The Ethical Design CanvasThe first investigation addresses the provocation, “How might an ethical standard of practice encourage designers to become aware of the cultural and social implications of their work?” A series of mini-studies and further reflection upon the provocation led to the creation of the Ethical Design Canvas (EDC) and the Cultural Review Framework (CRF). The EDC is a reflective tool that helps designers visualize and align their personal values with their clients’ services to avoid unintended implications of their work. In response to stereotypical African American advertisements discovered during the design of the EDC, we developed the CRF to help facilitate how businesses review culturally sensitive advertisements. In “Black Designers Missing in Action,” Miller (1987) raised the question, “What is missing in the design industry as a result of so little input from the largest of all American minority groups?” The unique perspective and cultural aptitude of African Americans and other American minority designers make them valuable contributors to design teams. Conversely, the lack of diversity can lead to stereotypical advertisements by businesses seeking to reach minority communities. In 2011 consumers became outraged over a Dove advertisement (Figure 1) considered to be racist (Knafo, 2011). The stereotypical ad, along with others depicted in the poster below (Figure 2), echoes the sentiments of Miller and raised the questions—were there no black designers involved in the decision making that led to the creation of the advertisement? What could have been done differently had an African American designer been apart of the discussions? These inquiries led to an attempt to recreate the advertisements without the stereotypical representation of African Americans, to show that it is possible to maintain the intended message the company sought to convey to its audiences while designing with a cultural awareness (Figure 3). Figure 1. Dove advertisement. Figure 2. Examples of ads with stereotypical messages.
MGD Code of Ethics WorkshopIn this section, we present an overview of the process and the development of a workshop formulated in response to Ken Garland’s First Things First manifesto (Soar, 2002) and Meredith Davis’ AIGA Design Futures Trend #4: Core Values Matter (Davis, 2018). The authors worked with the NC State Master of Graphic Design students to develop a code of ethics that expresses the ideas from the Core Values Matter trend. Following the structure and sentiment of Garland’s manifesto, we created a collaborative space for the students to develop a declaration for the future of the graphic design profession. Market research shows that quality, reliability, and transparency are the core values that help brands build trust amongst their consumers. Because core values matter in shaping people’s attitudes and behavior, design has the potential to be a force for social change (Davis, 2018). In preparation for the workshop, we identified two core themes of importance as described in the Core Values Matter article—the values that businesses and companies must use to gain trust from their consumers, as well as the independent values that designers must cultivate to create ethical work. We situated the workshop within four domains—designers’ responsibility to their clients, public, society + environment, and fellow designers. The workshop participants split up into four groups with each team assigned to a domain. The facilitators provided three case studies from which the participants chose one to write an analysis of the project’s ethical implications (Figure 7). The project analysis exercise encouraged the teams to consider unintended implications of various design projects and create a foundation upon which they began to develop the MGD Code of ethics. Figure 7. Teams working together to write an analysis of a chosen case study. Following the analysis and class discussion, the facilitators provided each team with four prompts—“we will, we won’t, we recognize, and we are responsible.” The prompts provided a framework through which each group could brainstorm statements outlining values, principles, and standards of practice, as related to their assigned domains (Figure 8). Figure 8. Teams brainstorming statements for each of the four prompts. We asked each group to come up with statements for each of the four prompts, followed by a group discussion to narrow it down. The groups read their statements to the class for everyone’s approval to finalize the declarations that are included on the MGD Code of ethics manifesto. Figure 9. A participant writing one of the final sixteen declarations on the manifesto. Once the students refined and agreed upon the statements, each participant hand wrote one of the final sixteen declarations on the manifesto and recited it in a video (Figures 9&10). Participants’ involvement in formulating the manifesto and video fostered a sense of community, agreement, and understanding among the students Figure 10. Video of participants reciting the manifesto.
