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7 Designers Draw Their Code Of Ethics

Mike Monteiro’s code of ethics for designers started out as an idea in a Slack room. Now you can hang it on your wall.

One way to remind designers of their ethical responsibility? Put it on a poster, of course.

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That’s exactly what designer Mike Monteiro did. After writing a 10-point list of guidelines for design ethics on Medium a few months back, the co-founder and design director of San Francisco-based interaction studio Mule Design turned the list into booklets that he’d give out at conferences. But he wanted to get more designers’ attention.

Carolyn Sewell [Image: courtesy Mike Monteiro]
“I thought, designers sure love posters,” he says. “They’re always making posters. Why don’t I invite my designer and illustrator friends to make posters, they can all say the same thing, be done in weird different ways, and hopefully, somebody will find a poster that’s right for them?”

The result is a series of striking pieces of graphic design, all based on Monteiro’s design code of ethics. Designer Erik Spiekermann’s is a simple black, white, and red list in a clean typeface while designer Carolyn Sewell’s is a curly-que cacophony of orange and blue typography. Monteiro also did one himself: it matches ethical guidelines with various cuts of meat. “I thought, we have all these nice elegant, very Swiss-looking, gridded off posters,” he says. “We should do one really awful one with meat.” The series is available for purchase online.

But the posters are simply the vehicle for Monteiro’s message–that designers need to take responsibility for the decisions they make and be conscientious members of both the design community and the wider human community. The rules themselves aren’t his alone–he says they came from a Slack group of designers that he talks to about these ideas. Monteiro also speaks on the topic at conferences, where he evangelizes design’s potential for good in technology and laments the current state of things.

Mike Monteiro [Image: courtesy Mike Monteiro]
When I came up in this industry and started off as a designer, we were making brochure sites. And if we got tricky we’d make a shopping site for somebody. It was basically these super simple . . . types of things. But now if we take a look at interaction design or UX design, the stuff we’re designing is ridiculously complex, and not complex in the kinds of problems we’re solving, but complex in how they interact with people’s relationships. A lot of the times [design decisions] are being made by people who have no clue what the repercussions of this stuff are. You’ve got a bunch of white boys from Stanford designing social media privacy settings.”

Within his own firm, Monteiro has tried to practice design ethically, mostly by hiring people who are different from him. “I can give you a basic white dude perspective. That’s covered. We don’t need six more like me,” he says. “I’ve designed things that other people here have looked at, and said, I see a problem with this, this, and this that never occurred to me. And I’m so glad to have someone who has a different upbringing and life concerns take a look at something that I made and spot problems I couldn’t spot. You’re supposed to be building tools for everyone.”

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Will the posters win his fight for ethical design? Maybe not. But Monteiro is hoping they’ll push the conversation forward and remind designers of their ethical responsibilities.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is a contributing writer at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.

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