Design Social Responsibility: Ethical Discourse in Visual Communication Design Practice


In recent years, designers have shown an increased awareness towards social responsibility. Designers are becoming more aware of their influence on people and the world we live in. While designers try as much as possible to incorporate social responsibility into their work, there is always the dilemma of how to embrace ethical design practice. Questions such as when and where should social responsibility take place in design, and what are the ethical choices that come with it, are begging to be defined. Equally important questions are how do designers intend to use their power to influence different users and audience, and how will social responsibility be reflected and implemented?

This paper analyses the issues surrounding social responsibility and ethical practice in Visual Communication Design from the theoretical standpoint and through the eyes of graphic designers, as well as the emerging design ethics movement in recent years. While this paper can not give definite answers to all the questions, it is expected that further discussions and debate will follow in order to investigate social responsibility and ethics in visual communication design, from both the perspective of the designer and the people who buy the design.




In today’s modern world, we live in a place where our everyday objects, experiences, desires, emotions, and way of living are designed in such a way as to improve our quality of life. However, looking at what we, as designers, have contributed to the process, did we really improve and enhance our life? In the world of visual communication, designers face numerous and increasing challenges in the creation of communication piece and artwork. Lately, the challenge has included issues and practices surrounding social responsibility. As mentioned by Roberts (2006), “graphic design is in an ethical flux”. We have seen manifestos and publications aimed at raising awareness of  “good design” or design for good. On the other hand, coupling ethics and graphic design also seem slightly absurd, as mentioned by Roberts (2006). Design is just a job after all. Without indulging in self-importance or making inflated claims, it is crucial to remember that graphic design is a social activity. By its very nature, it affects a lot of people, and with this comes responsibility.

Keedy (2001) stated that the debate about the designer’s responsibility in society tends to get polarized between powerless complicity and social actualization.1 Design as a practice doesn’t have much of a conscience, even if individual designers do. Design organisations have rules or ethical guidelines, but in reality there is no law, regulation or sanction being applied if the rules are broken. He added that for the most part, the pseudoprofession of graphic design does not require a license because the marketplace satisfactorily regulates it. Designers can draft codes of ethics, make proclamations, sign manifestos, and offer up ideas and solutions to any number of problems. In the end, somebody has to buy what they create, or none of it is going anywhere. Designers have more power to influence than they could imagine. Graphic design shapes people’s perceptions, behavior and desires. So how should designers react to the idea of design social responsibility? As Cranmer & Zappaterra (2003) put it, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”.


1.1. Objectives

The objectives of this paper are:

– To investigate design social responsibility issues in the context of ethics from the theoretical standpoint.

– To understand the concept of social responsibility and ethics in design from the perspective of graphic designers from different regions (in this case, United States, Canada, Hong Kong and Indonesia,) and how it affects their design practice.

– To further analyse how the different designers apply their own ethical principles and values into their work and design practice.

1.2. Research Questions

– How do graphic designers perceive their ethical roles and responsibilities in the production of visual communication languages, signs, and symbols?

o How ethical (morality and accountability) issues and concerns play a role in this context?

o How designers intend to influence the different end-users as well as the public’s behavior (consumption and distribution)?

– How is social responsibility being implemented in the design practice?

1.3. Methodologies

In researching, analysing and writing this paper, the following methods have been conducted throughout the process:

– Book research

– Journal or publication research

– Internet research

– Interview with graphic design practitioners

1.4. Scope of Research

The analysis and research on this paper is focused on the concept of design social responsibility in the Visual Communication Design (Graphic Design) field. The term “Graphic Design” will be used in some parts of this paper, although the term has now gradually changed to Visual Communication Design. Both terminologies will have the same meaning in this paper.

1.5. Framework






“Designers are a special breed of thinkers. We engage in the discussion and help define solutions to the problems faced by society. Through partnering with community organizations, activists, researchers, scientists, institutions, politicians, and artists, designers become an essential piece of the collaborative process needed to inspire and create change”
-The Piece Theory

2.1. Design and Designers’ Role in Social Responsibility

Graphic design became a distinct practice as a result of the Industrial Revolution when production was no longer a local affair. According to Roberts (2006), by the 1960s graphic design had become a subject of serious study in art schools, supported by various professional bodies in many countries. Brands were recognized worldwide through symbols and logotypes, demonstrating much greater awareness of the importance of design.

The developments in corporate business and large-scale government have made questions of ethics even more crucial, that practically every decision we make as designers has an ethical dimension, requiring us all to “balance the forces” in our own small way as responsible individuals. (Roberts, 2006: 28 – 29)

One of the early criticisms on design and its practice came from Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World2. The book quickly became the bible of the responsible design movement. Papanek was motivated to write the book by the mismatch he felt existed between the power and influence of design, and the lack of moral responsibility felt by the design profession. There was no justification for designing trivial and stylish consumer items for the affluent of the advantaged countries, when the majority of humankind was living below subsistence level. (Whiteley, 1993:98) 2 Design for the Real World, published originally in Swedish in Sweden in 1970, and in English in 1971.

Whiteley (1998) further stated that design ought to be one of the professions at the forefront of “making the world a better place for all”. Designers claim a status as “professionals” but, unlike doctors whose ethical code is unambiguous and outward looking, designers often opt for commercial rewards, and the kind of celebrity stardom in their “professional” press that makes them considerably closer to entertainers and salesmen than doctors or teachers. Like everyone engaged in professional activities, designers have responsibilities not only to their clients or employers but also to their fellow practitioners and society at large.

2.2. Ethics in Visual Communication Design
2.2.1. Ethical Discourse and Overview
Roberts (2006) stated that ethics is a relatively unexplored territory within visual communication. As with many other professions, visual communication does not necessarily presents us with significant ethical dilemmas. However, as visual communication is part of the fabric of society, even seemingly small design decisions can affect other people and reveal something about a designer’s broader approach to life.

Designers are aware of this responsibility and they do consider ethics in their work; but many feel confused about the relationship between professional and personal ethics. Roberts (2006) mentioned that to arrive at a hard and fast set of ethical rules is probably too reductive and judgmental, but there is a kind of consensus being formed about what being an ethical graphic designer really means.

Cranmer and Zappaterra (2003), on the other hand, raised the question of what is the most ethically responsible design. Reading from Bush’s article3, she expressed a certain unease feeling towards what the design profession has framed notions of social responsibility. Frequently defined by acts of generosity (i.e., probono designs for not-for-profit organisations), or environmentalism (i.e., the use of recycled paper and soybased inks), the design profession, in many cases, limits social responsibility to acts of benevolence or good will.

Cranmer and Zappaterra (2003) further stated that graphic design is a competitive, cutthroat profession. There is no one way to be ethical as a designer and probably no one designer who is 100 percent ethical. But there are different approaches to socially responsible practices and this involves who you work with, what you3 Anne Bush, Beyond Pro Bono, Graphic Design’s Social Work, published in Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility, ed. Steven Heller & Veronique Vienne (2003) produce, and how you work. The discussion on the ethics of designers always gets impaled on the issue of whether a client’s desire for profit can be reconciled with our ethical desire to do no harm. Or, as Glaser (2005) put it in another way, can we serve a client and the public at the same time?4

2.2.2. Ethics in Design: Personal and Professional Ethics
In discussions of ethics in the visual communication world, the big part of the decision-making comes down to each individual’s decision, i.e. personal ethics. Roberts (2006) stated that it is difficult to either determine or judge someone by their action. The first thing to remember is that we can’t be responsible for everyone and everything all of the time. It is also because behaving ethically requires us to allow others freedom, within boundaries arrived at through some kind of common consent.

So a graphic designer’s decision in this area is generally determined by personal conscience. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to arrive at some term of consensus, but initially each of us needs to decide where to draw the line. In so doing we will be defining a professional ethos. Furthermore, Roberts (2006) mentioned that the notion of choice is therefore an essential component in the consideration of morality. Without freedom of choice you have no responsibility for your actions. Since all decisions have an ethical dimension, our choices reflect our core values. So, every choice is potentially significant and meaningful.

German designer Erik Speikermann pointed out that ethical theory and practice do not always concur: faced with the decision to sack ten people or take on a job for an evil empire, I’m not going to sack ten people. So, do you make decisions on the basis of immovable principles, or assess the ‘rightness’ of an action on the basis of its outcomes alone? Susan Szenasy added, Ethical decisions are personal. It is you “each one of us” who has to decide to do the right thing.5

2.3. Ethical Paradigm

In talking and discussing ethics in design, there is a very close relationship, cause and effect, between the designers and the different audience, i.e. the ones who buy, consume or are affected by design. Some are discussed below.

2.3.1. Consumer
David Berman stated in his book, Do Good Design. How Designers Can Change the World, that the largest threat to humanity’s future just may be the consumption of more than necessary. Designers obviously have a role in the creation of persuasive visual communication through the different marketing medium launched by companies, corporations and big brands. Berman (2008) further explained that “rather than sharing our cycles of style, consumption, and chemical addictions, designers can use their professional power, persuasive skills, and wisdom to help distribute ideas that the world really needs”.

2.3.2. Client
Clients act as an interface between us and an unseen consumer, but their interests are not always the same as the consumer’s. If client and designer do not communicate their needs effectively and are not mutually respectful, the resultant design is likely to be less successful. Roberts (2006) mentioned that behaving professionally is an ethical concern. This means that in accepting a commission we agree to do the 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 be hindered in our job. Designers need to understand that from their client’s point of view, design is a small, but not invaluable, contribution to the world.

Within graphic design, there is debate around this subject. Most designers fear that in order to achieve access for all they will have to adhere to creatively restrictive guidelines. Clients, meanwhile, are anxious about the financial implications. (Roberts, 2006:86)

2.3.3. Society
Design directly expresses the cultural, social, political and economic complexion of a society, and it thus provides a snapshot of that society’s condition. Whiteley (1993) stated that for change in design to take place designers must analyze and examine the values and role of design in relation to society.

Paul Nini (2004) wrote an interesting article about the issue of ethics in graphic design. He stated that there is certainly nothing wrong with protecting our professional interests and the interests of our clients. However, he argues that the single, most significant contribution to the society would be to make sure that the communications we create are actually useful to those for whom they’re intended and that this concern must be elevated to the same level of importance as those previously discussed.6

2.3.4. Environment
Designers and artists are at the forefront of trends and have a glimpse of tomorrow’s messages today. There was a time when environmental responsibility was a niche for a few select clients. That time is gone. The environment is everyone’s responsibility now.

