Absolute Agency and the Influence of Designers on Individual Freedom

When it comes to ethics, theres a lot of grey area. What may be just and fair for some people may be incredibly unethical for others. None the less, I do believe designers themselves have a huge responsibility to at least have the intent to act ethically and owe their consumers the consideration of the impact their design decisions may have on them. 

One of the largest grey area in ethical design is the impact design decisions have on peoples individual freedom. Take for example a fast food chain, if a vulnerable person has the best intentions to eat healthy that day – but is subjected to a constant bombardment of advertisement from a company like McDonalds and ends up eating fast food that day, who exactly had agency over that decision. While this person may of made the final call, should McDonalds be accountable for the influence on that persons individual freedom? 

Advertising is a powerful thing.

Much of this can be applied to the various tobacco campaigns around Indonesia. “Organisations, like individuals, operate  as stages of moral development” (Baucus, 2005). By measure of Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development it would appear that tobacco companies are acting around stage two focused only on self interest (Goodpaster, 1982). It doesn’t take long walking around Indonesia to see some of the absurdly forward and ‘loud’ advertising that companies use no doubt influencing the lives of many Indonesian citizens, particularly the youth who tend to be more impressionable. 

Surya – a common cigarette brand in Indonesia’s current marketing campaign.

So like the fast food chains and many other large companies with strong marketing campaigns – the Indonesian tobacco industry has a responsibility to its Indonesian citizens to relinquish control over individual agency. As stated in the beginning, we as designers all inform the change that needs to come about in order to start to tackle such a large issue like ethics within the tobacco industry of Indonesia. 

So what do we need to do?

I think that in order to restore true agency and individual the first thing designers need to do is make ‘openness’ the accepted social norm. In all design, there needs to be more discussion and openness about the type of strategies being used and why the work. I believe the public has an absolute right to know what kind of subliminal design decisions are influencing their behaviours and interaction with the products around them. If all designers and companies take on this attitude when developing and releasing products then perhaps we can start to shift the big giants to. Eventually perhaps we can get to a place where we find some honesty within advertising and begin to see a much more aware public truely making daily decisions for themselves.




Baucus, Melissa S., and Caryn L. Beck-Dudley. “Designing Ethical Organizations: Avoiding the Long-Term Negative Effects of Rewards and Punishments.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 56, no. 4, 2005, pp. 355–370. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25123441.

Goodpaster, Kenneth E. “Kohlbergian Theory: A Philosophical Counterinvitation.” Ethics 92, no. 3 (1982): 491-98. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2380734.

Latham, H. (2018). ‘Ethical design’ is a dangerous term – UX Collective. [online] UX Collective. Available at: https://uxdesign.cc/ethical-design-is-a-dangerous-term-b314a5e385f4 [Accessed 19 Dec. 2018].

A More Personal Perspective

As I have talked about in other blog posts I am tremendously curious on trying to understand why people choose to engage with tobacco use and how this various across different cultures. Academic papers were a great start but during my time in Indonesia it was talking to the people that yielded the biggest insights for me. 

A photo of our jeep driver on our journey to Mount Bromo. What influenced this mans decision to smoke while driving?

Before our first day with the ITS students I was doing some reading about the student role within Indonesia since it appears to quite a critical time for smokers. Studies show that smoking increases from 19.8% for 11 year olds to 53% for 17 year olds (Smet, B 1999). This is a time where students begin to have many more external influencers as to previously deriving most of their outlook on the world from parental figures and a comparatively small environment. 

It’s interesting comparing these statistics to the role Indonesian youth plays in the political system. “Student organisations have been splintered, their traditions confused. Their political activity, moreover, has long reflected the strong outside influence of the established political forces in the country” (P, Lyman 1965). We know in other cultures such as Iran tobacco has been a way of youthful rebellion (E, Batmanghelidj n.d) so perhaps it might be here to – due to the youth being unable to express themselves of advocate for change politically. While these are older papers, it might even give more insight into the social foundation current Indonesia is stemming from. 

This all started coming together upon talking to an Indonesian Chef who told me he started smoking at age 15 with his friends to rebel. He said it wasn’t even against any particular figure or group – but against some of the culture itself. 

The most in depth conversation I had however was with Alya, an ITS student from Indonesia. This conversation for me, yielded far more results than any of the reading I had done so far – and she hardly even touched on Tobacco. Alya explained her life story to me growing up in Indonesia. She explained how oppressed she felt due to the religious, political and social factors growing up. When I asked her about oppression in Indonesian she simply said – “I think both Indonesian culture and muslim religion is oppressive. I See things from a lot of different cultures and I feel like I can’t be myself.”

