Oliver Bothwell — Would graphic design benefit from a code of practice?
Oliver Bothwell

Would graphic design benefit from a code of practice?
January 2010


Graphic designers work in communicating information and I argue that they have an ethical responsibility to be honest in doing this. It may be okay to use persuasive language to encourage someone to purchase something banal such as chewing gum, but would it be ethical to promote weapons or to work for dishonourable companies and organisations? This dissertation examines how graphic designers should behave towards clients, fellow professionals and employees, and whether there is a need for an institute to govern them. I attempt to define what graphic design is and ask whether it can be considered a profession. I explore how designers demonstrate integrity, competence and responsibility and outline common bad practices such as free pitching and unpaid internships. A code of practice would provide many benefits but the question remains whether there is currently an organisation with the legitimacy and critical mass to oversee the profession and push it in that direction.


I would like to thank Experimental Jetset, Nick Bell, Keith Bothwell, Steven Heller and Lucienne Roberts for their kind assistance and time.


Graphic design is currently an unregulated profession resulting in a number of problems which are difficult to solve. There is often a lack of understanding from the client when they employ a graphic designer; designers are not always honest with clients; there is a lack of integrity in the profession. Designers undermine themselves by taking part in free pitches and see each other as competitors rather than colleagues, and there is bitter rivalry and insecurity. I aim to explore these issues in more depth and see how and if they could be solved, and whether that would benefit the profession of graphic design, were there to be a code of practice. In order to answer this question I will define graphic design and also question whether graphic design is a profession. I will also define ethics and the responsibility of graphic designers. Existing bodies are explored, both in graphic design and in other professions, such as the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). In order to understand whether graphic design would benefit from a code of practice I look at the three areas covered by the RIBA's code of conduct: integrity, competence and relationships.

Defining graphic design

Graphic design is a relatively modern term, coined by American book and type designer, William Addison Dwiggins in 1922. [Livingston, A. & Livingston, I., 2003, p. 75]. Its occurrence signified the emergence of a new profession because of new technological possibilities:

In the late 19th century, graphic design emerged as a distinct profession in the West, ... New production methods led to the separation of the design of a communication medium (e.g., a poster) from its actual production. Increasingly, over the course of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, advertising agencies, book publishers, and magazines hired art directors who organized all visual elements of the communication and brought them into a harmonious whole, creating an expression appropriate to the content. In 1922 typographer William A. Dwiggins coined the term graphic design to identify the emerging field.

Throughout the 20th century, the technology available to designers continued to advance rapidly, as did the artistic and commercial possibilities for design. The profession expanded enormously... By the turn of the 21st century, graphic design had become a global profession ... [Meggs, 2007].

It is somewhat fitting that it is technology which makes defining graphic design so difficult. The Chartered Society of Designers describes graphic design in a vocational sense, and states that graphic design includes:

– Type design, typography, lettering and calligraphy for reproduction;
– Illustration;
– Design for advertising;
– Design for print including annual reports, brochures, books and magazines;
– Design for two and three dimensional packaging;
– Corporate identity;
– Applied graphics including signing systems;
– Vehicle livery and graphics on product design;
– Architectural graphics;
– Design for film, television or video reproduction including multi-sensual, time-based or still imagery;
– Photography.
[, Accessed 22 November 2009]

This definition is useful as it describes the undertakings of graphic designers. However, it is already out of date, the definition does not include web, interface or interactive design to name just a few of the emerging industries from newer technology; all of which are still concerned with the core graphic design discipline of communication.

According to Quentin Newark: graphic design is everywhere, explaining the world around us and hoping to create meaning of it. Without graphic design we would return to a 'Dark Age' of communication, retuning to a spoken and handwritten world [Newark, 2002, p. 6]. Alice Twemlow describes graphic design as a language for communicating [Twemlow, 2006, p. 6], it is this statement which is interesting in this debate. If we as graphic designers are communicating surely there should be a code which we abide by to protect the public from misinformation or propaganda? But is this necessary when the traditional graphic design joke states, 'bad graphic design never killed anyone' [Newark, 2002, p. 6]. Is this even still true today? Erik Spiekermann talks of being employed to redesign Fire Exit signs after a fire killed 16 people in Düsseldorf airport. During the fire the smoke was so thick passengers were unable to see the small, poorly lit signs directing them to safety. [Spiekermann, 2009, pp. vii–viii]. Here it is likely that bad graphic design did kill. Nick Bell, a prominent graphic designer and tutor at the RCA, supports the former argument and when asked whether graphic design needs a code of practice simply asks, 'what's at stake?' [2009]. The role of graphic design is often sub-contracted, in this case, by an architect and therefore it is the architects' code we have to abide by [2009]. However, should we not take responsibility for jobs we have done, regardless of who is actually liable? Should we not have integrity in our work? More importantly if we are working on a project and have knowledge of legibility, should we not make sure our voice is heard? After all we are not merely typographic puppets. These last few questions raise a number of points in this debate which can be answered with a further question.