Abusow (2008) stated that the design community is a part of this, too7. Environmental options for paper are much greater than in the past because of the hundreds of paper producers and printers who play an active role in responsible forestry through Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) certification8. Furthermore she pointed out that a designer’s job is to be concerned with both the tiniest details and the broadest cosmological abstractions, and how they affect each other as well as what looks good. In short, designers are naturally concerned with ecology. But making things function and “appropriate for their context” is no longer enough; designers have to be concerned with how their designs affect their environment. It’s an ecological view that goes beyond recycling.

2.3.5. Culture
Culture is the essence of society. It is important for designers to understand how their design will embrace or impact a culture. Bush (2003) stated that design is linked to culture since social actions cannot be understood outside the cultural contexts. This understanding constructs our social worlds: culture creates a world that makes sense. “In order to conduct a social practice we need to give it a certain meaning, have a conception of it, be able to think meaningfully about it, said Bush. Furthermore, she pointed that the production of social meanings is, therefore, a necessary precondition for the functioning of all social practices, and an account of the cultural conditions of social practices must form part of the sociological explanation of how they work.

2.4. Synthesis

Graphic design practice is still young but the issue surrounding social responsibility has started to emerge in recent years. Graphic designers are now faced with choices regarding their own personal or professional ethics. When talking about ethics, it is difficult either to draw a straight line on how one should behave towards the different audience, or to see the connection with graphic design. However, one can’t deny the role of graphic design in its social context and the responsibility that comes with it.




“Why must we take responsibility? Because we can”
-David Berman

3.1. Interview with the Designers – Profile

To understand the notion of ethics and social responsibility from a real designer’s standpoint, interviews by phone and email were conducted with several design practitioners located in New York, Canada, Hong Kong and Indonesia. Furthermore, this chapter seeks to understand the different positions on the issues of ethics in visual communication design in relation to the theories explained in Chapter 2. The complete extract of the interview transcripts are available on Appendix 1 for further reference.

3.1.1. David Berman
With more than 25 years experience in graphic design and communications, David Berman has worked extensively in the adaptation of printed materials for electronic distribution, including Web design and software interface development. His clients include IBM, the International Space Station, the Canadian government, the World Bank, and the Aga Khan Foundation.

Since 1984, David has worked to establish a code of ethics that embraces social responsibility for graphic designers throughout Canada. The Society of Graphic Designers of Canada ratified his draft nationally in May 2000. He served as the first elected president of the Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario, North America’s first accredited graphic design organisation, from 1997 to 1999. He drafted the association’s constitution and Rules of Professional Conduct, and authored Ontario’s accreditation examination section on ethics and professional responsibility. He has served as the national Ethics Chair for graphic design in Canada since 2002.

3.1.2. Hanny Kardinata
Hanny Kardinata studied graphic design at ASRI, now ISI (The Art Institute of Indonesia), Yogyakarta. In the early 1970s, he worked as a graphic designer for Matari Advertising in Jakarta and spent several years as a freelance graphic designer/illustrator before establishing his own graphic design company, Citra Indonesia. Apart from running his own company, Kardinata is also the chairman of VERSUS, a critical and provocative magazine for creative people, and a consultant for LARAS, an interior and architecture magazine.

Kardinata is also involved in design exhibitions and acting as a judge for local and international design competitions. He contributes to the Indonesian graphic design community through Desain Grafis Indonesia (DGI) website9, a collaborative site focused on the history of graphic design in Indonesia as an integral part of the international graphic design collective heritage. His latest project includes the concept, planning and establishment of Indonesia Graphic Design Museum (DGI Museum).

3.1.3. Mark Randall
For more than 15 years, Mark Randall has been principal of Worldstudio, the New York City marketing and design agency which serves major clients in the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds, from Adobe Systems, JPMorgan Private Bank and Este Lauder Companies, to The Metropolitan Opera and the City of New York. Formerly at Vignelli Associates, Randall was project manager for the redesign of Fodor’s Travel Guides. He was also a designer for the environmental graphics firm, Whitehouse and Katz. In addition to lecturing on design and social responsibility, Randall has taught at Parson’s School of Design and at Fordham University, both in New York, and at Hartford University, Connecticut. He graduated in 1984 from the University of Washington in Seattle with a B.F.A. in graphic design, and currently serves on the national board of AIGA.

3.1.4. Henry Steiner
Born in Vienna and raised in New York, he was educated at the Sorbonne and at Yale – where he studied with Paul Rand. He founded Steiner&Co. in Hong Kong in 1964. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate by Hong Kong Baptist University and is honorary professor at University of Hong Kong’s School of Architecture and at Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s School of Design. Steiner has been named Hong Kong Designer of the Year, a World Master by Japan’s Idea magazine, and was included in ICOGRADA’s Masters of the 20th Century in 2002.

Recently, he received the Hong Kong Print Outstanding Achievement Award and the Asia-Europe Foundation Logo Award. In 2006, he was awarded the Golden Decoration of Honor of the Republic of Austria for design achievement and service to the Austrian community in Hong Kong.

3.1.5. Ignatius Hermawan Tanzil
After graduating from the California College of the Arts & Crafts in United States, Hermawan Tanzil worked for several international agencies in Japan and United States from 1983 to 1990. Upon his return to Indonesia, he established a graphic design studio called LeBoYe in 1990.

During his career, Tanzil has won several local and international awards such as the Type Director Club Tokyo award (2007), Type Director Club New York award (2007), and HOW International design award (2007). His works were also published in numerous local and international media such as Type Annual 29, The Big Book of Logos 5, and Communication Arts Annual Design.

Tanzil is involved in design exhibitions in Indonesia, United States, Canada, Germany and Japan, and contributes to the Indonesia graphic design community through ADGI (Indonesia Professional Graphic Design Association), where he was appointed as the presidium member in 2006. He also teaches in several design schools in universities in Indonesia.


3.2. Discussion on Social Responsibility and Ethical Design
3.2.1. Understanding Ethics and Designers’ Social Responsibility

The measurement of success
The interview started with a question: how do you measure success? As expected, the designers have their own interpretation of success but they all consider client satisfaction as a big part of the success metrics. Henry Steiner believes three factors define success: the client as well as the designer’s own satisfaction towards the finished projects, the designer’s good reputation in the industry, and the financial success generated from the work.

David Berman, on the other hand, sees success as part of a strategy-focused approach to design practice and the importance of communication with the client at the start of each project. He thinks success for a commercial client is not just measured in terms of financials but more from the design’s impact on the organisation and the world at large. Mark Randall agrees with Berman, pointing out that achieving the impact the designer and client wanted to create is more crucial, as is communicating the client’s message effectively. To Hermawan Tanzil, success is measured by doing the best you can as well as educating the client on the importance of graphic design in their business.

Ethics and social responsibility
In the discussion on social responsibility and ethics, as mentioned in chapter 2, there are no definite rules and regulations as well as proposition that could answer how a designer should act and behave ethically, moreover to embrace those principles into their own practice. David Berman identified two types of ethics – personal and professional – and a designer has to consider both. He noted that there is a minimum level of ethical behaviour set within a design organisation or professional association that reflects a common code of conduct. But in large part, ethical practice is a matter of personal and professional choice.

Mark Randall, on the other hand, discussed ethics from a moral standpoint. He said behaving ethical means not taking advantage of someone or the environment. Hanny Kardinata concurred with Mark Randall and espoused honesty to oneself and one’s work.

Henry Steiner has a different approach towards ethics and social responsibility. He said there is no connection and relation between ethics and graphic design. What is important is being competent as a graphic designer. Design is a profession and nobody has ever died from a bad graphic design, he said, adding that talks about ethics and social responsibility are actually a mask for the inadequacy of the designers. In short, ethics is meaningless in the context of graphic design; what’s important is the ability to create and communicate this legibly to the audience.

The role of graphic design(er) in social responsibility
Most of the designers interviewed believe designers should be responsible to clients as well as to society. Hanny Kardinata stated that being a graphic designer is inseparable from the social dynamic around us, and designers need to be aware of the consequences of their design toward the environment. David Berman said we have to take responsibility towards society, because we can.

Henry Steiner is the only one with a different viewpoint, believing that graphic design per se does not have any moral implication. He cited as an example the Nazi’s swastika symbol, explaining it was the most successful and important corporate identity created in the 20th century. Although the entire world condemns what Adolf Hitler and Nazi had done, it does not imply that the swastika is a bad design.

3.2.2. Practicing an Ethical and Socially Responsible Design

Balancing the design practice and social responsibility
Theory is different from practice. When asked about balancing commercial design practice with social responsibility, the designers came up with different views on the issue.

Mark Randall mentioned that the balancing act is really up to the designer’s choice. In his case, he chose to work for non-profit organisations and for specific cities at Worldstudio. Outside of this, he also is involved in Worldstudio Foundation (a non-profit foundation formed to complement Worldstudio) with the main goal to give back to the community. Clearly, social responsibility is a significant part of Mark Randall’s professional work. More of this is discussed on Chapter 4.

For David Berman, he focuses on the type of client, choosing those that are contributing positively to the world or those that are neutral ethics-wise but allows opportunities for him to learn new skills and strengthen his capability as a designer, which in turn can be used to influence and do more good.

Hanny Kardinata took a slightly different approach towards his contribution to design and social responsibility. He dedicated his time and effort in the search for Indonesian graphic design history through the DGI website, dedicated for Indonesian graphic designers specifically and the society in general. As a commercially successful designer in Indonesia, Hermawan Tanzil managed to balance his professional design practice and give back to society. It is very obvious from the design that his studio produced, which prominently demonstrates how identity, value and unique characteristics are in the core of his works.

Design and the world Graphic design can not be separated from its social context since it is communicating information and messages to the audience.

“We have the power to create an awful lot of sorrow, destruction and humiliation. We have the tool to manipulate how people behave to the society and therefore we have the choice to use the opportunities and skill to help create a more sustainable world,” said David Berman. He added, “The first step is to realize how much power we have and then we can decide to choose as to how we will use it.” In alignment with Berman, Mark Randall agreed that design has the potential to impact the world significantly. Hanny Kardinata pointed out, “Design should be able to do something; if not, why should we bother to learn it?”