Alya (middle).

Being such a complex issue, I don’t want to simmer down tobacco in Indonesian youth down to feelings of oppression. Oppression isn’t obvious to the average observers eye, and I’m happy having left Indonesia with newfound insights. From my research here, I’m lead to believe that addressing how a more westernised youth trying to adapt to Indonesian culture is influencing a “Tobacco Rebellion”. 



Smet B, Maes L, De Clercq L, et al Determinants of smoking behaviour among adolescents in Semarang, Indonesia Tobacco Control 1999;8:186-191.

Lyman, Princeton N. “Students and Politics in Indonesia and Korea.” Pacific Affairs 38, no. 3/4 (1965): 282-93.

Batmanghelidj, Esfandyar. “Smoking in Iran.” Encyclopedia Iranica. Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/smoking-in-iran. [Accessed 16 Dec. 2018].

PROJECT: Group Durian: Untangling the wicked problem of tobacco in Indonesia

Indonesia is an incredibly interesting space to be in with tobacco influencing many, many faucets of Indonesia’s complex economy, social nuances and cultural mentalities. There is no single solution to tackle such a large and complex issue however there are many aspects of life, here in Indonesia, that one might argue could be improved without the presence of tobacco.

Key insights are rarely found in books – but instead hidden in the conversations with locals, the backends of streets and deep within the art and spirit of the city. The insights we found most valuable are as follows:

  1. Masculinity and Tradition: Smoking in Indonesia is almost exclusively for males, as they make up 62% of the smoking population whilst only 1-3% of women are smokers (Rosemary, 2018). Our interviews with students at ITS highlighted the way in which tobacco is engrained in Javanese tradition, which allows for its normalisation and stigmas surrounding those who choose not to smoke. The young individuals found that males who did not smoke were seen as less masculine or incapable of socialising, with teenage boys stating that “If I don’t smoke, I’m not a real man.” (Aditama, 2002)


  1. The importance and strength of communities: The Kampung,  Warna Warni, is a slum located on the riverbank. Working with a local university and a paint company they repainted the village with colour (Indo Indians 2017). The way in which colour is used has transformed the way people behave and interact in the space, changing social attitudes towards the slum area and empower the spirit of creativity in Indonesia and revealing the nations deeper values of diversity and unity (Putri 2018).


  1. The lack of community for non-smokers: Smoking is socially accepted by most Indonesians and with many public spaces facilitating social interaction around smoking culture. In contrast, non-smokers seem to not get the same privilege as smokers, as there are rarely smoke-free areas for non smokers in public spaces.


From this, our campaign stemmed. In a singular sentence, we want to change the role tobacco plays within Indonesia’s narrative and normalise non-smoking. We aim to achieve this by giving smokers tools to quit but even deeper than this we want to create a place for non-smokers in Indonesia. This means more non-smoking spaces, it means giving non-smokers the respect and acknowledgement that they deserve when it comes to smoking around them and it means creating a community for those who choose not to use tobacco. 

Our campaign is broken down into four main aspects:





First of we start with #30DayChallenge movement. Projected to start on the 31st of May 2019 inline with World Tobacco Day. In essence, this is designed to be something that piggy backs off the hype from a large anti-tobacco event such as World Tobacco Day and provides a reason or time for people to begin quitting. The 30 Day challenge can also be followed on our social media movement, Suara Tanpa Rokok, which will give daily inspiration and encouragement for all those trying to quit for the month. 


This is followed up by the wristbands movement which is the tangible symbol of this campaign. The wristbands play a couple of important roles in all of this especially when it comes to creating communities. We see three main advantages:

  • People that are trying to quit that might be feeling isolated have the ability to walk down the street and still feel part of a community by seeing others walking around also wearing the bands. 
  • It also informs smokers how to act and be respectful around those trying to quit or those that don’t want to be associated with smoke. By seeing people wearing the band we would hope people begin to learn not to offer cigarettes, or not begin smoking around these people. 
  • Finally amongst the youth, through our interview process with students we found merchandise to often attract a lot of curiosity. By sparking curiosity and sharing the wristbands through social media we also believe this will further perpetuate our campaign. 


Following on this notion of perpetuating our movement through social media we have created a hand symbol to allow people to show the are part of a bigger movement through their varying social media platforms  (Tsotra et al., 2004). The hands represent lungs and also the connection between individuals. Its a visible gesture which will increase engagement, awareness online and shows solidarity in the community we are creating.


