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The Ethics of Graphic Design After attending a lecture at UCL, “The Ethics of Graphic Design�, I thought it would be worthwhile summarizing a few key areas covered, given how widely applicable the take-home messages were to a range of industries, not least of all ours.

The Target Audience Primarily, the lecture focused on semantics: “user”; “consumer”; “target”; “reader”; “public”; “audience” etc. The words we use to describe the recipients of our output and how these words unavoidably enhance and/or limit the extent to which we can really communicate an experience to people. As designers and experience generators, thinking about the most effective, and socially responsible ways to refer to / think about our clients is key to providing people with rich experiences loaded with integrity. To hit home this message, a quick Google image search for “target audience” pulled up the following image (right).

Igniting Original Thought The second consideration worth mentioning also hinges on social responsibility, only this time, putting the emphasis on being brilliant. It’s easy to tell people what to do. It’s harder to get them to do it. Harder still is empowering them to respond to your message and go beyond it. While this is about encouraging interaction, a focus on interactivity itself isn’t the goal we need to be repeating to ourselves, the goal is relationship building. In the world of graphic design, an example of this can be seen in Ji Lee’s New York project “Talk Back”, in which blank speech bubbles dotted atop posters were filled in by the public, creating a physical dialogue with the city (right).

Sublimation The messages that ended up on the Talk Back project were fun, relevant and encouraged subjective opinions, often with predominantly anti-corporate messages. Leaving the lecture theatre however, I didn’t feel resolved ending on that note. At that point, my mind unsurprisingly defaulted to Japan. I remembered a design I recently came across by Jacob Cass (right) that made everything covered entirely relevant. The following is a quote from his website:

“In response [to Japan], I created a small tribute piece which I shared on Dribbble and soon after on Twitter. I found it humbling to see people changing their Facebook & Twitter profile pictures to this image to show their support. Update 15/3/11: USD$13,000+ raised via SecondLife [alone]. It is great to see people using this artwork to help raise funds for Japan. I thought it was worth noting here that people are buying virtual goods (t-shirts, tattoos, etc.) with this design on it as an innovative way to raise funds for Japan. Since launching they have raised over USD$13,000! Thanks to Damara of 90Degrees for organising this!” For more on this, please visit Jacob’s website.

Basil Kronfli for SMG

The Ethics of Graphic Design - Lecture response