Is graphic design a profession?
There are some different opinions across the design community over whether graphic design truly is a profession. I spoke to Hamish Muir, the internationally renowned graphic designer and founder of 8vo and asked him what he thought,

Graphic design is a hobby, not a profession. Everyone is a graphic designer, it's the new watercolour painting. [Muir, 2009]

Muir has a point but I think we have to take his cynicism with a pinch of salt; Lucienne Roberts, a graphic designer and writer on the issue of ethics in graphic design, expanded on this issue when I asked what she thought could be solved by a graphic design code of practice,

I think the term 'graphic design' is hard to define and this is a real problem. At one end of the spectrum there are people who call themselves graphic designers, who've trained and consider their work to be their raison d'être and then at the other there are 'jobbing' graphic designers who are less discriminating and will often turn out anything as long as they're paid. So, when clients come to a 'graphic designer' they don't always understand what they're buying ... they can think this is merely an exchange of money for a service – a service they can get from any number of different people. They don't understand that there's something potentially a little bit more precious about it. If a code of practice goes some way to defining the activity then I think that would be a good thing. [Roberts, 2010]

I asked Roberts whether she thought graphic design could be considered a profession when there are two types of graphic designer who perform very different roles,

Yes definitely, but I wonder if it would be useful to clarify more fully what the term means and what the professional activity encompasses. It is truly confusing that someone working in a high street print shop with basic but limited training can be a graphic designer and so can a postgraduate who has spent several years at college. I'm anxious that this sounds like mere snobbery. The distinction isn't so much about training per se – it's really about approach, motivation, aspiration and what informs much of the decision-making. [Roberts, 2010]

Both Muir and Roberts highlight the need for designers to distinguish themselves, Muir cannot deny there is a big difference between the types of design work produced, but the question is how we make this distinction. Michael Rock dismisses the need for graphic design to be considered a profession, arguing we do not need an organisation behind us,

Rather than model the design activity on architecture or law, perhaps we should view it as a kind of elaborated speech or writing. Writing is a common activity shared by most members of a society and practiced on many levels. Like design, writing is integral to human communication. Yet there is no call to standardize all speech or all writing or even standardize the way in which the writing is taught. Writing and speech are practiced eclectically ... We celebrate the diversity of writing, the diversity of speech, the universe of information, but bemoan the paucity of good design. If we released ourselves from the realm of self-imposed standards, we could see the design profession as a true meritocracy where the cream rises to the top. [Rock, 1997, pp. 170–171]

However, just as we do celebrate the diversity of writing, we also celebrate the diversity of design. There may be disappointment that there is a lack of good design but most academics or critics would also bemoan the success of truly mediocre writers who seem to be prevalent today. In fact, the same argument raised by Roberts could be recycled for literature, there are again two types, those who do it because they are passionate and those who will write anything for the money; in fact I would agree with Muir that there is a third type when it comes to both graphic design and writing, the hobbyist. The concerns raised by Roberts reinforce the reasons why graphic design would benefit from a code of practice and why an organisation should standardise the profession. Having these groups of people all with the same name but with different processes and methods results in confusion for the client. A way around this confusion is to consider whether graphic design should become a chartered profession, or whether any code of practice would require that members have a certain level of skill; this subject will be tackled later, under competence.

What makes graphic design a curious vocation is its amalgamation of various crafts and trades. When graphic design originated in the 1920s designers would have employed typesetters and printers to physically lay out and produce the work; there was a professional sense to it. In the last few decades technological advances allow graphic designers to have more control over how their work looks, eliminating the needs for these old skilled jobs, as most of the alterations can be done in house, on the computer. Muir is right, potentially anyone can call themselves a graphic designer, the work can now be done by anyone. It is the availability of technology that is causing the confusion. I have not got the scope to answer these questions in this debate, but it is worth considering these points, especially when we look at the organisations in graphic design that are chartered or have restricted membership, such as the International Society of Typographic Designers, Alliance Graphique Internationale or Chartered Society of Designers.

