POST A: An ethical approach to design:

Indonesias wicked problem of tobacco is largely attributed to its economic contribution, allowing tobacco companies to have great power over the nation. Designers have played a large role in the enablement of the tobacco industry, through manipulative packaging design and advertisements. The extent of Indonesias extreme tobacco issue, was showcased to the world in 2010 with Aldi Rizal the “smoking baby” going viral (Topsfield, 2017). This circumstance exemplified the ways in which Indonesias appalling tobacco culture, can impact a young life. Designers have played a significant role in the enablement of the tobacco industry, in Indonesia, through taking part in designing tobacco products. All tobacco products including their packaging and advertisements have been made possible through the work of a designer. The designer has a choice whether they feel comfortable in taking part within this industry. It is a choice which they must make based on their values and ethics. 

A range of tobacco packaging seen on Malioboro Street. This image displays the designers role in creating attractive packaging which lures the consumer in.

The tobacco industry itself is so powerful that it controls the entire nation and the governments choices around tobacco regulations. This is due to its significant political and economic influence, as the tobacco industry is the Indonesian government’s largest source of tax revenue (Tjandra, Ensor, Thomson, 2014). Although the tobacco industry has immense power over the nation, designers play a pivotal role in the shaping of consumer opinions, and so they too possess great power. Whether they choose to use it ethically or not, is up to them. 

Designers face many difficulties when deciding if a design role is ethical or not. Ethics can be defined through the utilitarian approach, “ethical decisions should maximise benefits for society and minimise harms. What matters is the net balance of good consequences over bad for society overall” (Trevino & Nelson, 2011). In Indonesia, designers posses a great deal of responsibility toward society, to create ethical solutions to design problems. A designers main goal is to fulfil the clients brief and to create a satisfactory product for the stakeholders. Combining these goals with an ethical approach to design, is quite a complex task in Indonesia, when the power of tobacco is evident in daily life. 

Billboard advertisement showcasing cigarettes as a daring and exciting thing to try.

Designers could become ethical agents for change through design activism by utilising their skills and ethical compass, to create designs which reflect truthfulness rather than contributing to packaging (e.g, cigarettes), which display misleading ideas. Designers and creative culture makers could work together to make a change by fighting for policy changes regarding TAPS. Design activism could take the form of a renewed way of thinking, spread through ethical design. Overall, designers in Indonesia are faced with the difficult task of combining the clients needs with an ethical approach to design. When designing, they must consider how the outcome of their work will impact an entire society and peoples lives directly. 


Alexandra C, 2019, ‘Design Activism in an Indonesian Village’, Massachusetts Institute of Technology DesignIssues: Volume 35, Number 3. 

Tjandra C, Ensor J, Thomson E, 2014,’Tobacco children: An ethical evaluation of tobacco marketing in Indonesia’, Edinburgh Napier University. 

Topsfield, 2017, ‘Indonesia’s ‘smoking baby’ kicked his habit but the battle against tobacco rages on”, Sydney Morning Herald, viewed 19 December 2019, <>. 

Trevino, L. K, Nelson, K. A, 2011, ’Managing business ethics: Straight talk about how to do it right’, New York, John Wiley.

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