Sustainability and Ethics in Design

In this day and age, every one of us should be aware of ethical, social, and environmental issues and we need to try to the best of our abilities to act accordingly. For a designer, this awareness needs to translate into an ethically, environmentally, and socially responsible practice.  

I fully agree with David Berman when he says, “Designers have far more power than they realize: their creativity fuels the most efficient (and destructive) tools of deception in human history […] The same design that fuels mass overconsumption also holds the power to repair the world.” 1

In the same way, designers have been feeding into unhealthy and unattainable beauty standards, they might be able to reverse this trend by working with ethnically, body-size and age-wise diverse models and by avoiding racial and sexist stereotypes. They can also choose to which extent photos are to be manipulated.2 They are not only able to use their power to change our perception of beauty but also to educate us about social and environmental issues.  

A designer might want to consider only working for clients deemed ethically or environmentally correct. However, only accepting certain clients, might seem a luxury, especially at the beginning of a career or if you have staff to pay. On the other hand, being true to yourself and standing 100% behind a client/project will result in high-quality work. Which will in turn be of advantage for securing future work. 

Another aspect of ethical design practice is the legalities and the compliance with copyrights, font licensing, plagiarism and of course cultural appropriation.3

A sustainable practice could mean a designer implementing eco-friendly practices such as paperless communication, preferring digital campaigns, or using more eco-friendly paper and ink choices. CO2 footprints can be reduced by working with local suppliers and printers.  

Whereas the impact of eco-friendly alternatives in a designer’s day-to-day practice might be relatively small, the impact of translating their social and ethical conscience into their practice can be substantial.

1 Berman, David B. Do Good: How Designers Can Change the World. Peachpit Press, 2009.


This blog is part of the NMIT Blog Network. The articles and comments in this blog are the opinion of the authors and not necessarily those of NMIT.