A. The Power of Design

Product packaging
Product packaging design for Sampoerna cigarettes

Design to me means problem solving in a way which shapes the world. Whether we are communicating an idea, belief or opinion, the tools and skills we have give us the ability to promote action in individuals. Having this skillset is beneficial not only to our professional careers, but our personal lives as well. However being able to influence a particular audience through design brings in to question certain morals, ethics and values which we employ on a day-to-day basis. A Study conducted by Allen & Davis, (1993) shows how individual values positively correlate to professional ethics. This study highlights how the way in which you conduct yourself personally, carries through to your professional careers. Understanding your personal morals of what is good and bad, and employing them in your professional lives is a way designers can create positive change through design activism. 

We are stronger
Two cigarette companies advertising outside a shop front

Throughout my experience in Surabaya, I was bombarded with advertising which supported the smoking culture of Indonesia. These ads were seen across product packages, billboards and posters. Seeing this made me realise that specific design choices were made to entice the responder to partake in behaviours which were detrimental to their health. After realising the power of design in these instances, I questioned my own moral and ethical standards in a professional light. Our role as designers, is to create a message for an audience. However it’s naive of us to believe that it’s up to personal choice whether the individuals viewing our message will partake in the behaviours I’m representing (Wolowicz, 2011). Designers, must be aware that through good design comes subliminal messages which work on the subconscious mind to create a pattern of behaviour over time (Wolowicz, 2011). If a designer isn’t aware of the long-term effects of their creations, then they will purely be working to make things look good, versus making things good (Hardt, 2009).

No smoking
A no smoking sign hidden within the trees at a local community entrance

Through design activism, we can create a human-centred approach to navigating the ethical dilemma’s that arise in our careers (Brown, 2009). From my primary research in Surabaya, the tobacco advertisements depict a lifestyle of adventure and professionalism, however the environmental, economical and social impacts were far from this ‘truth’. With the World Health Organisation (2017) showing that the socio-economic context of smokers in Indonesia are from a middle-low income household, we can see that these professional and extravagant lives that are depicted in the advertisements are fabrications designed to encourage behaviours that aren’t beneficial to the health and environment of humans. Design is a powerful tool and one which we mustn’t take lightly. As designers we must understand that what we do solidifies and naturalises opinions, stories, behaviours and traditions (Rock, 2016). Maintaining personal values in a professional environment will help us forge a career with positive influence and change on the general population.

SIDE NOTE: Here’s a great example of design which I found along my travels. A paint mural advertising MIXONE Outdoor Paint, located just outside the Kampung Warna Warni Jodipan (The Coloured Village in Malang).


MixOne advertising outside Kampung Warna Warni Jadipan



Allen, J. and Davis, D. (1993). Assessing some determinant effects of ethical consulting behavior: The case of personal and professional values. Journal of Business Ethics, [online] 12(6), pp.449-458. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01666559 [Accessed 18 Dec. 2018].

Brown, T. (2009). Change by Design. 1st ed. [ebook] Canada: HarperBusiness. Available at: http://bsili.3csn.org/files/2013/06/change-by-design-brown-e.pdf [Accessed 18 Dec. 2018].

Hardt, M. (2009). Design & Ethics: Good, bad, innocent or ignorant?. [online] International Council of Design. Available at: http://www.ico-d.org/connect/features/post/353.php [Accessed 18 Dec. 2018].

Rock, M. (2016). The Accidental Power of Design. [online] NY Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/15/t-magazine/design/bathroom-debate-accidental-power-of-design.html?mcubz=0 [Accessed 18 Dec. 2018].

Wolowicz, M. (2011). Ethical Issues in the Graphic Design Business. [Blog] The Design, Photo and Apple Geek. Available at: https://dpageek.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/ethical-issues-in-the-graphic-design-business/ [Accessed 18 Dec. 2018].

World Health Organisation (2017). WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/tobacco/surveillance/policy/country_profile/idn.pdf [Accessed 18 Dec. 2018].

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