As far as defining graphic design is concerned we should perhaps combine Alice Twemlow's definition with that of the Chartered Society of Designers to read: graphic design is a profession concerned with communication and information executed through the disciplines as defined by the Chartered Society of Designers.

Defining ethics and responsibility
Ethics is a difficult term to define. Milton Glaser states that, 'Good design is good citizenship' [Heller, 2003, p. ix]. But as Steven Heller, a key voice on graphic design issues, points out, '"goodness" is subjective' [Heller, 2003, p. ix] Lucienne Roberts is also concerned, asking, what is the difference between good bad design and bad good design and which is preferable? [Roberts, 2006, p. 3]. Designers are aware of their responsibility to make their work aesthetically pleasing but what about the client they are working for, do they have a responsibility to only work for sound companies producing sound products? Steven Heller asks,

So, what is the responsibility of a designer when design is impeccable but the client is tainted? Being accountable to some moral standard is the key. A designer must be professionally, culturally and socially responsible for the impact his or her design has on the citizenry. Indeed, every good citizen must understand that his or her respective actions will have reactions. All individual acts, including the creation and manufacture of design for a client, exert impact on others. ... A designer cannot afford to hire investigators to compile dossiers about whether a business is savoury or not. Yet certain benchmarks must apply, such as knowing what, in fact, a company does and how it does it. [Heller, 2003, p. x]

Ethics is not just concerned with who the work is for, it is also part of how designers pitch for their work, how much they charge, and how they treat their staff. Erik Spiekermann, who has been running a studio for 30 years [Spiekermann, 2009, p. ix], says 'how' you work is what sets you apart.

We alone decide how we work. Whatever the restrictions and limitations of the commercial world that buys our services, we create our own processes. How we deal with our employees, our suppliers, our clients, our peers, and even our competitors is totally up to us. How we make something is very important, and it is the one thing we can influence without much interference. [Spiekermann, 2009, p. ix]

Perhaps this is a benefit a code of practice in graphic design would bring; to encourage all graphic designers to work with the same core beliefs and work ethics. Lucienne Roberts suggests a graphic design contract that explains the process to clients and provides protection for both parties [Roberts, 2009]. The issue of ethics and responsibility is a fundamental issue in a code of practice debate and is expanded upon in further sections.

Existing graphic design bodies
There currently exist a number of bodies in the graphic design arena, some with codes of practice that govern their members. The problem with these societies is that there are not any with a large enough membership; so when it comes to setting a code of practice or even governing the practice of graphic design none of them have any real legitimacy. Similar industries have got past this hurdle. The Press Complaints Commission (PCC), an organisation concerned with communication, has a compulsory code of practice implemented through government legislation. The PCC governs all newspaper and magazine publishing in the UK and is generally concerned with balancing the protection of privacy against the 'public's right to know'.

It is essential than an agreed code be honoured not only to the letter but in the full spirit. It should not be interpreted so narrowly as to compromise its commitment to respect the rights of the individual, nor so broadly that it constitutes an unnecessary interference with freedom of expression or prevents publication in the public interest. [, Accessed 22 November 2009]

The PCC has a number of policy areas set out in its code of practice, the most relevant to graphic design include: accuracy, opportunity to reply, privacy, harassment, discrimination and financial journalism. The code does allow exceptions to some of these policies if the article is in the public interest.

1. The public interest includes, but is not refined to:
i. Detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety.
ii. Protecting public health and safety.
iii. Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

2. There is public interest in freedom of expression in itself.
[, Accessed 22 November 2009]

It is strange that graphic design, a discipline which is concerned with similar aims to journalism is not governed by a similar body. One could argue that graphic design originated from the need to communicate public information effectively and therefore should be under similar regulations.

Another profession with a code of practice is architecture. It has two main bodies to govern itself: The Architects Registration Board (ARB) which all architects must be a member of [, Accessed 10 January 2010]; and The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The RIBA is an entirely voluntary organisation yet most architects are members of the institution, with good reason too. The RIBA with its large membership has legitimacy in the profession and provides support, training and a library which any member can access. In addition to its services the RIBA has a code of conduct, architects know that any member who breaks these values can be held accountable and have their membership revoked. The RIBA also helps architects write contracts and pursue clients who do not pay, a valuable service especially for smaller architectural firms [, Accessed 10 January 2010]

