Design for Good and Bad

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Milton Glaser, a number of years ago, wrote The Road To Hell, a guide to help designers determine whether or not they were designing for dubious purposes and questionable ends. Using “hell” as the most extreme yardstick was a clever way to address issues that concern most of us without resorting to more pedantic moral or ethical jargon that can sound self-righteous and preachy.

Over the past decade or so the term “Design for Good,” has become a mantra. “Design for Good” is a label affixed to conferences, initiatives, courses, books, magazines and journals. Through repetition, however, the phrase renders an inherently sound design ethos – to do no harm – into a brand. Sure, there was a time not too long ago, when some designers, especially during the boom years of glitzy corporate design firms and consultancies, had become comfortable making profit despite the consequences – but even then, most designers did not intentionally design for bad.

Some may have done bad design owing to a lack of talent made poor aesthetic choices, but frequently even this bad design was done for good causes. These days bad design, as it were, may be rebellion against the mainstream’s good design. Good can be bad and bad can be good – context and semantics are everything.

“Design for Good” presumably means designing for a positive quality of life. That’s a good thing – and the thing we should all strive to do, if possible. But when the mantra becomes a jingle – when it sounds like an advertising slogan – then it is time to reassess. Design should impact life in a positive way. Using “design for good” as a brand – good intentions not withstanding – simply fosters a trend that will be easy to ignore or parody.

Why can’t designers just practice “public good” as an integral part of design’s mission without labeling it as such – indeed that is good thing.

[Read about the comics biography of Underground Press Pioneer John Wilcock on tonight’s Nightly Daily Heller.]

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