The social media movement will likely be the main platform promoting this campaign. Social media promotes communities and people, shares stories, links people up, gives people a voice, allows people to feel part of something bigger and also acts as a collection of tools, resources and information to encourage, inspire and educate. 

48371920_599468713818228_6272527615270060032_n.jpgTo start creating community notions from the get go, this campaign is actually targeted at groups of people. The idea being that groups such as educational institutions, workplaces or entire geographical communities could sign up for a ‘package’, which would contain all the necessary merchandise, advertising and messages. Local businesses and vendors would also be given an opportunity to sign up from a different angle and contribute products that meet a criteria as well creating small business opportunities. All products are collated through vital strategies and then distributed to the communities and groups. Which then markets itself through social media and word of mouth.


A typical flow of this campaign might run as follows;


We believe that having a campaign stemming from strong primary research and reaffirmed through secondary sources that really targets communities has the chance to create real change in Indonesia’s narrative and creating accepted places for the non-smoking community. 



Aditama, T. Y. 2002, “Smoking Problem in Indonesia”, Medical Journal of Indonesia, vol.11, no. 1, pp. 56-65.

Indo Indians 2017, Kampung Warna Warni Jodipan, a Colorful Village in Malang, viewed on 13 December, <https://www.indoindians.com/kampung-warna-warni-jodipan-a-colorful-village-in-malang/>.

Putri, E. 2018, Jodipan: Indonesia’s Amazing Rainbow Village, Culture Trip, viewed on 13 December, <https://theculturetrip.com/asia/indonesia/articles/jodipan-indonesias-amazing-rainbow-village/>.

Rosemary, R. 2018, Forbidden Smoke, Inside Indonesia, viewed on 13 December, <https://www.insideindonesia.org/forbidden-smoke>.

Tsotra, D., Janson, M. and Cecez-Kecmanovic, D. (2004). Marketing on the Internet: A Semiotic Analysis. In: Americas Conference on Information Systems. [online] New York: Association for Information Systems, pp.4211-4220. Available at: https://aisel.aisnet.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2102&context=amcis2004 [Accessed 11 Dec. 2018].

Exercising Empathy

What I continually find perplexing is understanding what forms the habitual behaviours of smokers. Why do people choose to smoke? What causes someone to light up a cigarette at a given specific time? Why do some days consist of far more or less cigarettes than others? What auditory and ocular inputs create an urge for nicotine? Is it something more than this? What’s evident in plain sight and what isn’t.

This exercise is a two part process, firstly I wanted to utilise the opportunity to walk around the crowded and beautiful streets in Surabaya’s varying districts and look inward to attempt to identify when I felt like smoking and what form that took. After identifying the ‘triggers’ within myself I am interested to compare them to others. Other Australians, people in different age groups and people from the Indonesian culture as I am sure there are many significant cultural triggers, assumptions, interpretations of situations and rationals behind smoking. None the less here are my initial reflections from my group walk around Surabaya. 

The map below displays the general area of Surabaya and its three main regions. The line shows the route we took and also depicts the time of day. The orange areas indicate spaces or contexts in which I wanted to smoke, and purple areas show areas I particularly did not want to smoke. All other areas are neutral. 

Figure a. Representative map of the walking tour and internal emotions towards smoking.

Main observations:

  • Religious and Respected Areas: Out of all the areas I definitely did not want to smoke in any religious areas. They felt sacred and it felt a place that smoking didn’t belong, perhaps being something that I find very light hearted – I think the ‘energy’ of both of these activities would of clashed. The same went for when we were inside the Arabic clothing markets, I felt smoking here would of been disrespectful even though I saw other people doing so.

    Figure b. Chinese Temple in Chinese Quarter


  • Smoking Socially: In new social situations like all of the cafes, or when we stopped together to eat I definitely felt inclined to smoke but it would of had to been with people. The time I most felt like this was in the cafe where we stopped for coffee with a large group of locals. Not being able to speak the language, I think it would of been something to establish a line of communication through something shared.

    Figure c. Social Cafe “Warkop Sarkam” where we sat with locals and drank coffee. (Nelson, 2018)


  • Being amongst the workers: Surprisingly despite all the unfamiliar smells, high temperature and physical exertion of walking I felt like smoking in all of the labour intensive market areas. I think if I was actually working that urge would be much more intense. I believe that there is a shared sense of camaraderie in smoking in a labour intensive workplace. There are shared struggles and triumphs but I feel these are rarely verbally communicated. I feel as if smoking here is a unified way of sharing something tangible – as if it enables acknowledgement of ‘the grind’.