We need to ask why people join the RIBA; there is a stigma attached to not being an RIBA accredited architect. But is this enough of a reason? Is its success due to architecture and the RIBA being synonymous? If there is to be a code of practice in graphic design this organisation would also need real legitimacy and an aura of greatness surrounding it. It would need to be known to the public and not just the industry itself. There are many other benefits a single organisation would give; the power to lobby government effectively on behalf of the profession being one of the most obvious. The RIBA is attempting just that with its recently published manifesto [, Accessed 18 January 2010]. The RIBA's code of conduct begins by defining the Institute's values:

Honesty, integrity and competency, as well as concern for others and for the environment, are the foundations of the Royal Institute's three principles of professional conduct set out below. All members of the Royal Institute are required to comply.
[, Accessed 22 November 2009]

The RIBA's three principles are:

Principle 1: Integrity
Members shall act with honesty and integrity at all times

Principle 2: Competence
In the performance of their work Members shall act competently, conscientiously and responsibly. Members must be able to provide the knowledge, the ability and the financial and technical resources appropriate for their work.

Principle 3: Relationships
Members shall respect the relevant rights and interests of others.
[, Accessed 22 November 2009]

These three principles effectively house all the possible questions and issues within architecture but also graphic design and this will be a useful structure to base a code of practice debate on.

There are a number of existing graphic design organisations that I will explore:
Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI)
Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA)
American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA)
The Association of Illustrators (AOI)
Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI)
The Chartered Society of Designers (CSD)
Design Business Association (DBA)
International Council of Graphic Design Associations (Icograda)
International Society of Typographic Designers (ISTD)

The Alliance Graphique Internationale is perhaps the most prestigious organisation in graphic design. Membership is only granted to designers who have been chosen by the body; the AGI even describes itself as an élite [, Accessed 10 January 2010]. The importance of the AGI is due to its members list, a small but well known collection of some of the most prominent and established designers. It is this membership that gives the body the legitimacy to promote graphic design. The AGI also organises lectures and publications [, Accessed 10 January 2010].

The Australian Graphic Design Association is a body for 'professional graphic designers' [, Accessed 8 January 2010] enabling graphic designers in Australia to distinguish themselves. There are varying levels of membership depending on experience but no entry requirement apart from the membership fee. There is a code of ethics, with which all members must comply,

Our Code of Ethics is here to establish what constitutes 'fair play'. It is intended to provide protection for both designers and clients from unethical business practices and the havoc that can be caused by unwitting ignorance.
[, Accessed 10 January 2010]

which complements the aims of the organisation,

Our goal is the establishment of fair and productive working relationships between graphic designers and their clients. We do this by providing designers with the tools and information to take control of their professional lives. We also work on increasing awareness of the value and importance of graphic design in business, education and culture.

We manage a program of awards, exhibitions, seminars and professional development activities for our members. Many of these activities are also available to the wider design and business communities.
[, Accessed 8 January 2010]

The American Institute of Graphic Artists is based in North America and has over 22,000 members who may join by paying varying subscription fees based on their professional status [, Accessed 10 January 2010]. The AIGA list many benefits of membership: 'savings, information, special offers, community, inspiration, education, representation and validation.' [, Accessed 10 January 2010]

AIGA's mission is to advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force. AIGA, the professional association for design, is the premier place for design — to discover it, discuss it, understand it, appreciate it, be inspired by it. It is the place designers turn to first to exchange ideas and information, participate in critical analysis, and research and advance education and ethical practices. AIGA sets the national agenda for the role of design in its economic, social, political, cultural and creative contexts.
[, Accessed 10 January 2010]

The Association of Illustrators is an interesting organisation to look at:

As the only body to represent illustrators and campaign for their rights in the UK, the AOI has successfully increased the standing of illustration as a profession and improved the commercial and ethical conditions of employment for illustrators.
[, Accessed 23 November 2009, Appendix 2]

Being the only UK organisation for illustrators gives the AOI legitimacy. The AOI offers different membership levels based on professional status. The AOI has a code of conduct which all members must adhere to. The code of conduct is mainly concerned with behaving in an honourable and ethical way. However, the last clause on the code is to not take part in speculative work without a fee, protecting illustrators from free pitches [, Accessed 23 November 2009, Appendix 2].

Association Typographique Internationale is a global forum which takes its members from anyone involved in the type world. ATypI has a board democratically elected by its members. Although mainly a focal point for discussion on type related matters, ATypI is campaigning for the protection of typeface designs and will also act as an arbitrator between members to resolve conflicts [, Accessed 10 January 2010]. Interestingly the ATypI had a 'code morale', mainly for typeface disputes, which was abolished in 2004 because of technological advancements making the code obsolete [Twardoch, 2009].

