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What is a “Responsible” Designer?

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Graphic design is a saturated field. Just look at the amount of design blogs, this one included, out there in Internet-land. Yes, there are many of us providing our services for clients – whether those services are web design, identity design, print design, all of the above or some combination. Getting into the graphic design field and providing services is one thing, but being a responsible designer is another. What, then, is a “responsible” designer?

How to be a Responsible Designer

As experts in our field, we have responsibilities to uphold. Three main responsibilities that come to the top of my mind are ethics, honesty, and environmental responsibility. These obvious don’t encompass everything about being a responsible designer, but it’s a good start. I welcome additions in the comments.

Be an Ethical Designer

Ethics come into play in our profession, as they do in any other. As graphic designers, we deal with various types of software, hardware, and other intellectual property. We deal with a variety of clients in a variety of fields with a variety of interests. Respecting these clients, our beliefs, others’ intellectual property and more is a hallmark of a responsible designer. The responsible designer needs to adhere to licenses in the software we use. He needs to do work he believes in, and turn down work he feels is of questionable morality (an extreme example: designing hate literature). She needs to practice sound ethics, and if she does, she’s one step closer to being a responsible designer.

Be an Honest Designer

Yes, honesty can be, and probably is, a sub-category of ethics. However, honesty is such a wide-reaching and important trait, I felt it needs its own section. The responsible designer needs to be honest with himself – about his skill level, his rates, his areas of expertise. The responsible designer needs to be honest with clients – what she can do, what she can’t do, what is a good idea and what is bad. Being honest can be tough, but we have a responsibility to tell our clients if their idea is doomed to fail. We can’t change clients minds all the time, but it is our responsibility to be clear & honest with them so they know where we stand on certain ideas & issues.

Be an Environmentally Responsible Designer

Graphic designers deal with a large volume of projects – many of which end up at the printers’. We can play a direct role in the environment, then, by making choices that are easier on the environment. We can use FSC-certified paper. We can avoid using full-bleed printing if it isn’t required (thus reducing waste). We can choose printers who use low VOC inks. These choices, while small in the overall scheme of things, can add up over time. Be creative too; think outside of the box for ways to make more environmentally friendly design choices. For example, you could eschew the traditional print response to an RFP in favor of a more environmentally friendly digital version, like we did. Not only are these choices helpful to the environment; they show your clients that you’re a forward-thinking designer too.

Being a responsible designer isn’t always the easiest choice, but it’s the best choice for our collective industry. What practices do you put in place to showcase your responsibility?

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