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WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Why should we care?


What role does ethics play in design? How do financial pressures influence designer ethics? Have designer ethics changed in recent times? This book invited design practitioners, teachers, students and other industry professionals to respond to the above questions; to really contemplate what ethics means in the design industry. This is a collection of their responses. Peter Saunders MVC Candidate University of Tasmania


Pete Saunders has asked if I could write an introduction to ethics for non-ethicists, including an outsider’s reflection on why ethics is important in design. What should I do? That question is actually the most succinct introduction to ethics I can think of, even though it might cause a few ethicists to reach for their smelling salts. It’s a bit blunt, is the thing — not nearly as noble-sounding as the cultivation of a virtuous character and far more down to earth than agonising, in the comfort of one’s office, over how to live a good life. But there it is. What should I do? Which is to say, what should I do in relation to this particular situation and these particular people? We are all confronted with (various forms of) this question numerous times every day. It’s an ordinary, mundane occurrence. Most often we do not even stop and consciously formulate the question in our minds. “Should I say thank you to the bus driver?” “Should I let that mother with the unhappy child and three items in her shopping basket go before me in the queue?” No, we don’t usually ask ourselves in so many words “what should I do,” but somehow it happens that we do decide on a specific course of action, that we do X rather than Y, A rather than B, this rather than that. And each decision, each course of action is a living enactment, a flesh and blood example of ethics in practice.


Why does it matter? Well, what sort of people do you like to hang out with? Trustworthy ones, who most often do what they say they are going to do? Generous ones, who have a habit of discerning when a helping hand, or a bunch of flowers, or a cup of tea would be most useful? Selfish ones, who can be counted on always to act in such a way as to maximise their personal benefit? Rude ones, who will always be ready with a scathing remark but will never help out with the washing up? Plainly put, our specific actions do tend to accumulate over time, sedimenting into enduring character traits and even, dare I say it, providing the very stuff of a good, or not so good, life. Of course, in the grand scheme of things one decision doesn’t seem to matter too much. Everyone has bad days, after all. While this is doubtless true, I would suggest that all our little decisions, our everyday “what should I do-s,” in fact matter greatly. How we answer those mundane questions will influence how we answer the great big disturbing “what should I do” occurrences in our lives — the ones that crash in so unpredictably, so uncomfortably, yet so inevitably. These are the ones that impact hugely upon the very fabric of our lives, or upon all those relations which, woven together, constitute our lives in the world. It is a banal point, and perhaps because of this sometimes overlooked, but ethics matters because we


are all enmeshed in so many overlapping and sometimes conflicting webs of relationships. In other words, we never pose the question “what should I do?” in a vacuum. It only makes sense as a question in relation to the (myriad) specific contours of each particular situation in which we are bound up. In a public talk entitled “Making Sense of Ethics in the Everyday,” Professor Jeff Malpas put it this way: Ethics is not underpinned by some notion of the autonomous, ‘rational’ subject, but rather by the essential interconnectedness of subjects within a larger world. Such a ‘relational’ conception of the human being derives […] from the very nature of human identity as well as human meaning as based in our necessary relatedness to the things, persons and environmental circumstances in which our lives are embedded, and that provide the very substance and fabric of those lives. What we do and do not do affects others, literally contributes to shaping the world around them, just as others’ actions affect our lives and shape the world in which we dwell together. It’s frightfully simple, really, but also rather awe-full when you stop and think about it for a bit.


So why might ethics be especially important for designers? If I understood what ‘design’ meant I’d feel better about attempting an answer. As it is I can only hazard a guess from behind a glass darkly. Most broadly it seems to me that designers are continually contributing material artefacts to the world in common. Whether these are in the form of an architect-designed building, a poster, a website, a better mousetrap, or the packaging for some plastic widget, all of these artefacts contribute for a time to the larger environment in which we live. What sort of environment is conducive to, or perhaps even enables, decent relations among a dizzying plurality of earth creatures? I think that designers’ contributions to the fabricated aspects of our environments, to the worldly situations in which we dwell, are immense. From an outsider’s perspective this would seem to be a weighty responsibility, replete with potentially conflicting values and commitments. In other words, design is itself the response to a question as to what should be done, but it also shapes possibilities for choice and for action, sometimes opening up new choices and foreclosing others. Design is thus a response to the demands of a situation that also conditions other such responses. What should you do? There is also the sad fact that designers do not generally get to engage in design purely for its own sake. You are


