Roberts, L., 2006. Good: An introduction to ethics in Graphic Design. Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA.

Lucienne Roberts, a signatory to the First Things First 2000 Manifesto (GraphicDesign&, 2012), holds a respected position in the field of ethics in graphic design (Baglee, 2012).

“What do we mean when we say a piece of design work is ‘good’?” (Roberts, 2006, p.13)

Within the text Roberts considers at length the meaning of being good, how to be good and the implications of good. Personally, Roberts book remains one of the fundamental texts currently available in the consideration of ethics in graphic design. Providing a firm basis of understanding, exploration of associated issues and produced in an ethical manner.

“Is it possible to be a bad good designer or a good bad designer for that matter? If the answer is ‘yes’ then which is preferable and what does this reveal about the relationship of ethics to graphic design?” (Roberts, 2006, p.3)

Building on the Rick Poynor discussion from response_ability (2010), Roberts invites the audience to question the use of talent and the relation to ethics. The text potentially invites more questions than it answers, but succeeds in persuading designers to consider a more ethical approach to their practice.

Berman, D., 2009. Do Good: How Designers Can Change the World. San Francisco: Peachpit Press.

Designers have far more power than they realize: their creativity fuels the most efficient (and most destructive) tools of deception in human history.

“The same design that fuels mass overconsumption also holds the power to repair the world” (Berman, 2009, p.2).

David Berman, on the sale of his successful graphic design agency in 2000, (Berman, 2009, p.1) chose to pursue a path of sustainability and solution with graphic design. Berman reiterates the power held by graphic designers and through a journey twined with his self-discovery and realisation expresses his message of sustainable design.

“Designers can be a model for other professionals for identifying one’s sphere of influence, and then embrace the responsibility that accompanies that power to help repair the world” (Berman, 2009, p.2).

Berman’s unhindered belief that graphic design is capable of fuelling a sustainable revolution is captivating. The passionate storytelling contrasts the potentially dry subject of ethics in graphic design and offers an expert analysis of the ethical issues.

“No one understands the powerful mechanism behind these manipulations better than design professionals, and we have the creativity and persuasiveness to make a positive change. We must act, be heard . . . . . and sometimes simply say no by designing a better yes” (Berman, D., 2009, pp.147-149).

Berman’s opinion of whether ethical designers working for ‘worse’ companies is better than non-ethical designers working for these companies, offers contemplation. Again this is a subjective area, and the decision can only be made by the individual.

The Do Good Pledge

  • Immediacy: The time to commit is now.
  • Ethics: I will be true to my profession
  • Principles: I will be true to myself
  • Effort: I will spend at least 10% of my professional time helping repair the world

– Berman, 2009, pp.146-147

Berman’s ‘The time to commit is now’ recalls the ‘One of the tragedies of the design scene is that it always acts too late’ Hans-Rudolf Lutz (AIGA Toledo, 2010) Berman citing the importance of prompt action while Lutz recalling the consequence of failing to take the opportunity. This is important as it reiterates the importance of action, and that failure in the past is a real reminder of how the profession must seek to change.

Shedroff, N., 2009. Design is the Problem. New York: Rosenfeld Media.

“To complicate this further, all communities and individuals have different social values” (Shedroff, 2009, p.28).

Here Shedroff identifies with Milton Glaser (2002), that ethics in (graphic) design lie with the individual. Consequently reminding of the importance to recognize individual values prior to commencing on professional or personally damaging projects either consciously or unconsciously.

“Designers are often dis-empowered—frequently by their own doing. When designers fail to understand the issues, vocabulary, and concerns of business leaders, they’re not equipped to participate in strategic discussions that decide the organization’s mission, vision, goals, or offerings. They must be content dealing with the results of these decisions at the implementation (or tactical) level and design the best solution they can that fits the already-specified parameters. Instead, designers should seek to involve themselves in the strategic discussions that determine not only what the offerings’ parameters are but what to offer the market in the first place. This is where designers can have the most impact” (Shedroff, 2009, pp.29-30).

Shedroff attempts to establish the root graphic design problems; concisely the growth of the profession without the designer’s full awareness of the consequences of their actions. Interestingly this directly contradicts Berman’s (2009) opinion, that designers are aware and able to manipulate the system to sustainable design. Shedroff and Berman agree however that part of the solution lies with involvement of graphic designers from the initial stage of any project, not solely from brief finalisation.

The importance of Shedroff’s text relates to the escalation of the profession, absent of major theoretical input from the graphic design community. All graphic designers feel the result, failure to involve at earlier stages consequently reduces the importance of the designer’s opinion and ensures the requirements of the client are produced regardless of the moral implications.

Additional resources

AdLand: A Global Gathering of Advertising – Mark Tungate

The Visual Dictionary of Typography – Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris

Design for Sustainable Change – Anne Chick and Paul Micklethwaite

Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate our Minds and Persuade us to Buy – Martin Lindstrom

Brand Failures: The Truth about the 100 Biggest Branding Mistakes of all Time – Matt Haig

No Logo – Naomi Klein

The Design Activist’s Handbook: How to Change the World (or at Least Your Part of It) with Socially Conscious Design – Noah Scalin and Michelle Taute

What is graphic design? – Quentin Newark

AIGA Toledo, 2010. response_ability : ethics and sustainability in design education. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22nd December 2012].

GraphicDesign&, 2012. GraphicDesign&: Lucienne Roberts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22nd December 2012].

Baglee, P., 2012. Lucienne Roberts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22nd December 2012].

Glaser, M., 2002. The Road to Hell. Metropolis, [online] Available at: [Accessed 4th December 2012].


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