3.3. Synthesis

In principle ethics and social responsibility cannot be taken out of personal choice. While some designers think social responsibility is inherent within graphic design and all designers should embrace it, others believe social responsibility has less or no connection at all with the profession.

To see the real connection between ethics/social responsibility and graphic design practice, all considerations have to be taken into account. Graphic design is a young profession; however, it has shown a significant impact on society and the consumption of goods over the years. Whether it is good or bad, visually, people will always be attracted and persuaded by the visual messages created by the corporations with the help of graphic design.

To synthesize this chapter, a summary from each of the interviewees are extracted as below:

David Berman
According to Berman, there are personal and professional ethics, and designers should consider both of these coming together. Social responsibility is the core of what we do as designers and while not every designer will embrace it, every designer will always have a choice.

Client selection is the key for Berman to balance his professional practice and practicing ethical design. For designers to change the world the first thing to realise is how much power we have and that we can make the decision as to how we will use them.

Hanny Kardinata

Design-Social-3 For Kardinata, the financial situation of a designer will have a big influence on whether ethical or social responsibility issues will play a role in his design. Financially successful designers will have more bargaining power and have the option to select clients according to their own personal values. According to Kardinata, ethics means honesty in speech and in design, and these two cannot be separated from the social dynamics. Therefore, ethical practice is an absolute obligation for designers.

Mark Randall

Design-Social-4For Randall, ethical practice means not taking advantage of someone or the environment. To practice social responsibility, designers should make informed and responsible choices, which he reflects in his daily design practice at Worldstudio. Most of the client and projects that he undertakes give something back to the community.

Henry Steiner

Steiner believes graphic design is about competent designers who can communicate clearly, have the ability to come up with legible design, and understand the principles of visual communication beyond just mastering design software. He thinks social responsibility and ethics, for most part, are being used as a cover for shabby design practice. Part of a designer’s personal ethics requires the ability to communicate, understand and identify the client’s problems. Therefore, to Steiner, social responsibility has nothing to do with professional design standards.

Hermawan Tanzil

Design-Social-6 According to Hermawan Tanzil, doing what you love to do is already part of success. It is about “happiness” of becoming a designer and the job. Although his studio is doing quite a lot of commercial projects, he seeks the balance by the cultural added value in the design he produced while maintaining his personal ethics to the preservation of Indonesian culture through graphic design.




“It’s more important that it work and solve a problem than be beautiful. Too often in the design community the interest lies in the form not the function.”
-David Sterling and Mark Randall

In reality, mixing commercial business and social work is not as simple as it looks. Those who are fortunate can find a good balance between commercial business practice and practicing social responsibility. Unfortunately, as stated by McCoy (2003), good causes often seem to have the least resources in the present economic system10.

However, just because it is difficult does not mean it is impossible. In the last few years we have seen designers attempt to improve the world through graphic design. Some examples, taken from non-profit and commercial design studios, are highlighted in this chapter.

4.1. Non-profit Organisations

4.1.1. The Designers Accord

Design-Social-7 Launched in July 2007, The Designers Accord is a global coalition of designers, educators, researchers, engineers, and corporate leaders, working together to create positive environmental and social impact. The Designers Accord is made up of over 100,000 members of the creative community, representing 100 countries, and each design discipline.

The Designers Accord began with a manifesto: “The Designers’ Dilemma” which included a call-toarms for the design industry called the “Kyoto Treaty” of design written by Valerie Casey11 and was published in Frog’s online magazine in July 2007. After receiving support from Paul Hawken, in November 2007 Casey presented the concept of the “Kyoto Treaty” of design at the AIGA NEXT, Sarasota International Design Conference, IDSA Worldchanging conference, which then renamed it as the Designers Accord.

Adopting the Designers Accord provides access to a community of peers that shares methodologies, resources, and experiences around environmental and social issues in design; hence, it encourages any designer, consultancy, or organisation creating consequence to join.

The vision of the Designers Accord is to integrate the principles of sustainable design into all practice and production. Its mission is to catalyze innovation throughout the creative community by collectively building intelligence around sustainability.

Designers Accord advocates inverting the traditional model of competition, and encourages sharing best practices so members can innovate more efficiently. It will:

– Ask all adopters to engage in conversation about social and environmental impact with every client and customer, and integrate sustainable alternatives in their work.

– Create a real-world and online network to enable conversation about opportunities and challenges in creating sustainable products, services, and businesses.

4.1.2. Design Can Change

Design-Social-8Design Can Change is a non-commercial initiative aimed at bringing together the design community andmaking system-wide change to how our work affects the planet.12

Founded in 2007 by a studio in Vancouver called smashLAB, the idea came from the smashLAB’s effort to become more sustainable but found it a cumbersome process. As it started to do more research, it felt it would be good to share its findings with others in the community. Additionally, when it started to consider the members’ collective influence as designers, it thought it made sense to work together to lobby for better options.

The site was generated entirely pro-bono and it has no method of revenue generation. The members simply felt that it was their responsibility as professionals to create this resource. They hope that you share this sentiment and participate in the effort. The goal of the website is to provide resources for creative community towards a sustainable practice.

Design Can Change is a non-commercial initiative aimed at bringing together the design community and making system-wide change to how our work affects this planet.

The Design Can Change initiative is intended to12:

– Bring together the design community to leverage our collective strength
– Establish a set of definitive standards that we can all readily implement
– Showcase the work of designers committed to the environment
– Promote designers and studios who embrace sustainable practices
– Raise awareness of the importance of sustainable-thinking

Figure 1. Design Can Change website screenshot (

Figure 1. Design Can Change website screenshot (

Eric Karjaluoto from smashLAB mentioned that they do not do that much work in the social responsibility space. He said, “We did make Design Can Change, and have some other things in the works, but largely we’re just interested in making new things. Design Can Change was something that we did largely because it was a resource we wanted to use, but couldn’t find anywhere. As such, we spent about a year working on it. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the wisest decision from a business perspective, but it was really nice to work on a project like that”.

4.2. Graphic Design Agency/ Studio

4.2.1. Worldstudio Inc. (New York, USA)
Worldstudio Inc. is a for-profit graphic design studio based in New York, United States, initiated by David Sterling in the fall of 1992. Always interested and active in social causes, Sterling spent many evenings and weekend volunteering. But the split between the world of commerce and the world of community service became too much that he began to seek out ways in which work and life could be more seamless.

Sharing the same passion with David, Mark Randall (after working for Vignelli Associates for several years) struck out on his own, running a small design studio, and had begun to have many of the same feelings that Sterling had. Randall wanted to work on projects that felt more meaningful to him personally. Randall and Sterling shared similar concerns and both wanted to work on projects that reached beyond the bottom-line needs of clients. They also wanted to work on projects in which they could feel a true sense of ownership. Worldstudio was a way to integrate both the need to make money and the need to fulfill a more basic human desire to give back to society in some way.

Figure 2. Worldstudio Inc. website screenshot (

Figure 2. Worldstudio Inc. website screenshot (

Acting on the believe that creativity holds enormous power for social change, Worldstudio established the Worldstudio Foundation in New York City, in 1993, as a vehicle for the company to give back to the creative community. The foundation was truly a grassroot initiative. Neither Sterling nor Randall had any experience in starting, let alone managing, a non-profit foundation. However in their 15 years journey, they successfully manage both sides of commercial/business and social responsibility on their design practice. Some of the profits generated from the studio are used to fund the Worldstudio Foundation.

Project: Design Ignites Change
Design Ignites Changes is a collaboration between the Adobe Foundation’s signature program, Adobe Youth Voices, and Worldstudio. It promotes and encourages talented high school and college students from across the country to use design thinking and innovation to create messages for and solutions to pressing social problems.

A major component of Design Ignites Change is a mentoring program where college students, educators and professionals work with underserved high school students to develop actual projects that benefit their own communities while giving them a voice around important social issues.

Figure 3. Design Ignites Change website screenshot (

Figure 3. Design Ignites Change website screenshot (

4.2.2. LeBoYe (Jakarta, Indonesia)

LeBoYe began life as a graphic design firm in the late 1990s when the concept of graphic design was underrated in Indonesia. Hermawan Tanzil recalled that back then most people were into advertising and it was a difficult time for graphic design studios to survive in Indonesia.” But he manages to establish LeBoYe under very modest circumstances and during some challenging times.

Figure 4. LeBoYe office (

Figure 4. LeBoYe office (

LeBoYe quickly gained local and international recognition through its unique and distinctive style of design by incorporating the Indonesia cultural style and heritage. The unique style came from Hermawan Tanzil’s desire to give back to the society and his effort to educate people to be proud of their own culture and not just simply follow the global trend/culture.

Project: A – Z of Archipelago

Figure 5. The A - Z of Archipelago project by LeBoYe

Figure 5. The A – Z of Archipelago project by LeBoYe

Just recently LeBoYe announced its non-commercial work called A – Z of Archipelago. The project took around 10 years to complete. A lot of rearrangements of ornaments representing the 26 letters of the alphabet were made in order to obtain the right variation that best personify the Indonesian archipelago without trying to emphasize too much on certain ethnic or culture.

Figure 6. The A – Z of Archipelago project by LeBoYe

Figure 6. The A – Z of Archipelago project by LeBoYe

As the world’s largest archipelago country, Indonesia is known as a wealthy nation with abundant resources, diverse culture and people. Located at the heart of a vast network of trading routes for centuries, Indonesia has absorbed various foreign influences and inherited a wealth of cultural symbolism. The symbolism represents expression of spiritual and cultural values.

LeBoYe sees these symbols applied as exquisite patterning on textile, architectural details and other items of practical use. The specific embellishment tells us many things including the cultural area, the technical method, the social use and other related meaning. Few examples such as Lokcan pattern from Tuban, East Java, which is ornamented with Chinese phoenix bird as an emblem of beauty; and valuable double-weave Patola silk out of Gujerat are well known as prestigious inter-island trade during Dutch colony. Some patterns even have ceremonial/religious functions, or indicate the power/status of the owner. These glorious traditions to ethnic craft are testimony to the cultural diversity of Indonesia and superb craftsmanship.

