News: Designer saves world (world not happy)

So I read Stingosaurus’ blog asking if Design Can Save the World, a question that took me back once more to my uni days (seems so long ago but anything for a bit of nostalgia), where my young ethical conscience wrestled with similar issues. I read lots (and lots) of books and articles around this, issues of CSR, environmentalism, political ideology, ethics, much of which I’ve forgotten, but I do remember being left pretty cynical about the state of the design world. I was convinced that there were two sides to the industry;

David Ogilvy - The Original Ad Man

David Ogilvy - The Original Ad Man

1. The Evil Corporate Designer. The evil corporate designer takes on any job, no matter whether it’s MegaDrill Oil Corp. or a new logo for SquashyKitten Trappers Inc. as long as there’s money involved. He/She inevitably works within a big agency which can attract the really big world wide firms to their roster and turn out slick, polished design, even if it means working slavish 20 hour days (they’ve got plenty of coke to keep them going) to meet a ridiculous deadline. They drive BMWs or Lexus cars, giving not a fig for their carbon footprint, jetting over to New York for a half hour client meeting, and are of course rolling in money. They probably work in advertising, but prefer to claim they are “in marketing”.

Jonathan Barnbrook - Adbusters

Jonathan Barnbrook - Adbusters

2. The Socio-Environmental Designer. The socio-environmental designer is crippling self aware of their own work, to the point that they cannot work in an office with other people, but instead designs from a white washed “modernist” room covered in Saul Bass posters that was formerly a garage (he/she can no longer afford a car). They only take on briefs from people that live up to their own high moral standards, but this is fine because the only clients they can attract are charities who want “a little logo” or local businesses trying to jump on the eco band wagon. They of course own a bicycle which they use to ride down to Waitrose for organic, free range everything even though they haven’t been paid for any design work they’ve done this year. They would never describe themselves as graphic designers, more as a “conceptual visionary”

I couldn’t decide which I’d rather be; a self-loathing, minted, soulless ad-man, or a pretentious, penniless, pseudo-hippie.

This was all thankfully a horrible fantasy, and the reality is that most designers I’ve met are pretty normal people, with perhaps a tendency to get excited about colours and shapes in everyday situations (I once witnessed an impassioned argument between two designers in a pub about the legitimacy of Comic Sans as useable typeface).

This is probably my point, design, I mean graphic design but it probably applies to all forms of design, is all about passion and when people are passionate about their job they care more about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. This, I hope, means that your typical designer meets somewhere in between my two extremes, a caring socially-aware professional and I think that’s what I’m aspiring to be.

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3 Responses to “News: Designer saves world (world not happy)”


  1. 1 Stina September 26, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    Hey, thanks for the input at Design Hero. I’m totally with you on this one. There are two kinds of designers; the money-loving, and the conscious-before-all kind of guy/girl. But there are also the other divide; the designer who produces good looking pieces without a bigger meaning behind it, and the conceptual aware designer who value idea in front of surface.
    In the end it’s about passion, as you say. But to be ethical and successful today it takes more than that.

  2. 2 Stef October 1, 2008 at 11:31 am

    I read your post and find your distinction between the two types of designers interesting and sometimes, true. I agree that a designer doesn’t have to be one or the other, and think that there is the space for young, creative, conscious designers in the industry. Good, socially aware ideas and good socially aware design mean that professionals can meet somewhere between the two.

    I recently attended a presentation where partners from an award-winning London design studio explained that they acquire capital from big commercial projects to fund smaller independent projects. Here, the socio-environmental designer exploits the corporate designer for money. I thought this was an interesting approach to producing work that makes a difference.

    I think the biggest dilemma concerning design for change is money and funding, and with this, where the priorities of the designer lie.

  3. 3 caoverton September 15, 2010 at 10:56 am

    I agree, I think alot of the problems that we face with either trying to be ethical is that we are always tight on money, its about making sure we have enough money to run as a studio and that we have enough work coming in. But it is a little sad that someones passion could end up on the back burner so that they can concentrate on getting enough business and money. I hope that money becomes less of an issue with time.


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