instead being paid by someone to produce a something which makes that someone happy. Often enough such happiness is linked directly to the increased consumption, by the public, of some product or other. In short, I suspect that designers are sometimes under financial pressure to put lipstick on a pig. What should you do? I cannot answer this question for you. Some pigs are in fact adorable, and their presence adds delight to the world. Which is to say, the practice of thoughtful discernment is inseparable from the practice of ethics. No one else can do it for you, yet it seems to me that we do it, when we do it, not so much for our own sake, but for the sake of the world we share with others, a world which gives all our lives meaning. Our contributions to that world matter. What should we do? Dr. Lucy Tatman School of Philosophy University of Tasmania


I think for some designers ethical and aesthetic decisions can collide and I think there are plenty of examples of aesthetics winning— this is a big problem.


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Why Speculation Hurts By Robert Wurth, Creative Director, Freshly Squeezed Design When your company seeks out a new logo design, advertisement, brochure, or any other marketing collateral, what you’re really looking for is a solution to a problem. For example, you have just made a new product. Your problem is that no one knows about it, so you require a means to alert potential customers. You might conclude that an advertisement is the solution. In reality, the advertisement is merely the vehicle that delivers the solution, but the concept is similar enough. Some companies advocate the practice of gathering a number of different designers or agencies to pitch ideas for a project. The way it works is that the company calls up several different designers and says, “We need a new ad. Come up with an idea to show us and if we like it, we’ll hire you.” If the designer is lucky, the company will at least have a creative brief, a short document explaining the problem, to send. In the design community, we refer to this practice as speculative work. It requires a designer to put forth work on behalf of the company without any promises or guarantees of getting paid. This practice has become popular because many companies erroneously view it as a quick and easy way to get the best ideas from designers. Unfortunately, requesting speculative design is a poor business decision because it caters to the lowest common denominator of design. It also forces designers to engage in the poor design practice of making snap decisions. Currently, one of the hot books in the world of business and marketing is “Blink: The power of thinking without thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell. In Blink, Gladwell advocates for the inherent quality of decisions that are made in an instant, citing that often these decisions are just as accurate (if not more accurate) than decisions made after careful, conscientious deliberation. However, within the book Gladwell also cautions that the process of snap decisions can backfire, sometimes drastically. The difference, he says, seems to be one of

knowledge and experience. For example, you might come to me doubled over and complaining that your stomach hurts. I might make the wrong snap decision that it must have been something you ate and that you’ll be fine. A doctor, on the other hand, might make the correct instant conclusion that you have appendicitis and then examine you more thoroughly. Gladwell’s explanation for this would be that the doctor’s experience allows him to instantly take in all of the subtle clues about your condition, allowing his mind to make a correct conclusion based upon very little data. Of course he would order more tests to be sure, but that’s not the point. Rather, the point is that I lack the experience and knowledge to give me a chance to make the same sort of correct diagnosis. I might have been able to guess right, but that would simply have been a matter of chance. Instead, my snap decision is based solely on my personal experiences — maybe I ate something bad once, and it gave me a severe stomach ache. This is important because it relates directly to speculative work. Inspiration never comes from just nowhere. It is the culmination of experiences stored subconsciously for the right moment to all click together. Speculative design work is an attempt to force inspiration without the benefit of experience. None of the designers are allowed the opportunity to get to know you and your business. They aren’t allowed the time to examine your market and industry. They simply lack the necessary data too allow them to make good, informed decisions about your marketing. The result is that the designers are forced to develop ideas based upon their own personal experiences and preconceptions about you and your company. Without any research, or discussions with you to guide them, their ideas become less about substance and more about style. If the designers are talented, they will certainly be able to come up with appealing designs. It’s even possible that one of them, through sheer chance, might hit upon a perfect solution to your problem, but that’s a gamble. In fact, it’s a gamble on two levels: first that at least one of the designers comes up with the right solution, and two, that you happen to choose that design.

