POST A: An analysis of Problematic Design and ethical incentives

In Indonesia design played a large role in the prevalence of smoking amongst young men through the marketing of aspirational narratives and construction of ‘cooler’ and more manly social identities that primed young boys for smoking later in life (Ng. et al., 2007), in so far that smoking is utilised in the negotiations of social standing amongst men. This was done through advertising campaigns in public space and through various media campaigns (TV, print, etc,), sponsorships and packaging designs. Even today, tobacco companies have increased efforts to market to a new market of women through the use of ‘light’ cigarettes, with feminine ’ packaging, and through a narratives about being ‘with it’ along with feminism and independence based on the target demographic (Hitchman & Fong, 2011).

Australia owns 20% of the worlds electronic gaming machines (Mercer 2018), known colloquially as the pokies. Electronic gaming companies and establishments consider themselves ethical providers through their participation in CSR activities (Yani-de-Soriano, Javed & Yousafzai, 2012) and governments play an active role in gambling regulation in all states of Australia. NSW by far has the highest concentrations of pokie machines, with a loss per capita around 50% higher than the national average.

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Image Above: (Donnison 2015)

Studies have shown that pokies addictions have significant negative effects on the mental and physical well-being of problem gamblers, with one Australian committing suicide a day due to gambling related harm. So why do these companies exist? The government’s reliance on tax revenue and CSR initiatives funded by gambling streams i (Yani-de-Soriano, Javed and Yousafzai, 2012) are often cited as barriers to change in policy in the industry to priorities harm reduction over profit maximisation. Pokie interface and hardware designs are colourful and bright, and utilise various game design and psychological principles to increase dopamine and addiction amongst users.

When designers participate in these sorts of projects that fundamentally impact people’s lives, they do have a share in the responsibility of these outcomes that have clear ethical implications. Yet there are no universal design ethics guidelines or manifestos. Often in business the economics and legalities of decisions are thoroughly scrutinized, but in the past it has been typical for businesses to pay less attention to the ethical implications of such activities as there were no real incentives to do so beyond personal affect. Through events such as the American financial scandals of the early 21st century leading companies into financial distress, organisations have become more aware of the impacts to business these decisions can have (Koumbiadis, 2014). The same can be said for design where tangible benefits and flow on effects of ethics are often held up as justification for decisions that may be more costly in the short term.

How we can incentivise ethics in design is a big issue in the 21st century, and it will be interesting to see what further developments can be made to push an approach that often goes against business and sometimes even Government objectives, as seen in our study of Tobacco in Indonesia and Pokies in Australia.


Donnison, J. 2015, The high cost of Australia’s addiction to ‘pokies’, BBC, viewed December 21 2018, <;.

Hitchman, S. & Fong, G. 2011, Gender empowerment and female-to-male smoking prevalence ratios 2018, Bulletin of the World Health Organisation, vol 89, no 3, pp. 161 – 240.

Koumbiadis, N. 2014, ‘Morality, ethical awareness and ethical behavior in business: challenges for twenty-first century organizations’,  Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change, vol 10, no 2.

Mercer, P. 2018, Australia’s escalating gambling addiction, BBC News, viewed 21 December 2018, <;.

Ng, N., Prabandari, Y., Padmawati, R., Okah, F., Haddock, C., Nichter, M., Nichter, M., Muramoto, M., Poston, W., Pyle, S., Mahardinata, N. and Lando, H. 2007, ‘Physician assessment of patient smoking in Indonesia: a public health priority’, Tobacco Control, vol 16, no 3, pp.190-196.

Yani-de-Soriano, M., Javed, U. and Yousafzai, S. 2012, ‘Can an Industry Be Socially Responsible If Its Products Harm Consumers? The Case of Online Gambling’, Journal of Business Ethics, vol 110, no 4, pp.481-497,.

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