Ad form the Benetton UNHATE Campaign
ON DOING GOOD DESIGN When David Berman requests in his book “Do Good Design” to do exactly that, I am prompted to ask myself what good design is anyway, and how we can use it to create a better world. In 1972 IBM legend Thomas Watson declared that “Good Design is Good Business” but does this principle still hold true today? Is good design something that is beautiful, like Steve Jobs’ designs for Apple? If beauty alone is our benchmark for good design, we will never see more diversity in advertisement. Companies will continue to demand to go with the white, skinny, largechested 20-something model to sell whatever product they want to sell. It’s safe. It works. And it fits seamlessly into the row of other skinny white young models on the billboards. Good design goes beyond our narrow beauty standards that were largely formed by advertisement in the first place. We as designers need to make diversity beautiful again. But that is just a small aspect of good design. What if we do sustainable, socially responsible design which is just due to lack of talent? Is it still good design if it intends to do good but fails because of its poor execution? Working hard, keeping an open mind and learning as much as we can is just as important as having good intentions, not accepting a client’s product at face value, and including morality and sustainability into our design progress. We need to make sure that
the message we send with our designs is the right one. And that we do not add to the big pile of waste that is covering our planet. A good example of a company that tries to actively do good in all three areas is the Benetton Group. The first thing comes to my mind when thinking about this company is “The United Colors of Benetton”, a series of multicultural kids created by Tibor Kalman in the 1990s promoting ethic and racial harmony. Benetton was one of the first big companies to include another, socially responsible message into their campaigns apart than the usual: “Buy our products!” And they continue to do so. In 2011 Benetton launched their “Unhate” campaign that includes photoshopped images important political and religious figures kissing, for example Barack Obama and Hu Jintao or the Pope and the leader of the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, in close embrace. Many question if Benetton has a real interest in ethics and social values or if it undermines and exploits these “good causes” in the name of capitalism. Of course the campaign is meant to shock and cause a lot of controversy, but it is also meant to promote tolerance, acceptance and
love. The Benetton Group even founded the UNHATE Foundation that “seeks to contribute to the creation of a new culture against hate”. Their commitment to the cause seems to go beyond financial interests. Their dedication can change our views and help us form new beliefs and values. Of course it also helps them sell their products, but that is exactly what good design is supposed to do: Promote a product or a company whose values we feel we can fully support. And Benetton’s values aren’t just found in their ad campaigns, but in their products themselves. Benetton is a full supporter of the Greenpeace Detox campaign. Greenpeace launched the campaign to raise awareness of and educate about the risks of the hazardous chemicals that are being used in the fashion industry and that are being released into our waterways. Greenpeace demanded big fashion brands to eliminate their release of toxic chemicals. The Project ran over two years and afterwards Greenpeace released their results of which companies stuck to their promise of a chemical-free production, which companies were just “greenwashing” their images and which companies failed completely. The Benetton Group was shown to be a leader in their commitment to DETOX. They came clean about their supply chain and worked on solutions with the Institute for Environmental Affairs. They regularly publish data from their suppliers and use the best current technology to eliminate hazardous chemicals from their production process. The Benetton Group seems to be a company that puts real effort into doing good design and also just doing good in general with their several social campaigns and foundations. But they still ask us to buy more clothes than we really need. Doesn’t that alone disqualify them? Because in the end, isn’t all consumerism bad? Capitalism promotes the wrong values (money, stuff and appearance over love, acceptance and responsibility) and adds to the pile of waste that our world is turning into. And isn’t it a proven fact that people are more likely to buy a product if they can identify with the (white middleclass) people promoting it on the billboard?
If what we do is really all that bad then we shouldn’t do any design at all. In fact, we shouldn’t do art either. Nobody really needs it to survive; it’s just a waste of materials. Nice houses? Energy-inefficient, expensive raw materials and designed to fall apart after 10 years so you go and buy a new house, supporting the economy. Furniture? Please build a cardboard table, that’s really all you need. Cars? Even if they were electric cars only, they would still eat power and raw materials sourced by underpaid workers. And the smartphone that you value so highly because it minimizes your paper consumption is built with parts out of slave-like mines and the factories that assemble them in China regularly have workers committing suicide. Can you really do good or just do “less evil” or “just a little better”? Why should we even help companies promote and sell their products? Even if you print the ad on bleach-free recycled paper, the product you are promoting is most likely not really necessary, it is just another washing machine or car that pretends to be more efficient, ecofriendly and sustainable than the other products. It is still produced using raw materials, chemicals and a lot of power and it is thrown onto an oversaturated market. And can you really ever know if in the management of that car company there isn’t some idiot sexually harassing his secretary and discriminating against all male Hispanic employees that are taller than him or have nicer shaped ears? I am not trying to ridicule the issue that I do think is a big one today. I am just trying to say that it is impossible to do only good considering all that. So the question is: where do we draw the line? Where does bad end and good start? Maybe it is just about the effort we put into doing good, not the results. It is about realising what you can already do today to do better and learning about what you can do in the future. It is about CARING and TAKING ACTION. That alone would have a huge impact on our on advertising practices, on (aesthetic) values and consequently on society. Even if we sometimes feel like slaves of our clients, like we are trapped in our own narrow-mindedness, we have much more power in this society than we think. We should use this power to make the world not necessarily a good, but at least a better place. — Stella Klose
Greenpeace DETOX campaign
Sources www.ethicsingraphicdesign.org www.unhate.bennetton.com www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/ toxics/water/detox/Detox-Catwalk