    Figure d. One of the workers in the street communicating non-verbally. (Goodridge, 2018)


There is much to write about and reflect on with this experience, but this is a starting point to sparking new conversations about whats beneath smoking and what it stands for and symbolises. I very much look forward to conversing with people who smoke in Indonesian culture and finding the similarities and differences between people to gain deeper insights on the “Why” around all this. 



Resource Maps:

Sylvia, A 2016, Europe Quater of Surabaya, Pamphlet, Pertigaan Map

Sylvia, A 2016, Chinese Quater of Surabaya, Pamphlet, Pertigaan Map

Sylvia, A 2016, Arabic Quater of Surabaya, Pamphlet, Pertigaan Map


Golik, S., 2017. Mapping the reality of the world – Mapfit - Moving maps forward – Medium. medium.com. Available at: https://medium.com/mapfit/mapping-the-reality-of-the-world-df7ad81ccb54 [Accessed December 6, 2018].

Ferguson, P.P. 1994, The flâneur on and off the streets of Paris. In Tester, K. (ed) The flãneur. London: Routledge, pp.23-42.

Elkin, L., (2016). A tribute to female flâneurs: the women who reclaimed our streets – The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jul/29/female-flaneur-women-reclaim-streets [Accessed December 6, 2018].

POST B: Negated Negativity


An Ancient Greek philosopher named Epicurus believed that humans can only attain happiness happiness by moving towards pleasure, or away from pain (Masse 2005). Appealing to these human drivers particularly resonates in marketing campaigns around the world.

Take for example the 66 iconic ads that apple ran from 2006-2009. A famous set of ads that represent Apple’s MacBooks vs PC’s. The viewer of these ads experiences a want to be like the Mac, who’s creative, cool and easy – but also wants to stray away from an older styled, less efficient and buggy PC. While its a small microcosm example of two big drivers for all humans, it highlights the effectiveness of appealing to both drivers for happiness.


Compare this now to some Australia’s recent advertising campaigns.




The cigarette packaging alone speaks volumes on Australia’s style of advertising. The packaging highlights the extremely negative impact smoking can have on someone in extreme cases.


Many campaigns focus on other negative more medium termed issues caused by smoking, commonly respiratory issues, under performing in sport and symptoms like coughing.



Australian campaigns quite often come in the form of educational pieces aimed to raise awareness about cigarettes.


The Cultural Proposal for the Positive Side of Smoking

Unlike the apple advertisements, Australian media only focuses on the negative around smoking and paints a picture of living a better life by moving away from the pain caused by smoking. But theres some limitations to this – a lot of people don’t want to watch graphic ads, some people who haven’t experienced similar symptoms or stories may struggle to relate and others believe that they will never get to that.

I think culturally speaking, smoking is regarded in a much better light. In particular, in youth when many smoking habits form, smoking can be viewed as something thats social, cool, fun, rebellious or relaxing.

In Indonesia out of the children aged between 13 and 15, over 20% smoke (Tobacco Free Kids, 2017). Culture paints smoking in a more positive light which is favoured over the negative advertisements. I interviewed an Indonesian man called Anthony who has been smoking since he was 12.

“I have been smoking since I was 12. It started out as something me and my friends would do to rebel at school and then just for fun. But now I do it because I have to”.

In this critical age where youth are listen more to positive culture than negative advertisements, I think we can apply similar principles to the iconic Apple ads and run campaigns that instead of focusing on the negative side of smoking, focus on the positive side of not smoking. Then we can start to work on culture that understands the potential negative side of smoking to.



Masse, M. (2005, April 15). THE EPICUREAN ROOTS OF SOME CLASSICAL LIBERAL AND MISESIAN CONCEPTS. Retrieved November 26, 2018, from http://www.quebecoislibre.org/07/071111-4.htm

Lo, A. (2012, December 09). Retrieved November 26, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eEG5LVXdKo – Youtube reference, original from Apple Company.

NCD Alliance. (2018, July 3). Retrieved November 27, 2018, from https://ncdalliance.org/news-events/news/wto-backs-australia’s-plain-packaging

The Toll of Tobacco in Indonesia. (2018, November 16). Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/problem/toll-global/asia/indonesia

Cigarettes and poison. (2017, June 07). Retrieved November 27, 2018, from http://www.quitnow.gov.au/internet/quitnow/publishing.nsf/Content/cigarettes-and-poison

Quit stalling. (2018, July 2). Retrieved November 26, 2018, from https://www.cancer.nsw.gov.au/how-we-help/cancer-prevention/stopping-smoking/quit-smoking-campaigns/quit-stalling