The admiration then inspires Hermawan Tanzil to initiate the A-Z of Archipelago collection project that consists of carefully selected ornamental motifs displaying the heritage of Indonesian patterns.

4.3. Synthesis

From some of the samples above, it is evident that some design movements and practices have occurred for some time. It took them over 10 years to find a balance between doing a commercially design projects and socially responsible work.

In the case of non-profit organisations, within a short period of time both the Designers Accord and Design Can Change manage to collect a huge number of supporters13. It implies increasing awareness towards social responsibility, and while not all of the supporters completely embraced or practiced the ethical codes, the sense of consciousness is a start.




“With great power comes great responsibility”
– Spiderman’s Uncle Ben

5.1. Design Social Responsibility: Afterword

It is challenging for graphic designers to ignore the commercial side of their profession in order to fully dedicate themselves to ethical and socially responsible design practice. The present economic system demands clients to fulfill very high business goals and social responsibility in design may not be in the picture to achieve this. Therefore, unless the designer is financially successful it would be challenging to balance commercial success and social responsibility in design.

As showcased in chapter 4, there were a handful of designers and design studios that are able to incorporate social responsibility into their design practice, though it required time, dedication and commitment to reach where they are now.

In sum, there are designers who believe it is worthwhile to consider and embrace ethical design practice but factors such as financial consideration, the economy and global market conditions do affect their efforts.

5.2. What’s Next: The Future of Ethical and Socially Responsible Design

It is too simplistic to say that there is a straight line to follow in trying to balance business and social responsibility within the visual communication design practice. Both aspects are important but we know that several factors do play a role in achieving this balance.

As visually described in the diagram below, in order to achieve “success” we have to distinguish the end goals of commercial design and that of social design in relation to personal and professional ethics within the visual communication design practice.

Figure 7. Pyramid of Success: Balancing personal and professional ethics in visual communication design practice

Figure 7. Pyramid of Success: Balancing personal and professional ethics in visual communication design practice

To start with, we need to look back at the very basic foundation of visual communication design. First, you need to know what you are doing and understand the core essence of visual communication design, which is to inform and communicate. You must possess the skills, understand the goals, and deliver the message to the audience using visual, sign, symbol and language. By simply doing good, such as designing a poster for a nonprofit organisation, does not qualify to be called an ethical graphic design.

Second, we can’t deny the fact that visual communication design is a social activity as well as a commercial activity that affects people’s behavior. Like politics, we have to be cautious on what and how we deliver our client’s message to the general public, whether from the commercial or ethical standpoint.

Third, given that incorporating ethics into design is a challenge, it is important to try to balance both commercial and ethical elements in design. Commercially good design does not always impact society positively, and vice versa. To bridge the gaps, it is important for designers to make a commitment and choice as to what values and principles they want to embrace. In most cases, financially established studios and designers have more flexibility in choosing projects and clients. Let’s also not forget that graphic design is another job, a source of income, so it is a challenge for most to combine ethics and meeting the commercial objectives of the client.

Following the theoretical approach in chapter 2 and the interviews in chapter 3, I have placed the designers interviewed in chapter 3 within the context of the pyramid. The placement is a graphical representation of the synthesis at the end of chapter 3.

DB = David Berman; HK = Hanny Kardinata; MR = Mark Randall; HS = Henry Steiner; HT = Hermawan Tanzil Figure 8. Pyramid of Success: Graphical presentation of the position of the different designers interviewed

DB = David Berman; HK = Hanny Kardinata; MR = Mark Randall; HS = Henry Steiner; HT = Hermawan Tanzil
Figure 8. Pyramid of Success: Graphical presentation of the position of the different designers interviewed

The above is an example to show that we, designers, have our own success measurement. It is vital that we realise the power we have in design, that we have a choice to be ethical, and the ability to apply it in our design practice. It is important to stress that the individual designer solely owns the right to decide. This is just the beginning of the discussion on design social responsibility in this paper. To be more comprehensive, we should look at ethics and social responsible design as a profession and its history, but that would be another search in the journey of visual communication design.


1 Mr. Keedy, Hysteria Intelligent Design, Not Clever Advertising published in Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility ed. by Heller, Steven and Vienne, Veronique (2003). p.208, originally published in Adbuster, September/October 2001

2 Design for the Real World, published originally in Swedish in Sweden in 1970, and in English in 1971.

3 Anne Bush, Beyond Pro Bono, Graphic Design’s Social Work, published in Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design  Responsibility, ed. Steven Heller & Veronique Vienne (2003)

4 Milton Glaser, The Designer/Citizen, published in AIGA website, September 20, 2005 (

5 Suzan S. Szenasy, Ethics and Sustainability: Graphic Designers’ Role (

6 Paul Nini, In Search of Ethics in Graphic Design, published in AIGA website, August, 16 2004

7 Kathy Abusow, Raising the Bar for Sustainability: The Graphic Arts Community Chooses SFI Certification and Support Responsible Forest Management Worldwide. Graphic Design USA article March 23, 2008

8 The SFI program managed by SFI Inc, a non-profit organization is an internationally endorsed certification for forest products from 3rd party certified well-managed forests.

9 DGI website can be found at:

10 Katherine McCoy, Good Citizenship, Design as a Social and Political Force. Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility ed. Steven Heller (2003)

11 Valerie Casey was the youngest-ever associate partner at international design firm Pentagram, an executive creative director at strategic-creative consultancy Frog Design, and is now global head of digital experiences at industrial-design powerhouse Ideo.


13 As of July 2008, there are more than 100,000 people take the pledge in their support for the Designers Accord while for Design Can Change, 1800 pledges from designers in 77 different countries was acquired as of May 2008.



A-Z: Archipelago, a project by LeBoYe. Posted on LeBoYe blog at:

Abusow, Kathy. Raising the Bar for Sustainability: The Graphic Arts Community Chooses SFI Certification and Supports Responsible Forest Management Worldwide. Graphic Design USA article – March 23, 2008.

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Heller, Steven and Vienne, Veronique (ed) (2003). Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility.New York: Allworth Press.

Holland, D.K. (ed) (2001). Design Issues: How Graphic Design Informs Society. New York, N.Y.: Allworth Press.

Ignatius Hermawan Tanzil profiled in Design Grafis Indonesia website

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Lavin, Maud (2001). Clean New World: Culture, Politics, and Graphic Design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

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Margolin, Victor and Buchanan, Richard (1995). The Idea of Design. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Mark Randall profiled in January 2009 edition of GD USA, News Magazine for Graphic Designers and other Creative Professionals. Retrieved from

McDonough, William (2002). Cradle to cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. New York: North Point Press.

New Design, September/October 2001, Gillard Welch Limited, London.

Nini, Paul, In Search of Ethics in Graphic Design, August 16, 2004. Retrieved from

Papanek, Victor (1984). Design for the Real World. Human Ecology and Social Change. New York: Melbourne: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.; Chicago, Ill.: Academy Chicago Publishers.

Roberts, Lucienne (2006). Good: An Introduction to Ethics in Graphic Design. Lausanne, Switzerland: AVA Publishing.

Szenasy, Susan S. (2003). Ethics and Sustainability: Graphic Designers’ Role. Retrieved from

Tahkokallio, Päivi and Vihma, Susan (1994). Design “Pleasure or Responsibility?: selected and edited articles from the International Conference on Design at the University of Art and Design, Helsinki UIAH 21 – 23 June.

Vihma, Susann (1990). Semantic Visions in Design. Helsinki: University of Industrial Art Helsinki.

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Whiteley, Nigel (1993). Design For Society. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.



INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS Interview with David B. Berman

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

CM: As a designer, how do you measure success?

DB: We are very strategy focused in my design practice so every project has a strategic brief where we start of asking ourselves the key questions. How will we all know when we have succeeded? And so to get that question answered you need to identify what are you going to measure. And what measurements will indicate success? When are you going to measure, who will measure and how they will share that information with everybody else in the project. We found that by taking that approach it often forces client to think more carefully before they begin.

So we start later but we finish earlier. And we finish earlier with much more valuable results. If the client isn’t ready to answer that question or have us helped them answer that question then we don’t think that we’re ready to start.

And sometimes there will be some kicking and screaming from the client. But ultimately they usually client benefit in the process, in fact our strategic approach has become a whole area that I teach. We have developed a strategic approach to design that we share with people in seminars.

Now in more and more we’re encouraging people to consider triple bottom lines approach to measuring success. So success for a commercial client is not just measured in terms of financial, it’s measured in terms of the impact on the organization and the impact on the world as well.

CM: Some designers especially young designers probably see success if they win an award or make their client gain more profit commercially and obviously different designers will have different opinion on that.

DB: We haven’t put in anything for an award show in 10 years. I stop doing it because I decided it wasn’t the right way to measure success.

The problem is you ended up with designers trying to win awards rather than help their clients to succeed and often it can be done at the same time but there’s the danger in the skewing.

There are some excellent awards programme out there like the Index awards that awards for 3 bottom line thinking are wonderful things.

I would like to think that it comes afterwards and that they don’t think about the awards when they’re doing the work. That they’re after the dust is clear and after that hmm perhaps we will put that in the award.

I’m not saying that anything is wrong with award but the fact that we don’t demonstrates our approach to strategy.

CM: What does ethical means to you?

DB: Well there is personal ethics and professional ethics and the designer has to consider both of them come together to how we’re going to respond. A given designer will responds to a given situation.

So typically when we’re talking about ethical conducts for designers we are referring to or conforming to a public standard that has been subscribe to so for instance if you’re a member of the Hong Kong Designers Association (HKDA) and the HKDA’s code of ethics which the designer subscribe to and if someone hires a designer who claims to be a member than they can assume a certain minimum level of ethical behaviour.

However then I believe that as part of your professional ethics, you have to be, as the professional you need to be working in the alignment with your own personal principles. And so that means that the whole ethical package doesn’t just include a minimum level of behaviour that is described by the professional association you publicly declared to be the member of as well you have to make sure your behaviour is in the alignment withyour own personal principles and values.

Because that’s the mark of our profession. It’s not something that you turn on and off nine to five but that’s something you live in for 24/7.