Introducing Core Values into the ClassroomPeople are no longer passive consumers of information, but active participants in generating the content of their experiences (Davis, 2018). Design classrooms have become active learning environments, and design students can no longer passively receive instructions and be expected to produce meaningful design solutions. Designers must now be taught how to create work that aligns with their own core values. A designer’s ability to identify their own core values, that can be incorporated into their professional practice, begins in the classroom. Cinthia Wen (2011), writing about design education in the book Just Design, expresses this sentiment: In the classroom, we engage in active learning, and can use assignments as the premise to provide opportunities for students to engage, research, and concern themselves with world issues. As educators, we can inspire critical thinking and encourage each other to take on the responsibility in balancing the relationship between what designers do commercially, and what designers can do socially to bring about positive impact (p. 147). Students’ social and cultural aptitude is strengthened by emphasizing that core values matter within design curriculums. Exposing students to a social, political, or environmental issue can instill within them an understanding that such concerns can be addressed by graphic designers. This pedagogical approach can ignite exciting ideas in students and encourage them to pursue solutions for social issues beyond the classroom. Building upon what was learned through the first two investigations, this final investigation audits an undergraduate sophomore level design course. The investigation utilizes data visualization and mapping to reflect upon and address pain points that are potentially solvable by implementing lessons on core values and ethics within the curriculum. Pain points are a specific problem that a user is experiencing, in this case the users are students and professors. Visual diagramming gives you the ability to pick, choose, and combine content, allowing you to observe from multiple perspectives. The process of reflection for this class began by mapping out the semester in a calendar format—filling out the calendar with the daily tasks, phases of the design process, and all lectures, demonstrations, and critiques (Figure 11). Figure 11. Visual mapping of the semester’s curriculum. The mapping exercise aids in identifying key pain points, phases of the design process, and instructions. For example, unusable materials left after a demonstration on how to use spray adhesive to mount and cut paper on a foam core board, raised concerns on sustainability. If the instructor implemented lessons on conservation within the demonstration, there would not have been wasted material and the students would begin to think about environmental issues. As previously stated in the EDC investigation, a lack of cultural awareness can lead to the creation of negative stereotypical images. This lack of awareness became apparent in class critique when students presented a mobile application that intended to serve a predominantly African American community. The icons for their mobile interface depicted stereotypically white features, eliciting negative feedback from the class and instructors. Lessons on developing design solutions with considerations of your audience could have helped the students avoid the cultural mishap in their work. Reflection on these instances brought attention to the lessons on core values that can address these pain points within the class. Figure 12. Key for Figure 13. Figure 13. Circular diagram used to visualize the data. As projects, classes, and semesters can be seen as a cycle representing continuous reflection and improvement, the circular diagram is used to visualize the data (Figures 12&13). The outermost ring is the visualization of the core values that align with each project, which can be used to identify what lessons can be introduced and where within the existing instructional course materials. Lessons covering core values do not yet exist within the current projects and a reflective mapping exercise can help pinpoint the places where we can implement ethical principles within the existing curriculum. Design educators can use reflective processes and data visualization to analyze a class they have already taught and use the class analysis as a tool to improve upon and make adjustments to the class curriculum continually. We can actively and intentionally introduce core values by identifying opportunities and inserting subtle changes to already existing instructions.
Final ReflectionsThrough an analysis of our investigations, we observed that reflection is an essential component of understanding how to implement core values and ethics in graphic design practices. Businesses and entrepreneurs can use the Ethical Design Canvas and Framework to lead their organizations in a socially conscious direction. Through exercises such as the Core Values workshop, designers can use reflective practices to identify their own values and beliefs and implement them in their practice. Design educators can use mapping and visualization to reflect upon their courses and introduce core values within design curriculums. Therefore we conclude that it is imperative to educate designers on how to implement ethical design principles within their work and provide them with the reflective tools and exercises needed to do so.
Shadrick Addy (MGD ‘19) is a recent graduate of North Carolina State University’s Master of Graphic Design program. He is interested in the relationship between immersive technology and historical narratives.
Victoria Gerson (MGD ‘20) is a Master of Graphic Design Candidate at North Carolina State University. Her current research focuses on community, accessibility, and diversity issues in education and VR.
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