Design disappointment.

Today I’m going to share with you a little secret that’s been bugging me lately

It’s about one of my inner-most feelings about the design industry. For several months now, I’ve been getting disappointed. I have a bit of a dilemma. A moral dilemma 1.

Here it is: there seem to be very few what I call “ethical designers”. And that worries me.

I know because rarely do the creatives ever ‘like’ my environmental posts on LinkedIn. Rarely. Almost never.

Now keep in mind that probably about half of my connections work in the design industry. They’re senior graphic designers. They’re art directors. Executive creative directors. Chief creative officers. Important people. Important people with important accounts.

Designers are supposed to lead the way when it comes to new trends. I mean, fashion designers have the power to change what a billion people wear, within the space of a year (or less). Right?

And yet on this subject, the environment, most designers are suspiciously silent. And I think I know why. I strongly suspect it’s because there’s this so called ‘professional’ [read: confidential] client relationship.

In other words, the never seem to speak up, because they are too afraid that they are going to lose money. Not just with customers, but with their real clients, the businesses that hire them to design. You can’t be seen to criticise the business that gives you work. Like they say, “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”.

Here’s the thing. If people say or do the wrong thing —like the wrong post say— then they lose the account. I know because one of my design teachers told me. If anyone is caught drinking Pepsi in the design room when the Coke representative walks in, your agency loses the Coke account. That’s the way it works.

You see, I really think designers are forgetting just how difficult it is to accomplish good design. I think they’re underestimating themselves. They’re selling themselves short. And I think they should act a bit more like they way they were in highschool. Back then they were the trendsetters. The people who dared to be different. The people who stood against the status quo. Those rebellious kids. The cool ones, you know.

I would like to see the designer charge three, five or ten times more than they normally would for their design. Use that extra money. Give half of it to an enviornmental charity. But I would prefer to see you refuse the brief altogether. Don’t do it. Not for any amount of money!

People who changed the world in the past were never really popular during their time. People like Galileo questioned the status quo. And now today we have satellite communication and GPS navigation systems.

It could be that my “save the planet” content is preferentially served to all my conservation connections. But somehow I doubt it. Many creatives would have seen my posts as well. Many. They lurk, they don’t like. I’ve noticed.

And I was actually going to write this on my LinkedIn feed, but decided to write about it here instead. Because over there, it’ll only become very ‘awkward’.

I’ve also noticed that whenever I post a ‘controversial’ update or comment, I get about three times the number of people looking at my profile. They’re probably checking out who is making all the waves. But they never say anything. Not even privately.

It’s like they’re thinking something like this behind my back: “well if he doesn’t know, we’re not going to tell him; more work for us”.

I know how social groups work. If you say something controversial enough, something to upset people enough, something that goes against the norm, something that people can’t deal with, you risk getting expelled. Banned from the group. And I don’t want that to happen. I’d still like to get a few illustration commisions.

I know how the world works. I know it runs with money. I’m not stupid or naïve. So it’s not that I don’t know what I’m doing. Oh no; I know exactly what I’m doing. I also know something that most designers don’t know. I know a thing or two about science.

In that respect, I suppose my training is pretty unique because I have a strong background in science but my most recent qualification was a diploma of graphic design. So I speak the dual languages of science and design. I don’t know too many ex-scientists designers. None, in fact.

The thing is, I can’t forget my past. No matter how hard I try. I can’t not be a scientist. I trained for more than ten years to be a scientist. I can’t forget who I was or who I am today. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t. Sometimes I wish I could forget. Then I could probably ignore all these conservationists and and indigenous people and just “get on with being ‘successful’ “.

It’s not that science and design are incompatible. Oh they are perfectly compatible alright. Yes business, design and science are indeed all compatible. But not when it comes to big corporations they’re not. Because the bigger the company, the less accountable the employers, employees and customers all become.

The bigger a company, the more ethical rules they seem to break. Seriously. Environmental rules. Especially when it comes to the following industries: mining, engineering, manufacturing, development, construction and transport/logistics. They just don’t give a fuck. Or so it seems.

I know enough to know that there are many unknowns in science. But for every ‘unkown’, there are ten or a hundred ‘knowns’. Science is pretty good. Science works. Your computer works. Your smart phone works. Your iwatch works.