Many business owners tend to distrust designers. They will hop from designer to designer, never satisfied with the work and becoming more and more jaded to the process. Often this is a result of poorly executed ideas that come from the speculative process. The kneejerk reaction is to blame the designers for not hitting the right message, without ever considering that their own process might be flawed. So, going back to the beginning, you still need an ad. Having read all of this, you decide not to put out a call for pitches, but rather you decide to choose one designer or agency and work more closely with them. Now, the process is different. Before the designer ever gets to the idea stage, he or she comes in and talks with you to get to know you and your business. The designer is armed with materials you’ve done in the past, information about who your customers are, about who the competition is, and what the industry is like. As the designer absorbs more and more information about your company, preconceptions are replaced with meaningful knowledge. When inspiration strikes, it has context that is relevant to your business and your needs, and that makes for a better design that caters more to your needs, and less to the whims of the designer.


Same as in any other industry, except that its importance is probably stronger in design. Designers are generally less aggressive business people than say, property developers, so it is more important for the industry to maintain a co-operative stance on key issues than to have a purely competitive environment (which is suitable for business people who thrive on aggressive negotiation).


The interesting thing is that ethics and morals are not set in stone. Concepts of social norms have moved drastically. An industry example would be the advertising companies and designers involved in the in-store and package designs for cigarettes.


Go back 20 years and the tobacco company would have been ‘A’ list clients. Personally, I feel that I need to be proud of the work I do, if I don’t I shouldn’t do it.


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We are just doing our jobs, hoping that they will not infringe on anyone else’s territory.


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Financial pressures certainly have a strong influence on designer ethics. We can choose what we communicate and whom we communicate for, and ultimately you shouldn’t do things you don’t agree with or believe in. This then comes down to the morals or ethics of the designer and how easily they can be swayed or influenced by the almighty dollar. Unfortunately in the current financial climate, more often than not desperate times do seem to be cause for desperate measures and we can find ourselves all to easily compromising our morals.


“

Perhaps many of the world’s designers need to be reminded of their potential influence and impact, in order to help redirect their most basic principles.


In this current environment I expect to see more designers foregoing ethics in order to get more work.


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Financial pressures influence everything. We all have our price. Pretending otherwise is as dangerous as accepting that everybody is equally corrupt. Nevertheless we should all be aware of the fact that within limits (and those are very personal) we do have the freedom to choose what we can subscribe to and what we would rather not do. But with freedom come responsibilities. These can be debated and identified, hopefully, individually. Let’s hope that ethical issues can take a priority over financial matters, at least to a degree and the discussion be conducted in an open forum. That way, if the problem is recognized and aired, the design comes with a sort of “health warning”…

Financial pressures influence everything. We all have our price. Pretending otherwise is as dangerous as accepting that everybody is equally corrupt. Nevertheless we should all be aware of the fact that within limits (and those are very personal) we do have the freedom to choose what we can subscribe to and what we would rather not do. But with freedom come responsibilities. These can be debated and identified, hopefully, individually. Let’s hope that ethical issues can take a priority over financial matters, at least to a degree and the discussion be conducted in an open forum. That way, if the problem is recognized and aired, the design comes with a sort of “health warning”…


Financial pressures influence everything. We all have our price. Pretending otherwise is as dangerous as accepting that everybody is equally corrupt. Nevertheless we should all be aware of the fact that within limits (and those are very personal) we do have the freedom to choose what we can subscribe to and what we would rather not do. But with freedom come responsibilities. These can be debated and identified, hopefully, individually. Let’s hope that ethical issues can take a priority over financial matters, at least to a degree and the discussion be conducted in an open forum. That way, if the problem is recognized and aired, the design comes with a sort of “health warning”…

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Financial pressures influence everything. We all have our price. Pretending otherwise is as dangerous as accepting that everybody is equally corrupt. Nevertheless we should all be aware of the fact that within limits (and those are very personal) we do have the freedom to choose what we can subscribe to and what we would rather not do. But with freedom come responsibilities. These can be debated and identified, hopefully, individually. Let’s hope that ethical issues can take a priority over financial matters, at least to a degree and the discussion be conducted in an open forum. That way, if the problem is recognized and aired, the design comes with a sort of “health warning”…


Ethical people in our industry act unethically for the majority of the time and are always perceived or are actually unethical due to financial pressures


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People have been known to kill for financial gains. They’ve also been known to commit suicide due to financial loss. I think we can safely say that money might exhibit the same ability to affect design ethics.


