Before we were designers, editors, camera ops, producers and social media gurus or creatives if you like, we were human beings. Like every other human being on the planet, we are part of the social contract. We share a planet. By choosing to be a creative we are choosing to impact the people who come in contact with our work, we can either help or hurt them with our actions. The effect of what we put into the fabric of society should always be a key consideration in our work. Every human being on this planet is obligated to do our best to leave this planet in better shape than we found it. Creatives don’t get to opt out.
When we do work that depends on a need for income disparity or class distinctions to succeed we are failing our job as a citizen, and therefore as a creative.
Design is a discipline of action. We are responsible for what we put into the world. It has our name on it. And while it is certainly impossible to predict how any of our work may be used, it shouldn’t be a surprise when work that is meant to hurt someone fulfills its mission. We cannot be surprised when a gun we designed kills someone. We cannot be surprised when a database we designed to catalog immigrants gets those immigrants deported. When we knowingly produce work that is intended to harm, we are abdicating our responsibility. When we ignorantly produce work that harms others because we didn’t consider the full ramifications of that work, we are doubly guilty.
The work we bring into the world is your legacy. It will outlive us. And it will speak for us.
We need to fear the consequences of our work more than we love the cleverness of our ideas.
Design does not exist in a vacuum. Society is the biggest system we can impact and everything we do is a part of that system, good and bad. Ultimately we must judge the value of our work based on that impact, rather than any aesthetic considerations. An object that is designed to harm people cannot be said to be well-designed, no matter how aesthetically pleasing it might be, because to design it well is to design it to harm others. Nothing a totalitarian regime designs is well-designed because it has been designed by a totalitarian regime.
A broken gun is better designed than a working gun.
When we are hired to create something, we are hired for our expertise. Our job is not just to produce that work but to evaluate the impact of that work. Our job is to relay the impact of that work to our client or employer. And should that impact be negative, it is our job to relay that to our client along with a way, if possible, to eliminate the negative impact of the work. If it’s impossible to eliminate the negative impact of the work, it’s our job to stop it from seeing the light of day. In other words, you’re not hired to just dig a ditch, but to evaluate the economic, sociological, and ecological impact of that ditch. If the ditch fails those tests, it’s our job to destroy the shovels.
A creative uses their expertise in the service of others without being a servant. Saying no is a design skill. Asking why is a design skill. Rolling your eyes is not. Asking ourselves why we are making something is an infinitely better question than asking ourselves whether we can make it.
No code of ethics should protect our work from criticism, be it from clients, the public, or other designers. Instead, we encourage criticism in order to create better work in the future. If our work is so fragile that it can’t withstand criticism it shouldn’t exist. The time to kick the tires on our work comes before those tires hit the road. And be open to that criticism coming from anywhere.
The role of criticism, when given appropriately, is to evaluate and improve work. Criticism is a gift. It makes good work better. It keeps bad work from seeing the light of day.
Criticism should be asked for and welcomed at every step of the design process. We can’t fix a cake once it’s been baked. But we can increase the chances your project is successful by getting feedback early and often. It’s our responsibility to ask for criticism.
Design is the intentional solution to a problem within a set of constraints. To know whether we are properly solving those problems we need to meet the people who are having them. And if we are part of a team, our team should strive to reflect those people. The more a team can reflect the audience it is solving for, the more thoroughly it can solve those problems. That team can come at a problem from different points-of-view, from different backgrounds, from different sets of needs and experiences. A team with a single point of view will never understand the constraints they need to design for as well as a team with multiple points of view.
When we decide who we’re designing for, we’re making an implicit statement about who we’re not designing for. For years we referred to people who weren’t crucial to our products’ success as “edge cases”. We were marginalising people. And we were making a decision that there were people in the world whose problems weren’t worth solving.
Facebook now claims to have two billion users. 1% of two billion people, which most products would consider an edge case, is twenty million people. Those are the people at the margins.
“When you call something an edge case, you’re really just defining the limits of what you care about.”— Eric Meyer
These are the trans people who get caught on the edges of “real names” projects. These are the single moms who get caught on the edges of “both parents must sign” permission slips. These are the elderly immigrants who show up to vote and can’t get ballots in their native tongues.
They are not edge cases. They are human beings, and we owe them our best work.
Thank you Mule Design.