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Research: Trading Ethics for a Design?

Could a Democrat work for a Republican? Could the Yankees support the Red Sox? Could you work for a client in a campaign you don’t believe in? The latter does come up in design. Certain design jobs do affect a person’s set of ethics.

This form of design ethics was raised by designer David Airey. What if you have to design a product you don’t believe in? What if I designed promotions for the aforementioned Republican Party and was a Democrat or vice versa? What if I designed for an alcohol company and I had a loved one with alcoholism issues?  Airey poses this scenario,

I believe in how the fashion industry is twisting reality and contributing to eating disorders in many young women, but if I was approached by a fashion model to launch a portfolio site, I don’t think I’d have many sleepless nights. Is that just me being hypocritical?

I say no. Design is a passion, but also a job that people use to make a living. Unfortunately, I am not in the position to be overly selective in which jobs I accept.

Citizen Designer

Perhaps the most socially irresponsible work is the over-produced, typographic stunts that serve no real function, speak only to other designers and the cultural elite, and through opulence and uselessness revel in a level of conspicuous consumption that glorifies financial excess. Michael Rock

Like Michael Rock, Susan S. Szenasy talks also about designers becoming socially responsible or “citizen designers.” I find that a lot of the people talking about being a “citizen designer” are rich with experience and have the time/finances to do so.  Has some design moved away from the arts and toward commercialization? Of course it has. I do not shy away from that, as I was an Advertising and Promotions major as an undergrad student. I would, one day, like to be apart a greater social cause, in time and experience.

Surviving & Staying Ethical

David Airey mentions working with non-profit agencies on cause you do support to counterbalance the job you may not fully support. I have worked full time at a non-profit agency and several agencies with freelance projects. Ennis Carter founded the organization, Design for Social Impact, specifically to address the design needs of non-profit and community based organizations. As Carter explains, “We strive for a fair and just society in the best way we know how – through beauty, story and service to the community.” The pay on this level can be little to non-existent, but the levels of appreciation my non-profit clients have shown me is tremendous.

Are You Experienced?

I have learned to pick my spots with jobs. If a client wants me to design something hateful or bigoted (if so, then I should question the clients I attract), I will turn it down. On the other hand, would I be able to work for a political campaign for an opposing party I support? I would find it to be a unique challenge and not rule out the job. As designer Adrian Shaughnessy says, “I like the fight, and I get satisfaction from winning over a difficult client.”

I’m sure a young George Clooney’s ideal acting choice was not the guest spot on The Facts of Life. Some call taking a job you don’t believe in unethical or “selling out” for the sake of a dollar. When I have the resources to make a difference, feel free to call me that. In the meantime, income aside, I see it as way to build experience. I look at these jobs as a true challenge, so when a project comes along that I truly feel passionate about, I will be more than prepared. If you toil enough at your craft, sooner or later you will be able have that artistic freedom and make your own rules.

Works Cited:

  • Fisher, Jeff. “11.” The Savvy Designer’s Guide to Success: Ideas and Tactics for a Killer Career. Cincinnati, Ohio: How Design, 2005. 171-72. Print.
  • Shaughnessy, Adrian. “7.” How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul. New York: Princeton Architectural, 2005. 104-05. Print.
  • Heller, H. J. ., Bolesław Bierut, and William Drenttel. Looking Closer Critical Writings on Graphic Design. New York: Allworth, 2007. Print.
  • “Ethics and Sustainability: Graphic Designers’ Role.” AIGA | the Power of Design. Web. 06 July 2010. <http://powerofdesign.aiga.org/content.cfm/szenasy>.
  • “Responsible Design? (1/2).” Sketchblog. Web. 07 July 2010. <http://sketchblog.guava.nl/2007/05/01/responsible-design/>.
  • “How Ethical Are Your Design Practices?” David Airey, Graphic Designer. Web. 06 July 2010. <http://www.davidairey.com/how-ethical-are-your-design-practices/>.

Bad Sketches, Better Designs

If I were to post a drawing or sketch I have done you would likely question why I would post something from the 2nd grade. Yet, even in my 20s, my hand-drawing/writing skills do not look like they have changed much.  My handwriting is horrible. This also translated into drawing. However, bad sketches doesn’t necessarily mean you have bad ideas.

Copycat Cousin

I grew up with one of my cousins and since he is only a couple years older than me, we were like brothers. He liked comic books, He-Man, the Los Angeles Lakers and so did I. Although he is now a police officer, in what feels like forever ago, he wanted to be a cartoonist as a child. Being the impressionable copycat that I was, I took a similar interest. Unlike my talented cousin, my drawings were crude and not good. They deteriorated into nothing more than a South Park-like caricature of a teacher for cheap laughs in high school.

