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Posts tagged Bullsh*t.

Five Questions about Design Ethics: Milton Glaser

Design Less Better recently had the opportunity to talk to one of our favorite designers, Milton Glaser, about our favorite topic, design ethics. We are very proud to bring you this interview.

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DLB: We all know about your socially conscious design work: the war buttons, Light Up the Sky, We Are All African, and of course the Design of Dissent anthology. Aside from making work with explicitly ethical messaging, how do you express your values in your day-to-day design practice?

Milton Glaser (1/3)

MG: I don't think my ethics in ordinary design practice are different than anybody else's. Fundamentally, I try to do no harm, not to lie, and to have the same sense of responsibility to the community that any good citizen would have. My idea is that if you have a definition of good citizenship, you behave within that definition. I don't think it's terribly complex.

DLB: Could you expand on what's involved in being a good citizen?

MG: Well, it's a long and moralistic definition, but I think everybody knows what it means. It means that you don't deliberately go out and attempt to move people to anything that will harm them; you don't misrepresent anything that you're responsible for transmitting. It’s not a very complicated idea. Telling the truth is simple. But the truth is also full of ambiguity. Sometimes you don't know the truth. Sometimes the truth can produce pain and difficulty.

But I think the fundamental thing in the design field is not to urge people to buy something or to move toward something that would harm them. Beyond that, it gets into a long and maybe overly complex series of issues.

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PaulAug 7, 2010
 

Milton Glaser on Design Ethics (1/3)

Design Less Better recently had the opportunity to talk to one of our favorite designers, Milton Glaser, about our favorite topic, design ethics.

Design Less Better was very grateful for the opportunity to sit down with Milton Glaser recently and talk about his views on design ethics. This interview was originally posted over the course of three days. You are currently reading the first of three. You can read the whole interview here.

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DLB: We all know about your socially conscious design work: the war buttons, Light Up the Sky, We Are All African, and of course the Design of Dissent anthology. Aside from making work with explicitly ethical messaging, how do you express your values in your day-to-day design practice?

Milton Glaser (1/3)

MG: I don't think my ethics in ordinary design practice are different than anybody else's. Fundamentally, I try to do no harm, not to lie, and to have the same sense of responsibility to the community that any good citizen would have. My idea is that if you have a definition of good citizenship, you behave within that definition. I don't think it's terribly complex.

DLB: Could you expand on what's involved in being a good citizen?

MG: Well, it's a long and moralistic definition, but I think everybody knows what it means. It means that you don't deliberately go out and attempt to move people to anything that will harm them; you don't misrepresent anything that you're responsible for transmitting. It’s not a very complicated idea. Telling the truth is simple. But the truth is also full of ambiguity. Sometimes you don't know the truth. Sometimes the truth can produce pain and difficulty.

But I think the fundamental thing in the design field is not to urge people to buy something or to move toward something that would harm them. Beyond that, it gets into a long and maybe overly complex series of issues.

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DLB: Let's talk more about a specific kind of moral complexity in this field. We've written about Citibank's campaign that claims that there's more to life than the pursuit of money, Unilever's campaign suggesting that the beauty industry is unhealthy for the self-esteem of young girls, and the many green campaigns that credit card and oil companies are now running.

In one sense, all these messages are good, ethical messages, but in another sense it's unclear whether those companies have the moral authority to make them. What do you think about designers and marketers delivering values as a form of advertising?

MG: We know the story. If a company uses that as a marketing ploy, you still have to look at the other 99% of their activity. The idea of gratuitously saying that there's more to life than money and then spending every other moment of your time making people think only of money is a little bit, to say the least, hypocritical.

This morning, I read that there was a demonstration at a gallery in London opposing BP's activity. And BP said that, despite this, they were not going to withdraw their funding from supporting the arts. They give a million and a half dollars to the arts each year. A million and a half dollars. That's the cost of a lunch at BP! So that kind of cynical bullshit is enough to make you gag. You know that, in this case, giving to the arts is totally for public relations. It has nothing to do with commitment to the arts, or with BP considering the arts to be significant. If you are BP, and you think that the arts are significant, you'd give them a billion dollars for god's sake. A million and a half dollars a year. C'mon!

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Don't forget to take our 3-minute online survey; when you do, you'll be entered to win a signed Milton Glaser poster or a copy of the new Milton DVD, To Inform and Delight.

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PaulAug 2, 2010
 

Public Health Ads

From clever anti-smoking campaigns to misinformation on the flu.

I've been doing a bit of research on public health-awareness advertising campaigns, and thought I'd share some highs and lows. First, the good: I came across this gallery of compelling, clever anti-smoking ads and installations:

Anti-smoking ad

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AndreaOct 14, 2009
 

On Moral Authority

I started talking on Wednesday about so-called civil brands and advertising. I'm going to make one more point today about vague, value-based promises, about this especially dangerous kind of corporate bullshit. I'm going to get kind of preachy too. You've been warned.

The whitepaper on Civil Branding compares the role of brands in today's society with those of church and state in the past. Brands now "engage [in] wider conversations about how we should think about ourselves as a society." They play a primary role in informing what we find important, and help us tune our perspectives on it. God help me, I think this is right. But the conclusion - that it is the duty of marketers to help brands advertise with value-based messages, to promote good values - is dead wrong.

"I learned it by watching you, dad! I learned it by watching you."

When marketers suggest that companies undertake vague, value-based advertising campaigns that are contradicted by their unethical business practices, they are promoting a culture where values are handed down by institutions lacking the moral authority to do so. When companies use advertising to promote values that they don't instantiate, they drain the meaning out of those values.

Making value-based promises requires moral authority. If you're a marketer, and you help a company promote a value it doesn't instantiate, you're cheapening that value. You're making a world in which that value means less.

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PaulMay 1, 2009
 

On Bullsh*t

Most vague, value-based statements from brands aren't lies exactly, but that doesn't make them good.

Nick recently wrote a post about the Civil Branding website and whitepaper. Here's his distillation of the whitepaper's argument:

Branding is a form of mass-communication. For better or worse, choosing brands is how we express which ideas we think are important. Therefore, marketers should encourage companies to adopt and promote progressive values in order to build a better society.

His argument against so-called civil branding is old hat for BlogLESS readers: Brands in fact shouldn't make vague, value-based promises in their advertising because in the best case they can't possibly keep them. He also noted that in many cases, these promises contradict a company's actions.

Putting a finer point on the latter case, Nick brought up a ludicrous set of recent advertisements for Citibank, who now promote their company using the notion "that there is more to life than the pursuit of money." Nick notes that Citibank hardly has the moral authority to make such claims: "That's a great sentiment, but it's hard to take seriously from a company that skims money from it’s customers’ accounts and takes unacceptable risks with their funds - all for the sake of making as much money as possible." I made a similar point in November to a PR person from oil multinational BP whose recent branding upgrade situates them "beyond petroleum."

The individual who wrote the Civil Branding whitepaper responded to Nick's concerns in the comments, suggesting that by merely putting forth "progressive messages," companies are taking on an ethically "constructive" role in society.

This idea is not only credulous, it's dangerous.

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PaulApr 29, 2009