Saying that, if one were to see ethics as a set of agreed moral principles, money (and the risk of financial loss) can be used to assure individuals and organisations abide by those agreed ethical principles. Perhaps money has the same influence over design ethics as it has over life ethics?


It is easy to take the financial pressure and under any pressure. It is i defend the high ground w past jobs are overdue an up. In my own practice, f make me compromise on I would never take a job objectionable or allow into substandard work buck.But in saying this that I am not a full tim job that pays the bills a to pay my mortgage


moral high ground on d ethics when youre not increasingly difficult to when, your payments for nd the bills are mounting financial pressure can the jobs that I take, but b that I felt was morally w myself to be forced k practices for a quick I have to acknowledge me illustrator, I have a and I am not struggling or feed my kids. My It is easy to take the moral high ground on ‘financial pressure and ethics’ when you’re not under any pressure. It is increasingly difficult to defend the high ground when, your payments for past jobs are overdue and the bills are mounting up. In my own practice, financial pressure can make me compromise on the jobs that I take, but I would never take a job that I felt was morally objectionable or allow myself to be forced into substandard work practices for a quick buck. But in saying this I have to acknowledge that I am not a full time illustrator, I have a job that pays the bills and I am not struggling to pay my mortgage or feed my kids. My compromises may increase if this were the case.


Financial pressures can be very persuasive. Whether it’s in relation to design or any other field of practice, I think financial pressures would be the most influential force on (against) ethical considerations.


It makes me laugh when design studios brag about doing volunteer work for ‘ethical’ organisations or companies but then talk about their work for exploitative corporations in the next breath.


Ethics in business have become a more important issue in recent decades and our industry is a reflection of that


In the last 12–18 months as the economy has shrunk so has ethical behaviour


I am not an exper t on graphic design but I do hope that the design community is changing like the rest of us. Ethical issues are being discussed more and more but these usually are limited to t wo main areas: f inancial and environmental. I would like to include also educational/knowledge issues. As in educating the public not only by adver tising products but by choosing more carefully which products to adver tise. I do think graphic design has a ver y impor tant role to play in general education and this role is becoming more impor tant as the media through which designs reach the public become more sophisticated.


The inf luence a well run adver tising campaign has on so many issues facing general public cannot be overstressed and this inf luence carries resposibilities. So, graphic designers of this world, do not get involved in any odd job that comes your way with a pay cheque attached. Be more and more choosy about what you are willing to put your name and reputation to.


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We, the undersigned, are graphic designers, photographers and students who have been brought up in us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable means of using our talents. We have been bombarded w and imagination to sell such things as: cat food, stomach powders, detergent, hair restorer, striped tooth cigarettes, roll-ons, pull-ons and slip-ons.

By far the greatest effort of those working in the advertising industry are wasted on these trivial purpose

In common with an increasing numer of the general public, we have reached a saturation point at which other things more worth using our skill and experience on. There are signs for streets and buildings, boo television features, scientific and industrial publications and all the other media through which we promo

We do not advocate the abolition of high pressure consumer advertising: this is not feasible. Nor do we useful and more lasting forms of communication. We hope that our society will tire of gimmick merchant purposes. With this in mind we propose to share our experience and opinions, and to make them availab

We, the undersigned, are graphic designers, art directors and visual communicators who have been rais to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable use of our talents. Many design teachers and mentor

Encouraged in this direction, designers then apply their skill and imagination to sell dog biscuits, designe light beer and heavy-duty recreational vehicles. Commercial work has always paid the bills, but many gr how the world perceives design. The profession’s time and energy is used up manufacturing demand fo

Many of us have grown increasingly uncomfortable with this view of design. Designers who devote their endorsing, a mental environment so saturated with commercial messages that it is changing the very wa reductive and immeasurably harmful code of public discourse. There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills. Unprecedented environmental, social and

Many cultural interventions, social marketing campaigns, books, magazines, exhibitions, educational too our expertise and help.