So those two things together are your professional ethics. Not all people will define it in the same way but that’s how I define it. That’s what it means.

CM: In that sense do you think designers need to set certain standards of ethical guidance for their design practice?

DB: Yes I do. I would like to think that you can get in the practice of becoming naturally it’s something about how you carry yourself.

It’s certainly starting out and overtime certain patterns will come out that require thinking through and I know some studios that have established specific questions and answers type of scenarios for their staff, what do you do when these type of things happened and what do you do when that type of things happened.

In fact we are working on developing a classroom guide for the book that will help people use it in education and part of it is going to be that type of Q&A situations from the real world examples.

CM: How do you really see the role of designers in context of social responsibility?

DB: I think it’s the core of what we do and there’s an opportunity not every designer will embrace it but there’s an opportunity to help create a more social responsible world through the professional behaviour and the designer can choose to be involved in that or not. However I think because we have the special opportunities and roles in the society we have to because we can do it. We should do it.

CM: So basically it’s an individual choice for the designer for wanting to do more for the society, environment etc or not?

DB: Well that’s why when we talk about ethics being a part of a public code as well as a personal principles and values. I think that most people have the nature in their principles but that’s the majority of designers. It will be hard to find a designer who doesn’t have some sense of that moral obligation within their personal principles and therefore if they reflect it in their work it’s an avoidably going to surface.

And if they ignore that in their work I believe typically show up as a contradiction that will stand in the way of doing an excellent design work.

CM: How do you manage or balance your professional practice and doing good responsible work?

DB: How we do it is we do carefully select our clients. We either work with clients who are specifically have their core/mandate to do activities which aids the society or the environment or sometimes take on clients that are perhaps neutral in that way but gives us the opportunity to learn more about how we can work with clients who have that.

So for my own practices we either choose clients that are revertly are doing something that’s helping repairing the world or we choose the client that is at least neutral in terms of that but allows us the opportunity to learn the new skills or gain new opportunities which will help us strengthen ourselves as capable designer as we expand our sheer of influence and can do more good.

CM: It seems that in reality it is difficult to select or choose clients who embrace the ethical principles and being socially responsible, especially for small agencies who don’t have the luxury to select their clients.

DB: First perhaps is to seek such clients. You have to decide who your next client should be and seek them out and that can be a hard work. And hopefully eventually they will come to you because you will establish yourself as someone that people will talk to.

It is difficult when you don’t have enough work to make tough decisions but you know when we have tough decisions to make that’s when our principles really shows. It’s easy to choose between right and wrong, between yes or no but it is much more difficult to choose between really good and even better.

And those perhaps most of our biggest challenge is in the sophisticated world are of that nature.

CM: Do you think the notion of being socially responsible will affect the client?

DB: I think essentially there’s no distinction between the two. They are ultimately the same challenge.

CM: Do we need to educate client on this issue?

DB: Everyone we rub up against in the world is affected by us. We can interact with people without changing them or being changed ourselves. So when we model excellent behaviour we help manifest it. Especially because we’re in the creative industry and so we’re typically in a role where we’re in the more innovative process than our clients tend to be.

They look to us as models of innovation so when they can see that it’s possible to innovate in certain ways or it’s possible to run the business in a way that is ethical that measure success more than just profit then they’re likely to be influenced and If we can make amazing things happen by behaving that way they will also learn that they can do that as well.

And then there are possible ways perhaps often you’ll find. I know I have clients who I admire and help me strive to be better because they do such noble things. In fact to work for an organization that are doing good for the world that it reminds constantly of the importance. We have one group we do which is an NGO, they’re dedicated to creating partnerships with groups in the development world using knowledge sharing, knowledge transfer of Canadian know-how with organisations in different parts of the development worlds who are requires strong governance and hope, funding and whatever it takes. But their approach to international development is different than most because it’s highly respectful and sustainable. We published a lot of stuff for them and we know constantly see that the work they’re doing and how noble and good it is. It just reminds you that you have to keep doing it yourselves.

We should be cautious not to get distracted by profit.

CM: Do you think designer should be seen as a profession similar with doctors, lawyers etc?

DB: Here in Ontario we have such certification in the province of Canada. It’s a good thing. It raises the standard for design and for ethical behaviour.

Something has to be reasurely specific but at the same time the ICOGRADA (International Counsel of Graphic Design Association) have been able to establish a template for the types of ideas that a national organization or regional organizations can include in their own code of conduct. So in the same way I believe that a lot of the structure that we developed here in Ontario to establish governance of certified professional association or certifying professionals association is transportable. I say at east 50% of it is transportable and 20% have to be customised per region.

That’s certainly doable and I’ll be please to help for anyone who wants to do it.

We have had discussions in several countries on how to make it happen. We were able to establish it in Norway. In the book in fact I told a story about how we establish this in Norway based from the model here. The professional association of designers and illustrators were inspired on what I told them of what’s possible and we’re very much use the good part of the model to help them get it done.

CM: How do you see the world of designers in the society and how designers socially responsibility changing and develop over the recent years?

DB: It’s changing rapidly and it’s becoming more hopeful every year. I’ve seen the change just over the last 7 or 8 years. There’s remarkable shift is taking place even in the round the turn of the millennium the idea of designer as agent of social changes considered as crazy left wing interesting idea that people are all thought very nice but it wasn’t the mainstream concept. Now everyone is talking about it. It’s become accepted by the majority of people in some levels part of what the designer is. And that I’m very pleased and proud of. It’s a thrill to be part of a group of experts who has been urging for this and to see it change as I travel to different countries. I’ve seen the change in the over the past decade.

CM: Do you think we have to start the notion of designers’ social responsibility in design education?

DB: When I put the question to an audience of educators in design field two years ago, we asked them how many people have this included in their programme and we got maybe 5%. But when I asked how many people thought we should have this in the design programme it was more like 90%.

It’s something that’s changing very quickly and I’m encouraging people that this has to be part of your design practice. I think it’s crazy that you spent 3 to 4 years in a design programme and you may spent thousand of hours involve in learning on how to use the tools but there would be one course in ethics or social responsibility in that period. And that it’s changing. Part of the reasons I wrote the book because I see it as a book that every student should read or another book that professes similar ideas.

CM: Realistically speaking how much can designers actually change the world?

DB: We can have a profound effect on the world. Human civilization and how it behave.

Unfortunately we can also have the profound effect on the environment that are not necessarily positive. We really have to be careful. We have the power to create an awful lot of sorrow and destruction and humiliation. We have the tools to manipulate how people behave, to great determined to the society or we can choose to use our opportunities and our skill to help create a more just world and a more sustainable world. The first step is to realise how much power we have and once we realise that then we can decide to choose as to how we will use it.

CM: Any suggestions for designers who want to do good?

DB: The first step I would suggest is to take the public pledge that they will behave in that way and tell people that they done so because one of the most key motivators for human beings to behave in a certain way is to make a public declaration they’re going to behave that way and they feel an obligation to follow through. The next step is to learn about how to do it. So what are the techniques one requires not just to do great design work but also to run a sustainable design practice. It involves being educated about the world not just about how design works but how the mechanics of sociology, economics and politics are operate to be aware of what’s need fixing is the first step to knowing how to fix it.

Everywhere there are designers, we see these challenges in different way so of course if you don’t understand what needs fixing it’s really hard to fix. Once you become aware of what requires your attention then it’s really not that difficult to put your creative talents and skills to work and thinking how can I use the opportunity and skills and the inclination I have to take what I love doing. What is the big part of me to be a designer and apply it to solving these problems. There’s no shortage of situation where you can apply. It’s just the matter of choosing one that fits your situation and going for it.


Interview with Hanny Kardinata

Monday, 2 March 2009

CM: As a designer, how do you measure success?

HK: The definition of success is often ambiguous: morally or financially. I tend to choose the first word as my definition for success, even though we also have to consider the second one. Idealism is more likely to be practiced by those who are economically sufficient, despite many examples that states otherwise.

CM: What does ethical means to you?

HK: Honesty in utterance

CM: How do you see the role of designers in social responsibility?

HK: A Graphic designer cannot be separated from the social dynamics that occur around him. For example, when a designer sees the earth is destructed by global warming, he has to do something. Each designer will find his own way to involve in reducing this green house effect.

CM: Being responsible to whom: client, consumer, environment, culture etc?

HK: All of them.

CM: Do you see any differences on being ethical towards the different end users/clients as mentioned in the previous question?

HK: The first consideration is financial condition. When designers are prosperous, they have bargaining power and also have the option to select clients. For Example, These designers can reject any projects from a cigarette company. This is a process towards a better attitude.

CM: Why do designers need to take the responsibility?

HK: In a narrow understanding, designers were influenced by graphic design; therefore he is responsible for purifying it. In a broader understanding, this point of view applies to their environments, countries, etc.

CM: How do you see the issue of being ‘ethical’ in visual communication in general and your design practice in particular?

HK: Honesty lies in one’s inner self. When you cheat, you insult your own inner self. Lying to the public is similar to ‘suicide.’

CM: How do you see the role of a designer in this context of being ‘ethical’?

HK: Being ethical is an absolute obligation for designers, be it to fellow designers or to the society.

CM: When we talk about designers’ responsibility to society, culture, environment etc, how do you manage to balance your professional practice and good responsible work?

HK: I founded DGI (Graphic Design Indonesia) community through This community will be a public space for Indonesian graphic designers. I founded DGI because, at first, I want to distribute newspaper articles that I keep since 1970s. I wish these articles can be a note in the history of Indonesian graphic design. On this site, I invite Indonesian graphic designer figures to share their visual and written works. Some DGI history can be read on

CM: Should design be seen as a good business or just being good (ethical and responsible)?

HK: We can’t choose one. Both have to be performed in a well-balanced manner.

CM: How these affect the end user in particularly the ‘client’? Is it good for their business?

HK: Sometimes designers face difficult situation. I also had this dilemma when I was an advertising designer and had to work in a team. But as a graphic designer, the frequency of this argumentation gets lower. Below-the-line jobs are more subtle, not as hard as most of the advertising design job.

CM: How should designers apply these principles of being responsible and ethical into their own design practices?

HK: Never compromise any public lies proposed by the clients

CM: Should ‘designer’ be a profession, similar with doctors, lawyer etc?