The Chartered Society of Designers has over 3,000 members across 34 countries, although it is based in the UK [, Accessed 22 November 2009]. Members are subject to an assessment so anyone choosing a designer from the CSD directory is 'assured that [the designer] will be practicing to the highest professional standards' [, Accessed 22 November 2009]. As a chartered group there is prestige associated with the organisation. The CSD has a code of practice, the only graphic design organisation I am looking at with a restricted members list to have one,

The Chartered Society of Designers is the professional body representing the interests of designers. Its remit is to; promote high standards of design, foster professionalism and regulate and monitor designers' responsibility to society, the client and to each other, as outlined in this code of conduct.
[, Accessed 22 November 2009]

The Design Business Association's aim is:

to promote professional excellence through productive partnerships between commerce and the design industry to champion effective design which improves the quality of people's lives. [, Accessed 10 January 2009]

Membership is subject to a yearly fee depending on the number of employees in the business and the DBA provide services 'tailored specifically to your design consultancy's business needs and development'. [, Accessed 10 January 2010] The DBA insists that at least 50% of a members' business be design related and has a code of practice. [, Accessed 10 January 2010].

International Council of Graphic Design Associations is a world body and a voluntary assembly of organisations concerned with graphic design and visual communication, amongst others. Its members list include the AGDA, AGI, AIGA, ATypI, and ISTD [, Accessed 10 January 2010]. The only organisations I am looking at who seem to be missing from the membership list are the DBA, CSD and AOI, which all have their own codes of practice. Icograda has a code of conduct which members must obey, although this is not mentioned by the participating organisations above. The code of conduct insists that members behave in a professional and responsible manner in four key areas; the designer's responsibility to: the community, the client, other designers, and designer's remuneration. On remuneration:

A designer shall not undertake any work at the invitation of a client without payment of an appropriate fee. A designer may, however, undertake work without fee or at a reduced rate for charitable or non-profit organisations.
[, Accessed 10 January 2010]

The International Society of Typographic Designers is an organisation with a restricted membership. Members must prove that they possess the required aesthetic and skill level to use the ISTD title. Similar to the CSD and AGI there is prestige attached to membership. There are various types of members including students, each with their own admission criteria. There is no code of conduct governing the society but all members must agree to uphold the professional aims and ideals of the society. It states these in its mission statement:

The International Society of Typographic Designers, ISTD, establishes and maintains typographic standards within the professional design and education communities, through the forum of debate and design practice. The Society seeks to foster a symbiotic relationship between education and industry by publishing and promoting the highest quality contemporary practice amongst its international membership. [, Accessed 10 January 2010]

It is not surprising when studying these various organisations that there is not currently a universal code of practice, or even an organisation which designers in the United Kingdom are all a member of. With journalism and architecture there are clear bodies to join in order to protect oneself. In the case of the RIBA, membership also offers many other advantages. In graphic design there is a mixture of societies, overlapping in some if not all areas. There are organisations with awards, lectures, some are chartered and some offer codes of practice but it is very confusing. In the US and Australia the main bodies, AIGA and AGDA respectively, have legitimacy because of the large size of their membership. In the UK, because it is not obvious which organisation to join; perhaps a code would need to be separate from all of these existing organisations, leaving designers free to join the societies they think are right for them? This may not have the same effect at raising the professionals status, however. Of course just because there is a prominent body in the US and Australia does not mean that their aims have been reached. I asked Steven Heller whether he held US designers in higher esteem and if so whether this was due to the work of the AIGA,

I certainly do not hold the US design community in higher esteem.

The problem with a code of practice is enforcement. The problem without a code of practice is there are no boundaries or parameters. I think it important to at least state the ethics out loud and hope that people abide by them.

AIGA has served its constituency well. I cannot imagine the US without an organization of its kind. I do think it does set a standard that has a modicum of impact. [Heller, 2010]

Of course, if the organisation has legitimacy from a large membership base it does have the ability to enforce a code of practice. A member could leave the organisation but as Lucienne Roberts said, there are two types of designer: the committed professional and jobbing hack. We only need an organisation for the 'professionals' and the code will allow us to vouch for its members. The different organisations in the UK demonstrate how diverse the field is, and any code would need to take account of this diversity. Using the three principles of the RIBA code of practice – integrity, competence and relationships – we are able to analyse how each of the existing design organisations compare. I do not have the scope in this dissertation to compare all points of all codes and so the most relevant will be chosen.