The trouble with designers staying silent is this. The bigger the account gets, the less people see the effect of their design decisions. Designers are not seeing the impact.

But what is worth more? The account? Or the planet? If we lose the planet, we lose pretty much all future accounts. Right? Riiight?

So my new rule of business is that I only want to work towards a better future, not a worse one. Otherwise, what’s the point?

If we are all working towards a worse future, if all there is is “now”, if that is so important, why bother working at all? Why bother building cities, freeways and skyscrapers? Why bother with children and grandchildren? You tell me. What is the fucking point? What is the fucking point of having children if this world is not sustainable?

And don’t get me wrong, I try to live in the ‘now’ as much as humanly possible. It’s just that I also consider the future as well as the past (which I think is wise).

When a client comes to you asking for a rebrand, they’re obviously thinking about the future, aren’t they? They are looking for a newer, better future. Right?

So what I would like to see is this: I would like to see creative executives have the balls to say to someone like Mr Gautami Adani something like this:

“well the thing is, Mr Adani, we can’t actually make your logo any cooler, accessible or friendly, you’re asking the impossible. Fossil fuels have become out of vogue, out of fashion, we can’t change that. No one can change that. Solar and wind are “in”. Coal is out.”.

I would like to see Chief Creative Officers, Executive Design Directors remind the CEO, the CFO, the board of directors about the future. Remind them that they are hoping for a better ‘future’ design, hence, they must care about the future. That’s why they’re investing money. Because they’re hoping for a better future.

I’d like to see more people remind these fools at the top just why the environment has to come before business. And then maybe the business owners and investors would insist on a newer, more sustainable, ecological design. Who else is going to design for them?

I think it’s absurd that people are too afraid to even say anything. Everyone should be able to harp on about the environment as much as they bloodywell like without fear of losing their job. Otherwise, we are all fückéd ladies and gentlemen. Fückéd!

Here’s what I would like to say to all investors. I would like to walk into a boardroom meeting and draw this fucken equation on the board:

no environment = no business = no profit.

Because I can tell you one thing right now. People can see straight through a logo or a design. I used to think a great logo was everything. but it’s just an identity mark.

If the companies’ ethics and morals aren’t in the right place, then people will eventually go with the ugly logo. I love a good logo, I do. I choose companies based on their logos and their design. True! But once I turn on a company, there’s almost no going back. If I had to choose between designer logos and saving the planet, bring on the ugly logos.

People are fickle. Customers will change banks. No amount of design can be used to sell a horrible company to well-informed people. That might have worked in 1990. Or even the year 2000. But this is the age of information, the age of connection.

 

The reason is that money can only be used to ‘offset’ things up to a certain point. And I think we are fast getting to that point, if it isn’t already behind us. Beyond that point, money doesn’t do any good. Sure money can buy a forest. Money cannot buy us a new atmosphere or a stable, unpeturbed weather system. Money cannot buy a clean ‘new’ planet. That is not how the world works.

Sometimes I like to entertain the idea of hypothetical situations, because I find them to be very insteresting. For example. if the major powers launched all of their nuclear weapons (more or less simultaneously), then how much would it cost to ‘fix’ the planet afterwards? What if it couldn’t be ‘fixed’? What then? That’s one reason we try to avoid a nuclear holocaust. Because we know about the consequences.

Things can’t keep on going on like they’ve always done. Again, the world doesn’t work that way. I know that’s not the way it is at the moment.

You may think I am some hippie nutter. But I’m not. I am a bit of a dreamer though. I don’t really care too much about money. I care that what I think, what I say, and what I do are all aligned — in the right direction.

So where am I going with this? A few years ago I read that whenever an organisation grows, it reaches a critical size of about 150 people. That is the maximum number of people we can efficiently deal with. Beyond that and things get too disconnected and bureaucratic. Efficiency goes down.

So these days I prefer to work with smaller businesses. That’s what my gut instinct tells me to do. Businesses that are small enough to change and adapt. Businesses that are able to put the environment first. They’re the ones who I want to trade with.

 

 

 

  1. Are there any dilemmas that aren’t moral in some way?

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