Adbusters

In Defense of Good

Design motives in a trendy marketplace.

I'm not a community organizer. I’m not a scientist. I’m not a journalist or someone who rallies a crowd with a powerfully moving speech. I’m not an electrician, a businessman, a mechanic or a waiter. I happen to be a designer.

I like using visual communication to convey information or to inspire people to action. I like working with different types of people from different backgrounds who have different needs and goals in our visual, media-driven culture. And I take the need for us all to be citizens in this increasingly complicated world seriously. That’s why I find it refreshing to see the good design movement really begin to take hold.

It isn’t hard to see how designers can be out of touch at times. We can come off like our only responsibility is to “the design,” that our role begins and ends there. We simply make a piece of visual communication beautiful and let the magic of the marketplace move the shoes, the Cokes/Pepsis, the coal trains. But looking at our job so narrowly – simply acting as accomplices to that derivative, that oil spill, that lust to be thin – is not a good thing. Are we comfortable being an army of little capitalists so immersed in the “free market” that we refuse to ask the tough questions and only seek to flex our aesthetic muscle?

To design for a project is to support it. What the good design movement is doing is essentially communicating our support of equality, sustainability, fairness and hope. We are stepping out of our comfort zones, looking at what exactly it is we do all day and finding opportunities to build rather than just sell. We know that design should work not only to better itself, but our communities as well – both local and global. So why is good design the target of criticism?

People often question the motives of designers who work on social projects, saying “they just want to feel better about themselves,” and it’s frustrating. What’s wrong with designers wanting to feel better about themselves and their work? Why isn’t anyone questioning the motive of designers working on Nike, Coke or Pepsi accounts? Just what do we want design to be?

Do we really want our best visual communication to be in favor of Burger King? Do we really want our finest efforts going toward shoes? Is this the rightful place for design? Should the best creative minds of our generation be so focused on high-gloss dishonesty?

I don’t think so. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that many other designers don’t think so either.

We have to get past the “we design and that’s our only responsibility” mentality. When we design, our choices matter, our intentions matter. That’s why we’re all designers anyway, right? We like to be seen and share in the world at large. All these good design efforts – professionals and students actually giving a damn about what’s happening out there and wanting to help make things better – is a profoundly good thing. Trend? Maybe. Seismic shift? Let’s hope so.

Whether we like it or not, designers do pick sides, just like fonts and color palettes. Which side are we better suited for: The fast-paced, high-gloss of a Just Do It campaign, or the slow, messy process of designing a more fair and equal place to live?

Justin Kemerling is working toward being a community activist designer, justinkemerling.com.

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Comments on the article “In Defense of Good”

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Chez

You have designed for an organization like nike. I saw the obama poster......that man and his party commanded the marketing techniques this magazine wines about perfectly. Talk about hipocrisy. At least all nike does is sell shoes. Also no one questions the motives of designers ever....they question the message that the organization hiring the designer decides. Maybe in some small circle of poeple this happens but otherwise this is at best a made up gripe about people hating on designers when they dont.

Chez

You have designed for an organization like nike. I saw the obama poster......that man and his party commanded the marketing techniques this magazine wines about perfectly. Talk about hipocrisy. At least all nike does is sell shoes. Also no one questions the motives of designers ever....they question the message that the organization hiring the designer decides. Maybe in some small circle of poeple this happens but otherwise this is at best a made up gripe about people hating on designers when they dont.

hairdryer

be harder to hate a designer if they kept their name quiet. those that feel their artistic morals coming through fade into celebrity. all clients promote themselves, appropriating as many as they can to achieve their goals in line with a budget. designers can help to form the size of the hole that sucks people in, just dont moan about filling up the guns with ammunition whilst waving a flag with your name on it.

hairdryer

be harder to hate a designer if they kept their name quiet. those that feel their artistic morals coming through fade into celebrity. all clients promote themselves, appropriating as many as they can to achieve their goals in line with a budget. designers can help to form the size of the hole that sucks people in, just dont moan about filling up the guns with ammunition whilst waving a flag with your name on it.

Dominic

no, the best creative minds of our generation should not be focused on high-gloss dishonesty, but what do you propose to do, besides subvertising? boycott corporate employers? millions would be unwilling to do so, most folk just want the big money, of course.

as for "students giving a damn" – i see no evidence of this at my university, at least not in the art & design faculty.

the only evidence (which it may not even be) of professionals giving a damn in the public domain that i know of is sheperd fairey's ad campaign for some fashion retailer – i think there was an article for it on this site. i can't be certain whether he's just sold out to "high-gloss dishonesty" or if he's used this contract as a platform for subversion: the slogan on one of his ads reads "arm yourself with a handbag" and depicts a woman posing soldier-like against a russian-style constructivist backdrop. all the same, it's an amusing piece =P

however my favourite would be a design for coca-cola with the slogan 'red around the world' and parodying an old people's republic of china banner of chairman mao (in this subversion, drinking coke)

Dominic

no, the best creative minds of our generation should not be focused on high-gloss dishonesty, but what do you propose to do, besides subvertising? boycott corporate employers? millions would be unwilling to do so, most folk just want the big money, of course.

as for "students giving a damn" – i see no evidence of this at my university, at least not in the art & design faculty.

the only evidence (which it may not even be) of professionals giving a damn in the public domain that i know of is sheperd fairey's ad campaign for some fashion retailer – i think there was an article for it on this site. i can't be certain whether he's just sold out to "high-gloss dishonesty" or if he's used this contract as a platform for subversion: the slogan on one of his ads reads "arm yourself with a handbag" and depicts a woman posing soldier-like against a russian-style constructivist backdrop. all the same, it's an amusing piece =P

however my favourite would be a design for coca-cola with the slogan 'red around the world' and parodying an old people's republic of china banner of chairman mao (in this subversion, drinking coke)

Katryna

As a designer trying to start out in the field I totally agree with this. I have done some free work for non-profit organizations and friend's businesses. Although when I try to apply for jobs at local copy centers or print shop this experience isn't enough for them because I have done no real "big" business designs. I don't want to sell out just to get a job. Instead I design my own way, not for profit but for my own satisfaction. I hope one day to make graphic design my only job, but not at the price of selling out my beliefs. Great article

Katryna

As a designer trying to start out in the field I totally agree with this. I have done some free work for non-profit organizations and friend's businesses. Although when I try to apply for jobs at local copy centers or print shop this experience isn't enough for them because I have done no real "big" business designs. I don't want to sell out just to get a job. Instead I design my own way, not for profit but for my own satisfaction. I hope one day to make graphic design my only job, but not at the price of selling out my beliefs. Great article

Rembrant

Good article, or should I say essay. But what is so wrong with high-gloss dishonesty. Sure, no designer wants to make a living crafting ideas and layouts for burger king, but if this is what it takes to have your creations seen, then that might be one's best bet. If i was a designer, I would want the most people to see my creations as could be achieved. Is it really such a bad thing to make a hamburger chain stylish? I would think one would take pride in the fact that they used a simple hamburger to make people think. And to get paid for it as well? What a whopper!

Rembrant

Good article, or should I say essay. But what is so wrong with high-gloss dishonesty. Sure, no designer wants to make a living crafting ideas and layouts for burger king, but if this is what it takes to have your creations seen, then that might be one's best bet. If i was a designer, I would want the most people to see my creations as could be achieved. Is it really such a bad thing to make a hamburger chain stylish? I would think one would take pride in the fact that they used a simple hamburger to make people think. And to get paid for it as well? What a whopper!

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