Both the RIBA and PCC refer to integrity in similar ways. The PCC want journalists and editors to demonstrate integrity by writing accurately without invading privacy or accepting bribes [, Accessed 22 November 2009]. The RIBA expresses these aims by requesting members declare conflicts of interest, not allowing members to be party to any statements they know to be false or allow members to accept bribes [, Accessed 22 November 2009]. Both organisations also expect the work not to be biased or improperly influenced, either for personal or for another individual's gain. The fact that these rules are in place implies that journalists and architects have in the past not abided by them. Or perhaps the organisations feel that they cannot complete a code of practice without requiring that members act with integrity and honesty. When I asked Nick Bell how he felt integrity and honesty related to graphic design, and a possible code of practice, Bell argued that these qualities should be a given [2009], which of course they should be. Bell, however, mentioned the practice of modern organisations whose directors go onto integrity training. At first you would think that this is a good thing but on closer inspection it is very telling of the profession if an organisation feels it is so disreputable that it needs to send its directors onto a training course to understand how to behave ethically [Bell, 2009].

'Tainted' clients
Steven Heller says we have a responsibility when choosing work not to work for organisations with a 'tainted' history [2003]. However, there are many dubious companies who continue to have work designed for them and this shows that it would be necessary to rule out this behaviour in a code of practice. The PCC and RIBA talk about accuracy in the work, accuracy in architecture is perhaps not relevant to graphic design but accuracy in terms of journalism is. Nick Bell stated that we are not the authors, merely the messengers, so if there was a problem with the information, we would not be liable [2009]. However, refusing to work with content one knows to be false is an example of integrity and honesty, even if it is not strictly a designer's responsibility. Do designers not have a duty to be honest? After all designers are promoters, and should care about what they encourage. The CSD mentions integrity and honesty but does not define it in the ways outlined above. In fact the only mention of accuracy comes under the section, 'promotion and publicity' not related to producing work at all [, Accessed 22 November 2009]. However, the AIGA is very clear on the matter, under its heading, 'the designer's responsibility to the public':

A professional designer shall avoid projects that will result in harm to the public.

A professional designer shall communicate the truth in all situations and at all times; his or her work shall not make false claims nor knowingly misinform. A professional designer shall represent messages in a clear manner in all forms of communication design and avoid false, misleading and deceptive promotion. [Stone, J & Rigsby, L, 2009, p. 35]

Thomas Matthews, a design studio, takes this a step further. In their manifesto they support what they believe in and demonstrate their integrity by:

work[ing] for clients who push agendas we care about: better recycling, fighting climate change, tackling hunger, raising money to make good things happen. [, Accessed 23 November 2009]

We could all agree that we have a responsibility not to spread misinformation or work for 'tainted' companies. However, does this mean we have to actively support the clients we work for? Or expressed in another way, does this mean we can only work for clients who we agree with? Lucienne Roberts asked this question of Anthony Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College:

We live in an open, pluralistic society and with very few and rather special exceptions, like hate speech and racist speech, we like to see people put their point of view, even if we disagree with them – sometimes vehemently. ... We may often not like what we hear, but if we're serious about making our own contribution then we should listen to others and engage with their points. ...

But all that said, it remains the case that if something were really such a serious matter for you ethically then even if it meant financial loss or other problems, ... you don't do things that you don't agree with. [Grayling to Roberts, 2006, p. 43]

This is not an easy subject to come to a conclusion on, however we do live in a society which promotes freedom of speech and expression and as long as these do not create harm there is no basis to refuse work from a client. A code of practice cannot dictate one's own beliefs and so it seems unnecessary to prescribe Thomas Matthews' specific doctrine onto the entire profession. When Lucienne Roberts spoke to Jacqueline Roach, a barrister and trained journalist with experience of the Citizens Advice Bureau, she had a slightly different opinion. On the subject of turning work down for ethical reasons Roach answered:

When it comes to graphic design, isn't it better not to walk away from jobs on ethical grounds, but to ask if there's some way that you can have influence, something you can bring?
[Roach to Roberts, 2006, p. 47]

This raises another debate, especially prevalent in politics, as to whether it is preferable to have insider or outsider status. Adrian Shaughnessy also talks about the issue of integrity in graphic design:

Integrity in design is a bit like obesity in ballet dancers – you don't often see it… preserving integrity in the remorseless climate of modern business is difficult. For designers, integrity often becomes a bargaining chip. We give it away in return for a job with a lot of cash, or we hang onto it and do the work we want to do for little or no money... we are as free as the marketplace allows us to be. However, as a general rule, the designer who behaves morally will do better than the one who doesn't… Over the years, many professional design associations have attempted to draw up ethical codes… Unfortunately they tend to be undermined by shifts in public and business morality, or overtaken by rapid technological change.

