Don’t shoot the messenger

Originally published on davidthedesigner.com


The role of designers in wider society has often interested me. For me the traditional function of the graphic designer loyally conveying the client’s message to an audience seems a little outdated. It goes against the very notion of designers who are used to seeing the world differently and questioning what we see and what we are told.

So what happens if you disagree with a client’s message? Should you refuse to be the messenger when the message is questionable, or just plain lying? Is it better to ignore companies who are notorious for their ethics, or work with them to try to change the way they behave?

If we sacrifice our views for an easy life we risk loosing integrity. Therefore, working with clients to not convey messages that are untrue or distasteful seems the more valuable option. But this does not necessarily mean forcing alternative views upon them or treating them as villains, but listening to their views too; engaging in a two-way dialogue so that views can be aired and decisions made fairly.

According to Paul Rand, a designer “creates ideas that are expressed in words and/or pictures, and generally solves problems of visual communication”1, but perhaps we need to update our definition of graphic designer. Aren’t we more than simply messengers, organising images and typography? Do we not have a moral obligation to society to use the power of design wisely? Our work, and therefore our ideas, are so unavoidably linked with culture to begin with, that maybe we should see ourselves as cultural designers.

Designers have great deal of power over how people see the world and how our culture is shaped. Don’t you think we should use this power wisely?

  1. This quote is from Paul Rand: A Designer’s Art – page 15.