We propose a reversal of priorities in favor of more useful, lasting and democratic forms of communicati kind of meaning. The scope of debate is shrinking; it must expand. Consumerism is running uncontested resources of design. In 1964, 22 visual communicators signed the original call for our skills to be put to worthwhile use. With we renew their manifesto inexpectation that no more decades will pass before it is taken to heart.


a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to with publications devoted to this belief, applauding the work of those who have flogged their skill hpaste, aftershave lotion, beforeshave lotion, slimming diets, fattening diets, deodorants, fizzy water,

I wouldn’t have thought ethical es, which contribute little or nothing to our national prosperity. have changed considerations h the high pitched scream of consumer selling is no more than sheer noise. We think that there are dramatically in recent times, oks and periodicals, catalogues, instructional manuals, industrial photography, educational aids, films, ote our trade, our education, our culture and our greater awareness of the world. obviously the global financial want to take any of the fun out of life. But we are proposing a reversal of priorities in favour of the more ts, status salesmen and hidden brings persuaders, and that the prior it call on our skills will be for worthwhile crisis with a new range ble to colleagues, students and others who may be interested. of ethical challenges but these sed in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented rs promote this belief; the market rewards it; a tide of books and publications reinforces it. events are cyclical and probably er coffee, diamonds, detergents, hair gel, cigarettes, credit cards, sneakers, butt toners, no different tomeasure, previous financial raphic designers have now let it become, in large what graphic designers do. This, in turn, is or things that are inessential at best. crises. Something like the ‘first r efforts primarily to advertising, marketing and brand development are supporting, and implicitly ay citizen-consumers speak, think, feel, respond and interact. To some extent we are all helping draft a things first’ manifesto (although I cultural crises demand our attention. think it’s a joke) reads as relevant ols, television programs, films, charitable causes and other information design projects urgently require today as 50 years ago, although ion — a mindshift away from product marketing and toward the exploration and production of a new one could question how much has d; it must be challenged by other perspectives expressed, in part, through the visual languages and changed or been done in that time. the explosive growth of global commercial culture, their message has only grown more urgent. Today,


“Everybody has a mortgage to pay...”

—The Yuppie Nuremberg Defense (Thank you for Smoking)


One very positive aspect to emerge from current global crises, both environmental and economic, has been a greater recognition that human activities are holistically interconnected and interdependent. This growing awareness of the ethical implications of any activity, once that activity is seen as interconnected to the society which supports it, bodes well for a developing mindfulness within society. It is not, however, human nature, to remain so mindful, and it is in practice, not theory, that ethics become manifest.


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o designers and thnicate ethics are soconstruocieties cad the waetis nicate ethics are social constructs so as societies val communicate ed the waeties value set shifts so do designers and the way they ial constructs so as societies value set shifts ial concommuucts so the waesocietiy they communicate ethics are social constructs so as al concommunicate value set shiftlue seo do designers and the way s sonicate ethimunicate ethics are social constructs so constructs so re social constructs so as societies value set shifts sonicate ethics ar set shifts so do designers and the wey communicate ethics are soci oncatcs are social concommuay they social constructs so as societ so do designers ey communicate ethics are social constructs so as te ethics are social concatcs are social concommu ethics are social shifts so do designers and the way they communicate ethics are al constructs so as societies value set shifts sonicate ethics are ue set municate ethics are social constructs so as societies communicate.


I do hope that all my colleagues‌


‌display the best ethical considerations


Whether there has been a recent change in designer ethics is arguable however I believe there is unquestionably a strong need for one. We are living in a world currently plagued with unnecessary and over designed consumer products, which are doing little but stimulate our consumerist society, without any valuable contribution to sustaining the world they are born into. Innovation should not only be driven by consumer needs but also engage social and environmental objectives. Designers should feel a greater responsibility in developing systems and processes, which streamline our interaction and impact on the world, rather than just take from it.