Integrity … might be as simple as a love of design expressed in such a way that clients can see that, for you, design is something more than professional expediency. Alternatively, it might take a more practical form; it might be a refusal to take part in 'pitches.' Pitching is a hotly debated issue… Very few jobs of any size are assigned without a competitive pitch … nearly all public bodies (and many firms) are obliged to offer contracts up to open tender to avoid accusations of corruption and mismanagement.
[Shaughnessy, 2005, pp. 25–26]

Shaughnessy seems to misunderstand the core definition of integrity; if you are willing to sacrifice principles on some projects then you do not have them. Integrity is something possessed by those who are unwilling to give it up. It is the same as having morals or ethics, we cannot have them when it suits us and abandon them when we feel like it.

Free pitches
Nick Bell, when asked, on the subject of free pitches, whether your standards drop as one runs out of money said:

I don't think your standards drop. You can only have those standards when everyone else has those standards. Those standards are not sustainable. You understand that it is wrong but you have to do it if you are going to survive. When enough other people choose to do it, if they ever will, then you can afford to have that standard. Of course you can also afford to have that standard if you're getting employment and your business has enough money. [Bell, 2009]

Integrity does not usually require others to possess the same honour, but it is the age old argument of: if we do not do it someone else will. If all designers refused to take part in creative pitches we might put an end to this problem. Of course with so many designers it means there will always be someone who will do the work for free. Some organisations such as the AIGA (along with the AOI) do not allow members to take part in unpaid speculative work,

A professional designer does not undertake speculative work or proposals (spec work) in which a client requests work without providing compensation and without developing a professional relationship that permits the designer sufficient access to the client to provide a responsible recommendation. [Stone, J & Rigsby, L, 2009]

Icograda also restricts its members from undertaking creative pitches for free,

A designer shall not undertake any work at the invitation of a client without payment of an appropriate fee. A designer may, however, undertake work without fee or at a reduced rate for charitable or non-profit organisations. [, Accessed 10 January 2010]

Icograda's code is not as strict as AIGA's, there is quite a lot of room for interpretation, for example, what is an appropriate fee for a creative pitch? A bigger concern is that this does not apply to non-profit organisations, which would include public bodies – clients who often require free pitches. These codes of practice, in addition to the AOI's do not seem to have had any effect on the frequency of requests for free pitches. Perhaps it is necessary to persuade the client to alter the way they select designers, rather than the other way round. Shaughnessy highlighted the reasons tenders are becoming ever more popular: it is the problem of transparency in modern business [Shaughnessy, 2005, p. 26], to be seen as fair when choosing who to contract for work. We can understand the need to pitch, to give all designers a fair chance, but these tenders do not need to be creative. A designer could present previous work, talk about the relationship they have with the client and how they work on projects without doing the actual design work. This seems a fairer way of working. It is also about not cheapening your profession, Bell argues. [2009]. Lucienne Roberts talks about the difficulties she has with free pitching:

You don't have to do it but people weigh up the relative benefits I guess. I can't see how it's in the interests of anybody actually. It's a flawed process. Coming up with the concept is the hard bit so showing ideas for free implies that it's quick and easy which undermines the whole process from the off. ... I see it as a mark of failure on behalf of a client too – if they need that much choice it reveals an insecurity – a lack of confidence in their ability to commission. [Roberts, 2010]

The AGDA completely agree with Roberts' assertions that it is an undermining process:

AGDA is unequivocally opposed to the unfair manipulation of designers with the aim of garnering unpaid work (commonly known as 'free pitching'). Client practices which do damage to a member's business are those that award projects or commissions on the basis of the commissioner's acceptance of unpaid design submissions (eg. unpaid competitive tendering or speculative work). [, Accessed 10 January 2010]

Free pitching is also bad for the client:

The only way to do genuinely good work is for the designer and client to form a partnership and explore all angles together in a mutually trusting and open way. This is not possible in a competitive pitch. No matter how good the brief, the designer is not addressing the client's requirements: he or she is merely taking part in a beauty parade. [Shaughnessy, 2005, p. 26]

