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Ethics in Design

While searching through the AIGA website, I came across an article by Paul Nini, an Associate Professor in the Department of Design at Ohio State University, entitled “In Search of Ethics in Graphic Design.” In his article he explained his excitement for finding good resources for explaining ethics in graphic design. He stumbled upon some serious efforts to educate people on the subject, in particular a symposium hosted by Maine College of Art. He also ran across a speech delivered by Milton Glaser at the AIGA 2002 Voice Conference in which he tries to educate his students about designing for audience.
Glaser explains that “if you don’t know who you’re talking to, you can’t talk to anybody.” Furthermore, there’s a link on the AIGA article for business and ethics, which has links to free PDF files explaining the use of illustrations, photographs, and copyright issues in design. Lastly the article has a particularly interesting section outlining the difference between “audience-centered” and “user-centered” design.
In an related article by David Airey on his website, he explains how important ethics have been to him as a designer, and how sometimes it is necessary to put ethics aside. He has a particularly strong point that “it can be necessary to put ethics to one side (within reason) in order to build a solid portfolio and reputation for excellent work.” Once the portfolio has been established and with a steadier income one can afford to be selective with one’s clients.

Links to the full articles.
AIGA Paul Nini
AIGA Design Business and Ethics
David Airey shot 2009-10-26 at 11.55.40 PM


  1. Jandos wrote:

    Thanks for the links, but I would have liked to see you say what you think about what you read. Is it necessary to “put aside ethics,” or is that just an excuse to do what you want without regard to the consequences?

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 4:41 am | Permalink
  2. John Cipriani wrote:

    I think that ethics play into graphic design only when it comes to copyright issues. Sure they say there’s no more original designs anymore, but I have no problem with imitation. As long as the artist put his own spin on it I see no issue. I do have a problem with trends in graphic designs especially the use of glare in logos where they don’t belong. It seems everything now a days is shiny and new. Also I do have a problem when it comes to stealing art and claiming it as your own or copying the exact same pose and style. This comes into play with things like fan art, where the line between is blurred. However, I think graphic design should be a free expression with no ethical holds on design except to protect the rights of the artists. As long as they are taken care of it doesn’t matter what you do to me.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 8:29 am | Permalink
  3. Sarah Yarbrough wrote:

    I disagree with “putting ethics aside”. I think that’s wrong and I think it’s wrong to suggest to students, or even professionals, that it is appropriate to do so. What’s the function of ethical practices if on a whim designers can disregard them? There have to be standards and there have to be regulations. It wouldn’t be acceptable for your doctor to randomly disregard his/her ethical standards (Hippocratic Oath), so why would it be okay for a professional designer? Having ethical practices/guidelines is what makes a profession a profession. Ethics go beyond copyright law and appropriation. Ethics force professionals, no matter the industry, to be responsible in their work, and liable when they act unethically.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink