The state and waste of Dutch Design: a sense of Responsibility, and the lack thereof
Helping clients achieve their goals is at the core of the Creative Industry. Yet, the negative consequences of doing so are not always apparent. To give you a practical example let us do a thought experiment: an airliner approaches a design agency to develop their new corporate brand. The main goal is to increase the ticket sales by a minimum of 250.000 within 3 years time. Achieving it will result in more planes flying through our skies which in turn leads to a rise in greenhouse gases and other forms of pollution. Now, should the design agency refuse the project because of the this negative effect? Or should they take on the project regardless of it? After all, they are no more responsible for the rise in greenhouse gases and pollution than a gun shop owner is responsible for what happens after selling his guns and ammo.
It's a rather harsh comparison, perhaps even an unfair one. Especially because the Creative Industry is not used to reason this way. However, one cannot deny creatives play an indirect role in the positive and negative consequences of realising their clients' ambitions. Whether a project should be refused because of any (potential) negative effects is a moral and ethical decision each creative professional has to make for him- or herself.
A more interesting question is whether creatives should give this role serious consideration or not. It's easy (on moral and ethical grounds) to refuse a widely despised corporation that has been shown in the mainstream media to do a lot of damage in a faraway poverty-stricken country. But what if the client hasn't had widespread negative mainstream media attention? Should creatives invest time and effort (and perhaps even money) to do proper background research? How about when a client puts six figures on the table and salaries need to be paid? Few company directors would choose to refuse such a client if the only argument for it would be a small increase (in the grand scheme of things) in greenhouse gases. So where do we go from here?
Let me first say I'm not condemning anybody in the Creative Industry for the choices that he or she makes. Nor am I here to become the moral beacon of light for the industry itself. However, what I am pleading for is that we should feel responsible for our indirect role in this. All too often the decision whether a project is taken on is solely based on the monetary value that is connected to it. Rarely are potentially negative consequences (e.g. social, environmental, political, etc) taken into consideration. Likewise the Creative Industry tends to focus on celebrating the positive consequences of achieving a client's ambitions while the negative consequences are left ignored or (as more often tends to happen) slip by unnoticed. As long as we don't recognise our indirect role in the harm we do there's nothing we can do to amend for it or prevent it from happening in the future.
Therefore the next time clients approach you do some background research first. Read up on a couple of articles from various sources, check out social media and do a couple of thought experiments based on the information that you collected. Try not to base your decision on assumptions and don't judge too soon. If you have any concerns discuss them openly with your team, network and client. It doesn't have to take up much of your time, just put some honest effort in it.
Regardless of who you choose to work stay true to yourself, make informed decisions and practice what you preach. It's perfectly okay to work for an airliner if that results in more greenhouse gases and pollution. It's also perfectly fine (to choose) to not care about that in the slightest. But at the very least be aware of any potential negative consequences and treat them as a serious part of your professional decision-making process. After all, more so than anything else, we are responsible for our own ignorance.
photo credit: Detail from the Offspring's 'Splinter' album artwork.