When we talk about good design, ethics not only should be a determining factor, it must.
Almost two weeks ago, I asked the question, "Why should there be any ethical concerns that are relevant to the success of a design?"
This question no doubt seems familiar to readers of BlogLESS, as we've long been tacitly and explicitly addressing reasons why there should be. This week, I used some of those arguments, and an analogy to Major League Baseball, to suggest not only that there should be, but that there must be.
Titian's Venus and Adonis, Prado Museum and Art gallery, Madrid.
We've been on a solid run of fairly substantive posts recently, breaking a little ground in a lot of directions. Today, I thought I'd take a moment to try and encapsulate the heart of our December work on the role of promises play in advertising and design.
Promise to Return by Edward Bielejec
This thread probably starts with our consequentialist account of design, which motivated our positions on telling the truth (and therefore being ethical -- an observation which we couldn't help but notice Seth Godin echoing recently). For those who may not recall our first slogan, it's very simple: Be good. Because if you're not, and you lie about it, people will find out.
From there, it was a matter of simply asking how we were on the hook for our choices. The answer to this question was easy: because our livelihood is based on securing the trust of the consumers and constituents to whom we tailor our clients' products and services.
Now, the real work was ready to begin. Let's review it:
- We get consumer trust by making promises, which we call advertisements.
- There's no other way to get this trust, and this fact leads to all manner of advertising tricks. We covered promising almost nothing, merely insinuating something -- however implausible, or promising something vague.
- All these tricks make consumers jaded. This exhausts many of the standard model advertisement options, a fact which leads advertisers to adopt an ironic stance toward the whole promising practice in general.
- This ironic stance, though, undermines trust in the brand, which was what advertising was supposed to secure in the first place.
- This all leads us to believe that it's not enough to merely tell the truth, you have to make meaningful promises that you can keep.
In slogan form: Brands are built on trust, which is only sustainable when built on meaningful promises kept.
Combining our two slogans has interesting results, which we will continue to explore in February.
We've been slamming BlogLESS this month, trying to start stake out some positions on design ethics. About three weeks ago, though, Nick first asked a question that's crystallized the tone for our first investigation: Namely, "Why bother?" Why be ethical at all when we all know that greed is good?
Since then, our collective agenda has been to show that we don't know that at all. I think, inadvertently, we may have finished doing this last week. Here's what we've come up with, in all its syllogistic glory:
It's necessary for effective advertising to be coherent with reality. When it's not, people notice, and it's going to hurt you. Which leaves you with two options. First, you can act unethically and then lie about it or just omit it from your advertising, but there's reason to think that won't hold up. Otherwise, you can be good, and then put that right on the table. There are ways to do it, and it's probably less work.
If you are good, and you can coherently advertise the fact that you are good. If you're generous, conscientious, and civically minded, you won't have to resort to tricks or other ineffective strategies for profit maximizing. Your products and services will advertise themselves.
Therefore, be good. That's it. Simple as that.