Why are moral ethics important in graphic design?

Ethics in graphic design remains a predominantly subjective area, rigid rules do not define the appropriate use (or mis-use) of talent. The moral framework is left to the designer’s conscience, often overruled by issues such as finance or career progression.

Additionally graphic designers and their employers fail to understand the importance and consequence of their actions. As explored in the case studies section the result of positive and negative ethics is greater than simply a switch in brand loyalty.

It is vitally important designers are equipped with the knowledge to make informed decisions about their actions, or they may suffer from remorse.

As seen in the case of James Montgomery Flagg. Flagg was the founding father of Uncle Sam and developed World War Two propaganda for the United States. In the opinion of David Hart (2011) Flagg became corrupt by war efforts, away from his previous employment as a magazine illustrator. He became heavily involved in wartime propaganda, firmly believing in his cause, and it wasn’t until the conclusion of WW2 he expressed remorse for the actions his work spurred (Novin, 2010).

“A number of us who were too old or too scared to fight prostituted our talents by making posters inciting a large mob of young men who had never done anything to hop over and get shot at . . . . we sold the war to youth” (Flagg cited in Tungate, 2007, p.24).

Uncle Sam – US Army Recruitment

Uncle Sam - James Montgomery Flagg 1917

James Montgomery Flagg, 1917. Uncle Sam. [image online] Available at: Uncle Sam – James Montgomery Flagg 1917 [Accessed 11th April 2013].

This website aims to explore the importance of moral ethics in graphic design, explore the consequences of ethical decisions and consider the actions available to improve ethics in graphic design.

“There are professions more harmful than industrial design – but only a very few of them. And possibly only one profession is phonier. Advertising design . . .” (Papenek cited in Sherwin, 2012).

Go to next section: Background

Hart, D., 2011. Waving the flag (again). [online] Available at: http://davidmhart.com/blog/archives/2011/12/index.html [Accessed 4th December 2012].

Novin, G., 2010. A History of Graphic Design. [online] Available at: http://guity-novin.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/chapter-29-propaganda-posters.html [Accessed 3rd December 2012].

Sherwin, C., 2012. Sustainability is ‘the ultimate design brief’. [online] The Guardian, 17th September. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/blog/sustainability-sustainable-design-products [Accessed 11th April 2013].

Tungate, M., 2007. AdLand. London: Kogan Page.

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