itself as the epitomy of responsibility, while the same is true for anarchists and libertarians. My point is that responsibility is not much more than an empty rhetoric.

One of the values I see as important in discussions of responsibility, ethics, and social good is honesty. It strikes me that most graphic design programs overtly or covertly sell themselves as a path into the design business. Given that, a design pedagogy (saturated or polyunsaturated) that does not directly engage and address “design-business professionalism” is likely being dishonest. It’s an interesting ethical trick to categorically reject the design business but teach design.

This is a good point. But you have also proposed Design as a liberal art concerned with human growth, not job-practicality. It is interesting to me that my friends in the Science and Technology areas are actually making a living going to grad school. The arts are different, you almost always pay out the ass to learn the Arts and Humanities, because they are not seen as having direct value to our society. I met Ellen Lupton last weekend, and although I’d love to enroll in her program, it’s an enormous amount of money. But, if I am going to pay so much, at least let it be for ME, as a human being, not as a cog in the machine. This was my major hesitation about her "embrace consumerism" stance, although I can also see where she is coming from in a way. Loving to sell things and ideas is not exactly the same as doing what the system tells you to do.

Engaging with design-business professionalism (I said design-business professionalism because it is a whole other problem from academic professionalism…) from a Humanities perspective does not HAVE to mean that the school works first and foremost to fit students into existing professional frameworks, which most do, and which limits the intellectual freedom of the school environment. I think it’s possible to have a Design Studies program that is not driven by current business needs.

Here’s a quote from �migré, Experimental Jetset- which I’ve modified greatly:

“In our view, design [education] should have a certain autonomy, an inner logic that exists independently of the tastes and trends of [the market]. As the ways to measure the [systemic demands] of [design business] are becoming more refined every day, [design education] is in real danger of turning into a gigantic mirror that offers nothing but a false reflection.”

I’d like to hear more about Tom’s distinction that there is

no discussion about the basis for morality in design. When right-wingers, left-wingers, and people who don’t care either way are all considered “responsible”, nothing has been gained through this discussion.

Does this make political affiliation a strictly moral issue? Does it mean that those with other political conclusions are inherently less moral?

I’m not making any moral judgements here. When each side of the argument sees itself as responsible, the other side is always implicitly irresponsible. My proposal is to drop this rhetoric of responsibility and instead realize the brute fact of total responsibility. Everyone is totally responsible (which is to say nothing about whether anyone is “good” or “bad”). When we start to say that someone is “more” responsible, or even “responsible” as opposed to “irresponsible”, we are missing the point. You can have more or less of a sense of total responsibility, and to drop blame on others or see yourself as morally superior is to have a lesser sense of it. Only when you have a complete sense of total responsibility have you destroyed the basis for a manipulative morality which would either be the “professional enemy” of “the right to useful unemployment” (Illich), or the Adbusters sort of self-righteousness. In short, I am questioning the efficacy of the common idea of responsibility itself.

few people who know my politics think of me as right leaning although almost all self-identified conservatives would disavow any connection.)

I also tend to see you as right-wing because of your use of Aristotle in a world of non-Aristotelian systems (korzybski)…but this is a cheap shot with not much substance. I’ll say I see you as right-wing to the extent that you feel design education should remain conservatively subservient to economic demands.

Still I bristle at most calls to generalized dogooderness for designers.

I’ll tell you why I bristle at these calls. I wish more do-gooders would worry about themselves and not me. For example, teachers who worry too much about “teaching” me and have no initiative of their own to learn and grow. They can have such “good” intentions (of the kind given by a traditional morality of superior and inferior people) and end up stunting everybody.

On Feb.04.2004 at 07:16 PM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

I’ll say I see you as right-wing to the extent that you feel design education should remain conservatively subservient to economic demands.

Should I retract this? Is it a moral judgement on you, considering that I am arguing for a left-wing position, relatively speaking? Maybe, I dunno. But I think the point is that I'm not saying anything about a responsibility to create an autonomous design. We can go either way, but only through communication and agreement can we decide.

I admit my argument has some weak points...I'm done with it for now.

On Feb.05.2004 at 01:10 AM
Kristin’s comment is:

During the Hormel strike (beginning in August of 1985) I was working for a typesetting company that did all of their advertising. I knew a lot of the locked-out workers and supported their cause. I could not bring myself to work on any of their ads. The work got done by other typesetters. I never said anything -- didn't make a big political issue out of it. I just couldn't do the work.

In that case the link between my work and a customer who is engaging in unethical practices was too obvious to be ignored. I have a feeling that I could do a thorough investigation of almost any product and find a business practice that would be equally hideous on my personal scale of morality.

So ... for me the honest answer is that I seek a balance. In my employment, I do my best to avoid aiding in repulsive business practices, but understand that I live under a capitalist system with all its flaws.

I don't plan to own a company, therefore I will be expected, as a wage-earner, to do whatever my employers ask of me. That is the deal I made with the system in order to get a paycheck, support my family and live at my financial comfort level.

In my personal life, I donate my time and effort to many cause-oriented organizations whose work I want to support.

I don't believe it is possible, under our current economic system, to engage in business practices that are without negative effects of some sort. The goal, then, is to limit the scale of the damage that is directly attributable to my own individual actions.

Despite this doom and gloom message, I am generally a happy person and I believe I can contribute to making the world a better place.

It's an interesting question and I enjoy reading how each of you deal with this issue personally.

On Feb.05.2004 at 04:12 PM
aizan’s comment is:

The goal, then, is to limit the scale of the damage that is directly attributable to my own individual actions.

that's exactly my concern. first of all, history assures that my life's work is not zero sum. however, my time to expand my understanding of the world's totality and learn how to act in more beneficial ways is finite. so when the occasion rises, my task is to weigh the pros and cons of working for a particular friend or foe.

On Feb.05.2004 at 10:27 PM