HK: Of course

CM: How do you see the role of designers in the society and how designers’ social responsibility is changing and develop over the recent years?

HK: There is a significant increase in the social awareness of designers all around the world. This is good.

CM: Visual communication is about generating ideas, concept and creating good visuals, advertisement etc. Realistically speaking, how much can design/designers actually change the world?

HK: Basically, visual communication design creates ideas, concepts, and interesting visuals, advertisements, etc. In fact, how far can a designer influence the world?

Design is able to do something, if not, why should we bother to learn it? But sometimes a product of visual communication design doesn’t stand alone. Inside this product there are many disciplines, such as copywriting. The success of an advertisement can’t be measured only by the design. An advertisement, wholly, can direct a person to choose product A, not product B.

I remember the “Watermarks Project”, a public art project that recently was presented to the citizens of Bristol. A series of moving letters is projected to the wall of a high-rise building in Bristol city centre. These letters are shown in the same height that possibly can occur when Greenland’s ice melts because of global warming (official data source of Bristol government). For me, this conceptual design will influence people, at least it can be a reflection for Bristol citizens. Visit


Interview with Mark Randall

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

CM: As a designer, how do you measure success?

MR: That’s an interesting question. I think you measure success by does the work that you do, you know, have the intended impact that you wanted to have. Does it increase your client’s sales, does it communicate your client message in a much better way, does it get more people involved with your client’s work. So in a way I think measuring success in design is somewhat difficult, it’s a little bit like advertising, it is hard to measure success but I think it is really important to be aware of it and actually when you start the project if you can determine some guidelines about what it is that would make the project successful, determine some goals like ok I’m going to design this website and I’m going to get 1,000 people to signup for this thing. So then you design the website and you see if you get the 1,000 people. To create some tangible goals and then measure the success against those goals is a good way to do it.

CM: What does ethical means to you?

DB: Well I think it’s another really good question because it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people of course. To me personally I think something that’s ethical means it doesn’t harm somebody else or take advantages from somebody else or the environment. It causes no harm to other people or the environment. That’s a simple way to say it but to me that’s how I would define it.

CM: How do you really see the role of designers in context of social responsibility and why designers should take the responsibility?

MR: Well because if we look around the world, look around your room, everything is designed. Design touches everything that we do, the buildings are created, the magazine is designed. Because designers create the world that we are all share and lived in. Designers have the real responsibility and make choices that are informed and responsible so I think sometimes we underestimate the power that we have and so often make choices that might benefit our ego or we might want to use printing processes that aren’t the best for the environment but we think they really cool. It’s not necessarily a good way to go about or thinking about something.

So it’s really important in whatever we do, to think about how the impact that it has on much bigger community level and then make decisions that minimize the negative impact.

CM: Do you see any differences on being ethical towards the different user/audience?

MR: No. I mean some clients might have different ethical requirements but I think that as a designer you have to determine what your ethical definition is and you have to work within that.

CM: How do you manage to balance your professional practice and doing a good responsible work?

MR: Well I think through the choices that we made here at Worldstudio, a lot of the work that we do is for nonprofit organisations and specific organisations like cities. By the nature of our client base, I think that the work that we do is pretty ethical because of the goal of the organisations that we work with is to make community better. So for us, perhaps it’s easy because we’re not packaging cigarettes or anything. A lot of it based on the choice that we made for the kind of work the Worldstudio does and that’s how we make our money. But then outside of that we have a non-profit foundation and we do work in that round which gives back to the community on another level. So it’s really was based on the choices that we made here as how to structure our studio.

CM: Out of curiosity, most of you clients are non-profit organisations. Do you get a lot of income out of it?

MR: It’s not as lucrative as if we work for big corporation. But again that’s the choice that we make.

CM: Do you still open yourself to work with big corporation?

MR: Yes absolutely. In the past we have. It’s just our interest took us into this direction but we’re open to working with big corporation. We actually are working on a big project with Adobe right now. But what’s interesting is we’re working with the Adobe Foundation so that’s the non-profit organisation that Adobe supports but ultimately the Adobe foundation exist to help Adobe sell more software products.

CM: What inspires you to do good?

MR: I think what it was that both David and I were like being designers, we like the process of design, we like our clients, we like doing design work for big corporation or even for non-profit. But we also wanted to do something, we both are interested in using our creativity to get back to the larger community in some ways so we thought how we could do both, how could we have our clients make money being designer but also do what we cared about and create projects that we have ownership of that could give back to the community in some ways. So that’s really what droves us to develop this idea of Worldstudio. It’s a human desire to want to do good in the world.

CM: How do you see the changing role of designers’ social responsibility in recent years globally in general and locally in your own country?

MR: When David and I start Worldstudio 15 years ago this idea of design and social responsibility was not very popular and well known and it was like the nineties people had money it was a little bit, the beginning of the internet boom, everyone’s really interested in the internet so they want to paying attention to this kind of issue.

But lately design as it relates to social responsibility become very popular, it’s something that a lot of schools are teaching their students and school become an idea and become very popular and I think that it’s all different ideas that we really believed in to actually make it possible because people will see how design and creative thinking can address some of the issues in interesting and compelling way. Now there’s more awareness, there is a new generation of designers wanting to use their creativity to give back to their communities in some way.

I think we yet to see what the possibilities are but I think it’s really great that the design community is starting to embrace this idea and thinking this way.

Traditionally designer has always been a tool for capitalism, which is fine, and I don’t have a problem with that. I think it’s great. I have no problem with capitalism I think it’s a great system. I’m a capitalist too but I think design can be so much more and it’s great that people are trying to use design to expand the definition of design and to think about other ways that design can be used beyond than just selling products and pitching ideas.

CM: Do you think there’s any difference within this movement in America and possibly other countries?

MR: I know that for example in Europe, the sustainability green movement has had much more, has been around a lot longer and had much more importance than it has in America. In America it’s a relatively new idea compared to in Europe. People in Europe were really interested in sustainability but America weren’t. But now America is really catching up and I always think America is maybe a little bit behind sometimes when it comes to some of these social issues.

But I think when they get on board they will go crazy. So it happens all very fast. I just really noticed there’s a real movement in America today around design and social issues. Which is only growing.

CM: Do you think that we need specific ethical guidelines for designers?

MR: There’s an organisation called the Designers Accord. In a way that’s what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to put together some sort of ethical guidelines that people can follow.

I think it’s kind of difficult to develop guidelines that everybody can follow. I think it’s a noble idea. I’ll be interested to see how the Designers Accord if they have success and I hope they do because I think it’s a really good place to start. To think about Designers Accord, they want these guidelines to be voluntary and they want it to be a movement from within the design community so that it’s not something that you have to sign on, like a seal of approval. They want it to be voluntary. I think that in the end ultimately it’s going to have to be voluntary but then again it’s also going to be driven by market forces. So for many in the design disciplines, the work that they do is predicated on their clients. If there’s a cigarette company somewhere, there’s always going to be a designer that’s going to design for the cigarette company.

There are no ethical rules that can be applied to everybody. So once people want to buy a cigarette even if they know they’re bad for them, there’s going to be a cigarette company that’s going to sell them the cigarettes. If there’s a cigarette company, there’s going to be a designer who’s going to design the packaging of those cigarettes. A lot of them will be driven by the market. And as soon as people give up smoking then there’s no cigarette company and there won’t be a designer who’s going to design the packaging for the cigarette company.

A lot of it will be driven by the market.

CM: So it’s sounded like a vicious cycle then.

MR: Well in a way it does. So there’s always going to be, you know, think about gun manufacturers or anything that people think is bad for the society. As long as there are gun manufacturers there’s going to be designers out there who’s going to design the gun, the bullets, the brochure that sells the gun to the gun owner.

So you can’t get away from that. That’s just the reality of the situation so because of that you can’t; you know there won’t be any guideline that everybody will follow. And some people don’t think guns are bad especially in America. People in America love guns. It’s a big grey area.

CM: I suspect it comes down to how you use the object rather than just look into the objet in isolation.

MR: You know if there’s a gun out there, somebody will use it in a wrong way. But then again you could sort of thinking about it this way; you could say ok I’m a designer and I design a brochure about a gun. I think guns are fine, I have no problem designing a brochure about the gun, but I’m going to use recycle paper. I’m going to make sure that this brochure has as little impact on the environment. I’ll be responsible with how I’m going to have it printed and use printer that doesn’t dump pollution into the ocean.

It’s a very complex issue. So a designer who designs a gun brochure possibly could also be somebody who really cares about the environment and have ethical guidelines around the issue of sustainability.

CM: How much a designer can actually change the world?

MR: I think there’s a potential for design to have a big impact on the world and I think that in some ways it may not know what that impact can be but like I said everything that gets created in the world is touched by design. So if everybody starts to act ethically and moral responsibly, it’s going to make a huge change in the world and I think that now designers are really aware of design and social responsibility, their ideas that is going to come out of that, we can’t even imagine. You know you think of the kid who started Facebook, ten years ago no one ever thought Facebook would be anything but now it’s a huge phenomena and it all happened really fast. You know designers can come up with amazing ideas that impact the world, how we interact and how we communicate, really have profound positive impact. Which is what I hope happen.


Interview with Henry Steiner

Thursday, 26 March 2009

CM: As a designer, how do you measure success?

HS: I think there are three measurements: have you satisfied the requirements of your projects and clients, do you have a sound reputation among your colleagues, are you able to make a living as a designer?

CM: What does ethical means to you?

HS: Design is a profession, although a minor one. (Nobody ever died from bad graphic design, though people have gotten headaches or found themselves lost from inadequate signage.) Ethics and social responsibility can substitute for competence in design. Chairman Mao said “Better Red than expert in other words, if you were a loyal Communist it didn’t matter if you were competent. We know what that led to: famine, the cultural revolution, and holding China back for decades. More pragmatically, Deng Xiaoping said “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice”.

If I go to a doctor I don’t care what his religion is or whether he is dedicated to world peace and ending famine in Africa, or anything else. I’m concerned whether he can make me well. In other words, ethics is meaningless in the context of graphic design. What is more important for graphic designers is the ability to create something that communicates and, even rarer these days, is legible. It’s easy to do peace and save-the-planet posters but after all these years the world has not been improved one bit by them.