I thought a short reflection on the work I have done would add value to this book. As a starting point, I should like to reword the original question posed by Lucy Tatman, and ask: Why should we care? Previously, I have seen ethics in design as a secondary consideration. In our undergraduate studies, we did discuss matters such as what paper stock we should use, if there were new or non-traditional ways to present information and generally how we could reduce our ‘carbon footprint’. The term eventually became a cop-out to me, a predictable and hollow term that simply illustrated that one had given the bare minimum consideration to that side of a project. But what always bugged me was that if a designer chose to print a million dollars of materials on recycled paper for a product that ultimately harmed consumers, how did that sit in the grand scheme of things? It seemed to me that designers are placed in the middle between consumers and corporations and that we, the designers, have a duty to be aware of and educated about the products we are ultimately endorsing. But why should we care? Ethical issues are not a black or white concept. What one person believes to be true will often directly contradict what another person swears by. Designers are not exempt from this conundrum. Many of us see some causes as noble and worth being involved with, whereas


FINAL THOUGHTS

others are morally questionable and should be avoided. The intention of this project is not to state a list of ethical viewpoints one way or another, but to introduce a series of questions for contemplation by designers, questions that are often overlooked in our daily life of creating work. In the process of designing, I am slowly starting to develop my own ethical code, and know that there are some companies and corporations that I would not work for. I am also fully aware that this will differ from others, and that it may change with time and circumstance. The creation of this book has been a labour of love. It is something that I have wanted to do for a long time, but, as with any project of this nature, there have been various problems along the way. The major issue with a project such as this is that it is reliant on other people for their time and effort. Without people responding to the questions I posed, I would have no content. The issue of ethics is a big one, so I spent a lot of time getting the wording of the questions exactly right. This ended up being a double-edged sword as many people who originally said that they would respond recanted and decided that they could no longer afford the time “to give the questions justice�. The number of responses I received was nowhere near the number I was hoping for, but the quality of them was so high that I felt they more than made up for the quantity.


Every page introduced new design choices: fonts to use, colours to choose, whether or not to include an image. These design choices place emphasis on a certain part of the text, or give the response a specific voice. Even though it has been my intention from the outset to make this book as neutral as possible (as any general overview/discussion should be), by making the design choices I have, I did, in essence, editorialise what has been submitted. As well as the design of each page, I also had to be conscious of the order in which the responses are placed within the book. This order was sometimes dictated by the words themselves, but mostly by the overall flow of the design. These choices have been considered at every point throughout the design process, and whilst some are obvious, some are not. I also chose to keep the responses anonymous as I didn’t want one response to be given a higher credence over another, simply due to the name associated with it. My final decision came when I had to decide how to produce the book. I had to give due consideration to the supplies used (paper stock, inks, etc) and also who I approached to gain financial help in getting the project to the finishing line. I felt as though approaching the wrong people or using the wrong supplies could result in the project losing its credibility. These choices seemed to bring me back a full circle to where I started and it made sense to me to make


FINAL THOUGHTS

my book have as little environmental impact as possible and if possible, be helped by a company whose ethical principles I agreed with. At the end of the day though, every design project is judged on the content within and the message the viewer can take away with them. The responses that have been submitted to my questions are as good as any I could have wished for and for that I sincerely thank those who took the time to respond. The success of the book as a series of visual designs is subjective and personal, like everything in this industry. But the essence of this project is the message that can be taken away by the viewer. When the topic of a carbon footprint was introduced to us in our undergraduate courses, it eventually became a commonplace discussion point. It is my hope that by asking people to consider these questions about ethics they will eventually become a common talking point between designers — professionals, students, and educators alike. There are no correct answers and no absolutes about such a topic, but we all have the ability and, I think, responsibility to ask ourselves the important questions: What should I do? Why should we care? P.S.


Writers David Ansett Trevor Choy Dr. Katarzyna Dziegielewska Tony Flowers Neal Haslem Prof. Krzysztof Lenk Chris Murphy Dr. James Newitt Quan Payne Teresa Przybylski

Stuart Macintosh (pp 30–31) Photography Sean Baker Stuart Williams Special Thanks Dr. Lucy Tatman Trav Hutchins

Contributors

Designers


This project has been created by Peter Saunders as part of a Masters of Visual Communication at the University of Tasmania. For any questions or queries, please email design@petesaunders.com

Are Designers Ethical?  

A look into ethics in our industry.

Are Designers Ethical?  

A look into ethics in our industry.

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