Fortelle

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Getting started with my finals project: Democracy in Bergen

Power depends on knowledge, and Democracy means power belongs to the people – so whether or not a regime is democratic depends on the knowledge of the people. That’s the basis for my finals project in Visual Communication at the Bergen National Academy of Art.

In my home town of Bergen, newspapers are, for most people, the main source of information about politics. The local newspapers provide excellent day-by-day coverage of local politics, but it’s the wrong place to go for the basics, or for getting an overview over an issue you haven’t been paying attention to. My idea is basically to make a website that compliments the role of the newspapers, by providing wider information and analysis, and definitions and explanations of terms often used in the politics of Bergen.

(mer…)

Solipsisme, an exercise in expressive typography

Quick and sloppy explanation: Solipsism is a theory in philosophy that says the only thing that exists is your mind (wikipedia link) — the video illustrates this, by pulling out from a point on earth to a view of the entire universe that spells out the word — the word is inside a dot representing the head of the symbol of a person — which again represents the idea of the mind of the person.

The ethical guideines of design organizations, pt 3/3: outside our sphere

«Everybody else’s tobacco is poisonous. Lucky Strike is toasted»
– Mad Men

(part 1, part 2)

The cliche is that you can’t trust advertising because it’s all lies. There are laws against that sort of thing these days, though — and the most efficient of the shady PR and propaganda have always been dishonest in more subtle ways. The organizations differ quite dramatically on this point, while Grafill doesn’t even mention the idea of misleading advertising, AIGA has a very clear point saying that professional designers «communicate the truth in all situations and at all times» and «represent messages in a clear manner in all forms of communication design and avoid false, misleading and deceptive promotion.»

But we still see ads implying that Coca Cola is healthy because it’s «all natural ingredients», and other ads that even get close  to lying. In spite  of this, David Butler is quite happy in his role as their vp of design. Butler seems to be closely associated with AIGA — and has plenty of beautiful words to tell them about corporate responsibility, words that they’ve recorded and published on their website — you’d almost think they consider him a professional designer.

The problem may be that the guidelines are there, but in AIGAs case, there are no sanctions for members who break the rules.

The Coca Cola Company also never apologized for mining the groundwater from under draught-stricken Indian peasants and selling them toxic sludge as fertilizer — which brings me to the question, should designers be associating themselves with this sort? Even the purely brand-building ads of young, hip, attractive people drinking Coca Cola, helps maintain the facade of a really shady business.* Take the example of Boot-boys (a Norwegian neo-nazi group) if you’re not comfortable writing off Coca Cola as evil — designers obviously shouldn’t be uncritically accepting work from just anyone.

There may be plenty of excuses saying that it’s someone else’s responsibility, these excuses exist at every link along the commercial chain: the CEO of Coca Cola can say his main responsibility is to his shareholders, individual customers can say they don’t have time to find all the relevant information about every product they buy, and so on. The fact that everyone has an excuse doesn’t mean that no one’s left responsible, it means that we all are.

Speaking of toxic sludge; both AIGA and Grafill are unambitious when it comes to the environment, merely suggesting that designers should be responsible with their use of resources — DDA is surprisingly far ahead here, in fact demanding that it’s members work towards a sustainable future, recommending support of UN Global Compact, which also adresses corruption, labour standards and human rights, hopefully the others will come along soon.

What about the users?
The products of designer are allways made to be used by users or seen by an audience — but none of the guidelines mention this with a single word. The debate is there though, Paul Nini writes on AIGA.org «I would argue that our single, most significant contribution to society would be to make sure that the communications we create are actually useful to those for whom they’re intended», before sketching out some guidelines about including users in the creative process, treating them with respect, accommodating physically challenged users and not being manipulative.

Here are some relevant points from TASAs guidelines:

«21. Members should treat with respect the participants of the research and protect their welfare and privacy. This should encompass a respect for the inherent dignity and the rights of persons, and a commitment not to use a person only as a means to an end. Treating participants with respect may involve the protection of groups, communities or organisations to which participants belong.»

and

«30. Where participants are very young, incapacitated or a member of a particularly vulnerable population, the research methods and instruments should be appropriately designed and if necessary, modified, to protect the ethical rights of, and ensure the physical, emotional and psychological safety of participants»

For designers I think these could be helpful, not only to the research phase of our creative process, but also in out attitude towards our users and audience.

* For the record, Coca Cola and David Butler are just examples, I’d include more, but I’m trying to keep this short

The ethical guidelines of design organizations, pt 2/3: Within our sphere

The design organizations all have what seems like a well developed set of guidelines for dealing honestly, discreetly and smoothly with clients and employers. In addition to requirements for maintaining a high level of competence.

All of this this makes sense from a purely selfish perspective, this is much of what makes an organization’s reputation among potential employers. This reputation is good for the survival of the organizations and can be profitable for its members, if they can wear their membership (or even better, Grafills «Authorized Membership») as a badge of competence. These things don’t merely make you look good, they make you look like a good investment.

For similar reasons, the guidelines do their part to keep designers from being undervalued and underpaid by their clients. They have clear guidelines for what kind of competitions the members are allowed to join and how clients and employers are allowed to pay them for their services, including, on AIGA’s part, a point specifically forbidding spec work.

They also all forbid their members from taking credit for work that’s not theirs or taking the credit alone when not appropriate. This also includes plagiarism and the like.

"You are a Comic Sans Criminal but we're here to help you"

From comicsanscriminal.com, a site that «rehabilitates» people who use the font MS Comic Sans inappropriately.

That’s not to say that there’s no idealism here (or that there’s anything wrong with self-interest in and of itself) — a lot of this can also be explained as showing the value designers place on good work. The internet is filled with designers writhing in woes about all the ugly and unusable stuff that fills our daily lives, longing for a shinier and more beautiful world.

Part 3, outside our sphere

The ethical guidelines of design organizations pt 1/3

Graphic design reaches a lot of people, in some really powerful and subtle ways — so it makes sense that you’d need an equally powerful discussion of it’s application, with an appropriate sensitivity to the subtleties of the matter.

Compared to, for example, working at a nursing home — the rewards for a conscious, wise and clear approach to ethics aren’t as obvious in design. A lot of the good or bad you can do, is done to people you’ll never meet, to the environment or in influencing more abstract social entities (like fashion, politics, etc) — so it’s harder to work just by your gut feeling alone, but while medical ethics is one of the biggest fields in applied ethics, design ethics doesn’t even have a wikipedia article*.

Graphic designers have responsibilities to their users, to the environment, to their colleagues, to their customers as well as to other people and creatures who are otherwise affected by their work, including future generations — so how do we approach these responsibilities?

I’ve had a look at four different sets of ethical guidelines: the ones of AIGA, the Danish Design Association (DDA) and Grafill; the Norwegian organisation for graphic design and illustration (their ethical guidelines are not on their website for some reason yes they are, sorry about that). I’ve also had a look at the ethical guidelines of The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) for comparison on some relevant issues.

*at the time of writing, anyway

Part 2, within our sphere.