We are designers, not artists, though a lot of designers seem to want to be artists but without the talent or fiercedrive required. Therefore they like to do posters, which are a sort of art form for them. Because politically correct posters are not commercial, designers get the sense of doing something worthy and important. All they’re doing is wasting paper.

CM: So based on what you just said, do you think designers don’t have to take the responsibility in terms of social context?

HS: What does that have to do with design? If you’re a truck driver does it matter whether you believe in God? Of course I have feelings about society that influence my personal decisions; I’m not going to work for a tobacco company, for example. But my ethics as a designer require that I can communicate, that I know reproduction processes and the computer, and that I understand my clients and their problems. But my religion, if I believe in world peace and brotherhood or the rest of it? I would rather have a selfish but competent brain surgeon operating on my head rather than somebody who believes in peace and brotherhood who isn’t really up to the job.

CM: How about things like community, culture because it can be considered as part of social responsibility?

HS: Good citizenship is distinct from my responsibilities as a graphic designer.

CM: For example if you’re a Hong Kong designer you will need to embrace your own identity rather than trying to copy Western’s style or any other style that’s not your own?

HS: Well that has nothing to do with ethics. It has more to do with professional pride and responsibility. Let me be very plain here, going back to “better Red than expert” I think design is very difficult to teach, to get people to understand typography, to appreciate legibility, to master visual communication. What’s easy to teach is software and therefore a lot of young people are coming out of schools who are software experts but can’t design. It’s also easy for practitioners to talk about social responsibility and ethical behaviour; they can do that with intensity and genuine concern” and still be incompetent designers.

CM: For me it depends on the context of your profession.

HS: Our profession is like custom tailoring. We have to be able to produce something that fits the client and the occasion as necessary, is going to last reasonably well and is attractive. That’s a close analogy for design. I don’t really care if the tailor is a child molester – that’s an issue for the law but it doesn’t affect his skill and professionalism.

CM: To be honest I’m a bit confused on how to proceed with the interview.

HS: Yes because I’m not going to give you a sermon about world peace and the rest. I think that’s often a cover for shabby design practice.

CM: How about things like sustainability, do you think designer have to care about that, because it relates with how you use the material, paper, printing processes etc?

HS: Well if designers really care about not wasting trees, maybe they should do fewer peace posters. I do believe that electronic media should be used more because so many printed things are pointless. Wherever possible I specify recycled paper; sometimes it’s a bit more expensive but it’s worth doing.

CM: So you have your own principles in terms of who you work with?

HS: Yes, but they’re based solely on personal preferences. I think there are schools that grade students on morality and that’s getting into something I associate with the Dark Ages.

CM: In a way it’s interest me because you also said that you don’t work with tobacco companies. Meaning to say that you have this assumption that they’re not doing good, they’re selling something that is not aligned with your own principles and values.

HS: It’s not about my assumptions. Tobacco is a known killer, even if legal and socially acceptable.

CM: In other words may I conclude that basically between designers and social responsibility, there’s not too many connection?

HS: Social responsibility has nothing to do with the standards of the design profession. There were some designers that were Fascist and others who weren’t. The most successful and important corporate identity of the 20th Century was created by Adolf Hitler who we despise – but that doesn’t mean that the swastika is a bad design. It was enormously effective and clearly demonstrated the power of branding.

CM: Realistically speaking, how much can design/designers actually change the world?

HS: I don’t think design has anything to do with changing the world. Designers can change the world in their own time but they shouldn’t be doing it when they’re practicing design. Graphic design cannot change the world any more than the fashion industry can change the world although as we can see in the case of the Nazis, design can be compelling. Design is a job, a useful craft.

CM: You mentioned that it’s difficult to change the world when you’re practicing design, so in a way it is difficult because at the end of the day it’s only a job and a lot of commercial context involve in it, so it’s like trying to mix two different things?

HS: Absolutely. I don’t think we want to confuse ourselves with Mother Teresa or John Lennon or Mahatma Gandhi. Yet we can take pride in what we do when we do it well. I think capable design is important and I’d certainly like to see more of it.

CM: How about design in Hong Kong in general as far as you can see and observe?

HS: I would love to see more inspired design in Hong Kong. And when I do see a memorable creation here it has nothing to do with whether the designer is socially aware or wants to change the world; it’s the work of a talented, well-trained practitioner.

CM: How do you measure the competencies of the designer, to say one designer is more competent than the other?

HS: How do we know if a restaurant is good?

There have been some fine designs produced in Hong Kong over the last 10 years. There has also been a lot of stuff that just doesn’t work; not as visual communication, not as information, and that’s what design is supposed to do. It’s much easier to be ethical than it is to be legible.

CM: Not all designers can do that (change the world) so in a way it could be like a mask for incompetency?

HS: Yes I agree with you. I say it’s easy to teach ethics and software but it’s hard to teach design. Ideally you have to be able to communicate, have a sense of design history, and a certain amount of intellect. It’s more difficult to practice your craft responsibly than to believe in good causes. Design responsibility has to do with honouring the best standards of the profession. An old proverb says, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.


Interview with Hermawan Tanzil

Monday, 23 March 2009

CM: As a designer, how do you measure success?

HT: I’m not a man with great ambition. Basically, I don’t have high-standards to measure success. We are considered a success if we are able to sell our ideas to our clients. We educate the clients and they accept it. It is what I call as success. Stating a successful designer is measured by the social responsibility is not an overstatement. We can influence many people. “Doing what you’re good at” and “Enjoying your life’s daily routine” is a success for me.

I always try doing my best, doing what I enjoy and like, and persuade clients “sometimes this is difficult in Indonesia, but they want to learn and cooperate well. The most important thing is being truthful and honest. It is important that I don’t try to be any other person but always try to find out my potential.

CM: Seems like you’re looking at success from the client’s side more than others?

HT: That’s my opinion as a designer, but if we talk as designers in a wider environment, we will have a wider range in our discussion. But as a designer, my benchmark is not the clients. It is my philosophy and belief. We have to align anything we design according to something that we believe is right. For example, I don’t like to design in a hard-sell and persuasive manner. When we see advertisements, from Citibank-for example, everything is very persuasive. They direct people to become more consumptive. I disagree with that, so I always do what I believe is good and done in the right way.

CM: How do you see the role of designers in social responsibility?

HT: In my opinion, as a designer, social responsibility is very important. A designer has to give value to a culture. Social and Culture are two things that are interrelated. It is not a good thing if we, as designers, seldom consider it as something important. To give something that has value with high social responsibility is actually the responsibility of a designer.

CM: Why do designers need to take the responsibility?

HT: Not only designers. We all have to possess the social responsibility, as a human being.

CM: How do you see the issue of being ‘ethical’ in visual communication in general and your design practice in particular?

HT: In 90’s, graphic design wasn’t well-known. It was very difficult for us to perform and sell our ideas to clients. Many people switched to advertising at that time. Besides, the economy was bad and most designs showed the western influence. There were also many new design firms. At that time, I saw my responsibility was to keep my beliefs that design must show our identity as Indonesian, eastern not western, and how to socialize graphic design itself. So I wanted to popularize Graphic design at the time.

Finally, I wrote a book: “Buatan Indonesia” It was one of my efforts to socialize graphic design. Graphic design was actually one of the social responsibilities that we would like to introduce in Indonesia.

Graphic design is something that existed in our daily life. I wished one day people will appreciate it. At that time, people switched to advertising. My book was a success and helped many people. I also wrote other series to popularize art and things as part of our daily life that we have and are proud of, such as batik and antiques.

We must believe that we have our own identity as Indonesian, as eastern. Never compare it to anyone else. We can be proud of contemporary art but we also have to show our identity. That’s social responsibility. Seems frivolous, but important for me.

CM: Looking at LeBoYe’s unique style, is it a reflection of your social responsibility or merely an aesthetic style of LeBoYe?

HT: Yes. I feel that it is one social responsibility that I would like to give to the society. Our style is not purely Indonesian, not pure style, and not ethnic. Our design shows our value as Indonesian, in particular, and Asian, in general. Partly style, but it is not the most important thing. To tell you frankly, it’s been several years I don’t even know the style that I’m using. I can also produce a contemporary design. One thing, my value of a human being, what I think is right, my responsibility as a designer . . . those are things that I will fight for.

CM: Being responsible to who?

HT: I believe that the most important thing is being responsible to God, then to our society, how we can give better value through design. This esthetic value makes us become more sensitive and better people. We can do that by design.

CM: Do we have to be responsible to the environment as well?

HT: The most important thing is our responsibility to God. But social responsibility is also important for me. So does our responsibility to our clients. Never design something which is good in our opinion but bad for our client. We also have to consider the marketing efforts needed to sell this product. If the product doesn’t suit our value ad philosophy, don’t do it. It also happens in our project. Social and cultural value is very important in our society. If we don’t have culture, we don’t have social value in our design, whereas it is the most important thing.

CM: How do you balance your professional practice and doing good responsible work?

HT: As graphic designers in Indonesia, most of our projects are commercial. It’s very rare to have a social project. We can contribute by creating educational products, that reminds us to such books and cards.

If we only do social projects, we won’t have the money. So we have to do commercial projects too. There are many kinds of commercial projects. There are some commercial projects in which we can add value. There are also other commercial projects that we may not change anything, we have to follow the clients. Sometimes, in these kinds of projects, the clients have their own principles, their own marketing campaign, and their own philosophy. We have to balance it. There are some projects that will give good income to us, but there are also projects in which we don’t earn anything but we have the chance to contribute to our society, to educate them, and to influence them in a good way. In these kinds of projects, we can’t put income as our first priority.

There are about 20% projects that will give good income to us. But there are also 30% projects that we do only to give social contribution. We give but we don’t receive anything. That’s why we need balance. Without balance, we can’t survive as a company.

CM: Do you think that by producing good design means you’re being ethical?

HT: Yes, definitely. Good design should have a value, not only aesthetic, but deeper.

CM: Should designer be seen as a profession similar with doctors, lawyers etc?