Respecting The Process

Just when I thought I my creative drawing days were over, I had to take a graphic design class for my undergrad major. I was horrible at it. I was ashamed to ask simple questions and more embarrassed to have my peers see my rudimentary work, now in plain sight on a computer monitor. I waited until the last minute, put no effort into the creative process and failed by 1.4 points. After realizing how mortifying my upcoming student loans were going to be, I wanted to take the class again, the right way (and get my money’s worth). The goal was to brainstorm an idea, sketch it out and then create drafts in the desired graphic software. No longer was I running to the computer with big ideas and hoping for the best. I came to grips that while my drawings looked horrible, they helped me layout an idea to determine whether or not it could work. This process winds up saving me a lot of time. Just like writing, you cannot always seek out to write the great American novel in a couple sessions, you have write out your ideas, edit and discover what works.

From my early days of watching painter Bob Ross on PBS with my cousin (let’s face it, we just liked his hair), to trying my hand at drawing, to finding my own creative process, I feel as though I have come full circle in terms of drawing. Though my skills in that area have not really changed in 20 years, I can look back at sketches as the blueprint to success in a design.

Had To Be The Hair

Seeking The Truth About Design Principles

In Tom Hanson’s post,  Finding a balance with the principles of Web design, the main point of the blog is to talk about web design principles and Gestalt theory, but I feel some of the points made can fit directly in the principles of design and color in terms of the websites covered in the post. When talking of espn.com, he says, “ESPN deserves praise for the “pop” out at you factor in balance…” While he goes on to make another point, that “pop” factor I feel adds to the visual texture. With the graphics in the background and the photos/videos in the foreground this gives the sense of visual texture. I think the background graphics (which change depending on what page you are on) also provide a good sense of rhythm, as they are blurred on the sides, giving me a sense of motion.

espn.com

The one main consistency that all of the sites have that Tom talks about is navigation. Another consistency in the sites is the top stories on the center of the screen; this is a good example of dominance in terms of the design. In terms of color, all three sites rely on only 2-3 colors (at least on the front page). I think this is a good decision because the photos (especially in sports along with the ads) take up a good deal of imagery. While I think CBS and SI go for simplicity in their sites (which is what most sports fans want), ESPN offers a little more. Depending on which page you go to, the color scheme will change to reflect that sport. So if you go to the NFL page you’ll get a green background (reminiscent of the grass/turf) or a brownish/gold color (perhaps to symbolize the hardwood court).

ESPN's NFL Page

ESPN's NBA Page

While that may seem minor, it gives each page its own unique look, while staying in line with the rest of the scheme of the site (which gives me a sense of unity).

SI.com

cbssportsline.com

Overall, I would say that a lot of the points Tom Hanson made were very applicable to not only web design, but the overall principles of design. Simple layout, uncomplicated color schemes, headline stories and easy navigation… the sports fans have spoken.

Old Dogs, Same Design Tricks

C.M. Collidge, A Friend in Need

In reviewing the classic early 20th century painting, A Friend in Need by C.C. Coolidge, it is very easy to see the painting follows many of the principles of design. The first principle that I notice is dominance, as the right light fixture overhead is a focal point, due to its contrast against the midnight blue wallpaper in the background. Speaking of that wallpaper, it displays a great example of visual texture as it has a very worn feel to it (almost smokey). The poker table also has a lot of contrast to it as the primary colors of blue and red poker chips contrast to the green felt of the table. The round table and close proximity of the dogs to one another give a good sense of unity, as the bigger dogs are in the back and sides of the table, while the smaller dogs are up front (presumably not to block the actions going on at the table). Rhythm is displayed by the two dogs in the foreground exchanging a playing card and also some of the drinks being half-full give the effect of time being elapsed. It has been said that the painting was meant to capture the working class element of the early 20th century and I can see in the kind of tired, baggy eyes some of the dogs have as well as the aforementioned worn in texture of the wallpaper (speaking of working class, my earliest experience seeing this painting was on the sitcom, Roseanne). Now let’s take a look at something a little different…

Moment Before Me by Chidi Okoye

Very different in design, but I feel this painting, Moment Before Me by Chidi Okoye also follows many of the principles of design. Obviously there is the texture, which appears to be flowing in several different directions. Aside from the lines, shapes and brushes, there is also a really great sense of contrast in color here. Many of the colors, such as the pink into violet into blue flow as they would in the color wheel. In other cases, I think the colors compliment each well which also effect the overall mood of the painting. It is a little bit harder for me to choose a focal point of the painting, but I would go with the maroon and green shapes on the left. The brush strokes also create a sense of rhythm. Overall I wanted to compare to very different paintings (also of different eras) and to see of the principles of design were still in place, which is important to keep in mind especially with my designs moving forward.

References:

  • Goin, L. (2008) 8. Colour Theory.
  • Color, Contrast and Dimension Design.
  • Callahan, E., short lecture on design elements