Post A: Is the Designer Simply doing their job; The Ethical Dilemma of the Designer in the Tobacco Industry

“Design is one of the most powerful forces in our lives, whether or not we are aware of it, and can also be inspiring, empowering and enlightening” (Rawsthorn 2014). This quote from Alice Rawsthorn, design critic for The International New York Times, epitomises the power designers hold when influencing the minds of consumers, and this influence is no doubt seen within the Tobacco Industry in Indonesia. The large ads, motivating slogans and encapsulating imagery fill the streets contributing to the 76% of Indonesian Males (15+) who smoke (Tobacco Atlas 2015), as the ads have a clear target of “Young Masculinity” (Nichter, Padmawati, et al. 2008). The ruthlessness of these advertisements brings into question, ‘Is this deemed as successful design?’ As absurd as that question is, the designers and marketers behind these campaigns are being extremely successful in making their product desirable to their target audience and isn’t that the goal of designers, advertisers and businesses alike in all industries? And although the ethics of these designers is pulled into question due to their promotion of sin goods, particularly to a younger audience, it becomes important to consider other industries to help gain an understanding of whether it’s simply a designer doing their job well, or does the “empowering” nature that is design negate a greater responsibility needs to be placed on the designers.

Look at the junk food industry within western society, an industry that at first glance seems very different to that of the Indonesian tobacco industry but holds quite a few similarities, particularly within the design and advertising. Both have a strong target of the younger generation, with fast-food outlets like McDonald’s using characters and toys to draw in younger consumers. Both hold dire health risks, with the World Health Organisation labelling “childhood obesity as one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century” (WHO 2010) and a reported 63% of Australian adults being considered overweight or Obese in 2015 (ABS 2015). Both saturate the landscape, both physically and online with advertisements. Thaichon and Quach described the fast-food industry as “succeeding in using marketing communications to change attitudes, perceptions and perceived norms associated with unhealthy food” (2015), and this is exactly what was witnessed within the marketing of Tobacco in Indonesia; advertisements designed to change the perception of Tobacco to become more about status and masculinity rather than the health risks.

The Similarities between junk-food Company Coca-Cola and Tobacco Company LA Bold’s advertising that saturate the streets and capture the eye. These include catchy slogans and stand-out colours in prominent street locations. Left Image (Esposito 2016)

I’m sure many would see the work of designers in the fast-food industry as clever, successful, and of course slightly wrong, drawing many people into buying products in such a saturated market. Despite there being some controversies around junk food companies marketing, there is yet to be strict regulations put in place, much like the lack of regulations regarding tobacco advertising in Indonesia. So, this begs the question, is it the designer who is at fault in these situations, for abusing their ability to inspire, empower or enlighten (Rawsthorn 2014), or is the culture, society and government who are in the wrong for not placing stricter laws about it?



Australian Bureau of Statistics 2015, National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15, viewed 31 January 2019, <>

Esposito, B 2016, Coke fights anti-sugar campaign by uniting brands in ads for the first time, Financial Review, viewed 31 January 2019, <>

Jolly, R 2011, Marketing obesity? Junk food, advertising and kids, Parliament of Australia, Canberra, viewed 31 January 2019, <>

Nichter, M, Padmawati, S, et al. 2008, Reading culture from tobacco advertisements in Indonesia, viewed January 17th 2019, <>

Rawsthorn, A 2014, ‘Design Is One of the Most Powerful Forces in Our Lives’, The Atlantic, Viewed January 31 2019, <>

Thaichon, P and Quach, S 2015, How marketers condition us to buy more junk food, The Conversation, viewed January 31 2019, <>

The Tobacco Atlas 2015, Indonesia, viewed January 31 2019, <>

World Health Organization (WHO) 20120, ‘Childhood overweight and obesity’, viewed 31 January 2019, <>

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s