HT: I would always associate ourselves, if I explain to our clients; we want to consider ourselves not as designers who created visuals, a visual artist. We assume ourselves as doctors, lawyers. Basically, doctor is a high-risk profession. When a doctor makes mistakes, the patient will possibly die. When we create a logo, we can’t say that a company will die because we have designed a wrong logo. That’s why this is difficult to be communicated. Indonesians tend to consider us as visual artists, we only make beautiful designs. But that’s the challenge. I think design is popular now. There is visual communication design major in many universities. It means many people are learning graphic design. In 80’s, among 100 people, there was only one person who studied design: me. Other students chose architecture, economic, or civil engineering.

When I meet a client, sometimes I feel as if I’m a doctor. We become sensitive designers, meet clients, and ask questions to them. That’s what differentiates us from any other company. Based on my research, a company is 55% determined by the person. They create the company’s atmosphere. This is what is important in our design: creating a “personal” design. To do that we approach our client, discuss with them, and also refer to their fashion and their way of speaking.

Often, when I meet a client, I already know what kind of design is suitable for this person. That’s what makes design interesting and I have taught my staff too, that a designer should have such instinct. We have to hone our knowledge and sense so that we can solve problems like a doctor or a lawyer.

CM: How do you see the changing role of designers’ social responsibility in recent years?

HT: This is the problem that we have to socialize in the graphic design world. Recently, we and our associates started to perform designs related to social responsibility. Perhaps this is a way to lift up the status of Indonesian designers. People know that graphic design is important but, mostly, they only consider it as a visual supplement. Besides, there are so many design firms that provide competitive rates. People tend to treat us alike while actually we are different. Don’t treat Armani like GAP.

Now we start to consider our social role. All this time we only think about money and our own job that filled with competition, price and creativity, and no recognition. Different from architecture or engineering, graphic design is not in a good condition therefore we have to socialize with our fellow designers. Graphic designers start to design social awareness poster. We also have to impart the importance of graphic design to our clients.

CM: Do you think that we need special ethical guidelines (code of ethics) for graphic design?

HT: That guidelines are now being prepared by ADGI but this is not an easy job, especially in the economic situation like this. But this has to be finished, especially because it is the main responsibility of ADGI. To tell you frankly, it is a bit difficult to persuade designers to join the association. Perhaps it is the Indonesian business culture that makes them hesitate to gather and share, and it’s not good. When I compare it to architecture, for instance, they have AMI (Indonesian Young Architect Association) and IAI (Indonesian Architect Association). They can gather and give criticism to their fellow architect’s work. I don’t know why not many graphic designers want such a community. Perhaps they are busy or they are forced by the economic situation to prioritize income.







The Suffrage Atelier and Artist’s Suffrage League develop an iconography which campaigns for women’s rights. Mary Lowndes creates work using imagery of famous women throughout history. In the UK, women over 30 win the right to vote in 1918; in the US, women are granted the right to vote in 1920.


Poet, writer and illustrator William Morris, rejecting opulence in favor of simplicity, good craftsmanship and good design, sets in motion the arts and crafts movement.


The October Revolution ushers in a utopian dream best illustrated by constructivist artists El Lissitzky and Alexander Rodchenko. Their graphic symbolism for a new age combined asymmetrical compositions, bold type, and elementary shapes to illustrate a new radicalism.


Marxist and Dadaist John Heartfield (born Helmet Herzfelde) develops photomontage as a political weapon, notably in the socialist magazine A.I.Z. (Workers Illustrated Paper) where he attacks Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.


Harry Beck takes information design into a new era with his design for the London Underground system, by laying out a simple map unrelated to the topography above it.


Otto Neurath develops the International System of Typographic Picture Education (Isotype), an ‘international picture language’, which lays the foundations for graphic symbols worldwide. Former Viennese colleague Rudolf Modley went on to develop the influential and still popular Handbook of Pictorial Symbols.


The Spanish Civil War creates an astonishing wealth of images (including films) that not only exhort people to fight Fascism, but also illiteracy, disorganisation, and poverty.


Abram Games work for the War Office was an early example of graphic design’s power to persuade, inform, and educate all at once. Much imitated, he was never bettered.


Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders, a scathing critique of advertising’s exploitation, is published. Sensationalist and flawed at the time, it is unerringly prescient.


Royal College Art graduate Gerald Holtom designs the peace symbol for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). It appears as a cardboard lollipop on the first major antinuclear march in the UK.


The arrival of underground magazines IT, Yarrow Roots, Gandalf’s Garden, OZ, and Black Dwarf reflects the antiestablishment, idealistic counterculture of 1960s youth.


Lawyer Peter Benenson ‘founds’ Amnesty International (AI) through a newspaper article. From the outset, AI’s graphics, ads, and directmail campaigns pull no punches, using shock tactics at their best.


Jock Kinnear and Margaret Calvert design the Transport Alphabet series font for the Worboys Committee, marking the way for legible road signage throughout the UK.


Design’s contribution to the 1960s counter-culture Ken Garland’s first things first manifesto for designers and design practice has had a lasting impact. In the 40 years since its inception, it has consistently played an important role in design discussion.


The Black Panther Party for self-defense is founded in October by Harry P. Newton and Bobby Seale. Its powerful aggressive graphics reflect its militant, proviolence stance.


NOW (National Organisation for Women) becomes the first US organisation to call for the legalization of abortion and for the repeal of all antiabortion laws. Women’s rights in general are illustrated by groups like the Chicago Women’s Graphics Collective, which turned artmaking into a collective process.


French students take to the streets, armed with striking handmade posters by art collectives such as the Atelier Populaire and the Ecole d’Art, from which emerged one of the century’s most important social design collectives, Grapus.


The decade of agitprop sees virulent antiwar graphics throughout the US by designers, illustrators, artists, and activists such as Tomi Ungerer, Synergisms, Jay Belloli, Seymour Chwast, and Ed Sorel.


Designer and environmental artist Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, a signatory of Garland’s first things first manifesto in 1964, founds the Feminist Studio Workshop and the Woman’s Building (an alternative center for women in the arts) in Los Angeles.


Victor Papanek publishes Design for the Real World, challenging the dominant, market-led approach to industrial design, and calling for more social responsibility from designers.


Bank clerk Mark Perry starts the first UK punk magazine fanzine, Sniffin Glue, after seeing punk band The Ramones. He took the unskilled do-it-yourself aspects of punk and applied them to journalism to create a new form of self-publishing, available to all.


The Buzzcocks release “Spiral Scratch” the first independent single of the New Wave, on their own independent label, New Hormones. The sleeve, designed around a Polaroid taken by manager Richard Boon, is produced for £500 (c. US$ 800), and marks the beginning of a remarkable do-it-yourself aesthetic in UK culture.


Peter Kennard’s photomontages for CND powerfully raise awareness of the movement and kickstart mass demonstrations against nuclear weapons in the UK.


Artist Barbara Kruger uses the tools of her former career in design to combine found photographs with pithy and aggressive text that addresses issues of feminism, consumerism, autonomy, and desire.


Although the Xerox Corporation developed a Graphical User Interface (GUI) during the 1970s, in 1983, the Apple Lisa becomes the first mass-produced computer to have a GUI, and this is followed, in 1984, by the Apple Macintosh.


Feminist art collective the Guerilla Girls, a bunch of anonymous females who take the names of dead women artists as pseudonyms and appear in public wearing gorilla masks, is formed to expose sexism and racism in politics and culture.



Ten New York members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) from Gran Fury, to provoke direct action to end the AIDS crisis and take informative art – images they believed more compelling when accompanied by words of explanation and elaboration – beyond the gallery.


Self-taught designer, illustrator, and artist James Victore begins producing his subversive polemic posters on everything from the AIDS crisis to racism, and the Disneyfication of New York.


Ad agency McCann Erickson creates a brilliant 44-sheet billboard ad for Friends of the Earth. Made of litmus paper, it literally educates the UK about acid rain, fading to nothing to show the effects of London’s corrosive atmosphere.


Tibor Kalman goes to work for Oliviero Toscani, Creative Director of Benetton, creating Colors, a magazine which continues the fashion company’s tradition for controversy through shocking imagery.


Big Issue launches in London. Sold by the homeless who keep a large percentage of the profits, the magazine’s feel reacts against the ‘greed is good’ ethos of the 1980s, ushering in a more caring 1990s.


Canadian culture jamming begins with the launch of Adbusters, a magazine promoting creative resistance everywhere. Now world famous for promotion of events such as Buy Nothing Day.


The Tiresias font, aimed at clear on-screen legibility and named after Sophocles’ blind seer, is developed by Dr. John Gill (Chief Scientist, Royal National Institute of the Blind), Dr. Janet Silver (former Principal Optometrist, Moorfields Eye Hospital), Chris Sharville (Creative Director, Laker Sharville Design Associates), and Peter O’Donnell (Type Consultant).


Designer and illustrator Luba Lukova’s poster Sudan is commissioned by New York group the International Anti-Poverty Center to raise awareness of Sudanese poverty among international lawmakers. It illustrates the contrast between the weight-obsessed West and other countries, where people don’t have anything to eat.



UK design group johnson banks creates a stink with its Design Council report into sustainability using fossilized nappies, which highlighted the expansion of the ozone hole, was equally powerful and witty. Both show how educational tactics needn’t be shock tactics.


The books No Logo by Naomi Klein and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser are published to critical acclaim and massive sales. Despite being sociological explorations of rampant Western consumerism and exploitation, they sell well to a growing politicized, angry, readership.



UK disability charity Scope, together with Transport for London, adjusts Beck’s original map for the London Underground to include details of disabled access for the first time.


Sheila Levrant de Bretteville works with Scott Stowell and Susan Barber to design this antiwar ad for working group NION, which appears in The New York Times.


Micah Wright’s Propaganda Remix Project includes You Back the War: We’ll Bomb Who We Want, a collection of 41 protest poster.


Fuck the War exhibition opens in London, featuring anti-Iraq War print work by the collective Hotel Belville.


Source: Cranmer, John & Zappaterra, Yolanda (2003). Conscientious Objectives: Designing for an Ethical Message. Crans-Près-Céligny; Hove: RotoVision.


Cynthia Mononutu (07501640G)
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Design

Date of entry into the Master of Design: September 01, 2007


Designers need to think about others for the sake of improving the human existence. What we have received is a gracious blessing. Without it, we are nothing. Which is why we need to give it back.

Yongky Safanayong