Why design needs a Code of Honor

Design requires responsibility because it determines how the world looks like tomorrow

Every single person has a responsibility to reflect on their actions and the impact they have on society – in their direct surroundings and in a bigger context. Designers shape the world we live in in every aspect. We have the power to decide what your surroundings look like, what you wear, where you live, what you buy. We have the power to make you want something, focus your awareness on certain topics, give or withhold information and manipulate your opinion. Sounds like a big responsibility? It is.

Design requires responsibility because it determines how the world looks like tomorrow. That’s why it is important to be aware of your influence and reflect on the impact of your work. Is it useful? Is it honest? Is it meaningful? Is it sustainable? Is it understandable? Is it inclusive? 

Many have tried to find the right criteria and guidelines to which designers should turn to, when questioning the morality of their current task. I have collected a few of them in chronological order and will give you the most important facts for each of the manifests and code of honors written so far.

First Things First Manifest

When: 1964/2000/2020

Who: Ken Garland + 400 designers

Criticism: He criticises the waste of time, effort and talent that goes in for trivial matters and to produce things without value. He claims that design and advertising are driving forces for unhealthy consumerism.

Goal & tipps: Reflect on the intention of design, for example whose interests are represented in the work you do. He aspires a responsible and aware use of your design skills for the betterment of the society.

Examples of useful design: street signs, buildings, books, magazines, catalogs, guides, industrial photography, learning aids, movies, television reports, scientific and industrial publications, promotion of trade, education, culture and a greater awareness of the world

Social Design

When: 1971

Who: Victor Papanek

Criticism: Design has become only surface beautification.

Goal: responsible design with respect to human needs and nature, inclusive design for marginalised groups

Examples of useful design: Design for the third world, people with disabilities, medicine and nursing, research, old people, against violence and crime, for education and social awareness

10 principles for good design

When: 1995/2002

Who: Dieter Rams

Criticism: Design is subject to constant development, therefore the guidelines of what good design means have to be constantly reassessed.

Goals: Design should be usable, aesthetically pleasing, durable, environmentally friendly, honest, understandable, unobtrusive, consistent, as little design as possible

Codex Industry Design – 12 Guidelines

When: 2012

Who: Verband Deutscher Industrie Designer

Criticism: Increasing overstimulation and insufficient awareness of co-responsibility in society.

Goals: Develop social design for tolerance, diversity and sustainability. Designers should broaden their horizon, work in interdisciplinary teams and keep their promises for appropriate, fair, loyal and responsible design.

Ethics for the Starving Designer

When: 2012

Who: David Groh

Criticism: Social, ecological, professional and personal responsibility of designers have been neglected in design education and the design work environment.

Goals: Recognize design as a powerful tool and create a set of rules that reflect values, which designers can follow independently from philosophical, religious or personal beliefs. The values should thrive to not be harmful to society and the environment, be flexible and current, but also reflect that in reality it is not always possible to act 100% ethically, but rather find the best possible decision in a certain situation.

Now we covered a rough overview of existing Codes of Honors in different branches of design. Of course these are not all there are, but just a collection of the most notable or to my opinion most interesting manifests. 

I also wrote my own set of rules as a personal Grahic Design Code of Honors. To see where I put my focus and what is important to me when it comes to ethical design check out my blog article about this topic.

von | 17. Mai 2021 | Blog