Shaughnessy also mentions attempts over the years to install ethical codes in graphic design organisations but they fail because of a change of morality or technology, these codes fail to remain relevant. Many changes have taken place to the RIBA's code of conduct over the years [Bothwell, 2009]. For example, it used to be prohibited for an individual or company to be both a building contractor and architect [, Accessed 10 January 2010]; and more perversely architects were prohibited from advertising [Speaight & Stone, 1982, p. 236]. Successful codes of conduct must be subject to change if they are going to remain not only relevant but adhered to. Our morals and behaviours change over time, new technologies also become available that require us to regulate on issues that did not exist before. ATypI abolished its 'code morale' because it became out of date. ATypI had regulations on the licensing of typefaces for different mediums, however with the rise of digital typefaces these rules became irrelevant [Twardoch, 2009].

The client
There is one other key area that the principle of integrity covers, and it is especially relevant when working for clients within the same field. This is the respect of confidentiality for your client. Designers are often in privileged positions, knowing about new marketing campaigns or the latest products, adverts, etc., and it would be unprofessional and damaging to divulge this information. This means designers are not free to talk about current projects until they are in the public domain but it also raises another dilemma. Designers tend to work in specialist fields, there is a strong possibility they are competing for work from clients' competitors. This could represent a conflict of interest; the designer has an advantage over others because of their secret knowledge. All codes of practice I have looked at insist that full confidentiality is honoured to the client. Some go even further; for example the AOI will not allow any illustrators to work for competing companies at the same time, unless they have express permission from both companies. In this situation it might be hard to not use this confidential information. Let us say both organisations wanted to progress in a similar direction: we would naturally want to create some differentiation between the clients' work but would not be able to communicate why we are pushing the project in a particular direction. This may result in an unhappy client, unable to see why a project is going in a certain direction, or worse, feeling like they have compromised their aims.

Shaughnessy finishes his section on 'integrity' by asking:

If we believe in nothing, then our clients will have no reason to believe in us. If we demonstrate the morals of the marketplace, then we will be treated like a commodity – and our services bought off at bargain basement prices. And here's an odd thing: in a world with no principles, people often respect those who have some.

…We have to show integrity to the three 'audiences' for which design is most usually done: our clients, our intended audience and ourselves. [Shaughnessy, 2005, p. 27]

If we had a code of practice which laid out how we should behave the entire profession would benefit from a better perception. One could argue that those companies which had always been moral would then have less to distinguish themselves but a code of practice will never be able to go as far as Thomas Matthews' proposal of: 'work[ing] for clients who push agendas we care about', for example [, Accessed 23 November 2009]. It would not be practical for the entire industry. Plus those who have integrity will be glad that other designers are supporting them.

It is easy to see how important the issue of integrity is in the profession of graphic design. A code of practice would act as a protection for designers. In a self-serving way, designers can refuse to take part in creative pitches and not have to worry about there being no work available. A code would also help the clients, protecting them from conflicts of interest and breaches of confidentiality which may otherwise involve drawing up expensive contracts. Finally there would be protection for the consumer, who would then know that graphic designers will not mislead the public or work on projects that are damaging for people as a whole. This balance of benefits can make the prospect attractive for everyone.


Competence is not covered by the PCC code of practice, which is understandable since the code is to protect the public from inaccurate journalism and not to ensure a certain level of writing standard. This allows newspapers and magazines to pay outsiders to the profession to write stories and allows news-reporting and comment to be open. The PCC code is actually an editors' code of practice [, Accessed 22 November 2009] and so the editor is free to employ anyone as long as the code is not broken. The RIBA requires a level of competence, traditionally RIBA membership was only available to architects; who had, by law, to have completed an architecture degree. The RIBA now has a more open membership, including those in the general public with an interest in architecture. However, to be a chartered member you must have passed all three parts of the RIBA Examination [, Accessed 10 January 2010]. The title architect is protected and all practising professionals must be registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB) [, Accessed 10 January 2010]. It is not just the RIBA and ARB who set the architecture curriculum in the United Kingdom, it is now decided upon collaboratively in Europe, beneficially resulting in a European standard for the profession. Any architect who trained in the EU can practice in any EU country [, Accessed 10 January 2010]. The protected title gives the public the knowledge and reassurance that they are employing a professional architect who has not only been properly trained but also has practised so far without breaching any of the organisations' regulations. This membership also provides protection should anything go wrong.

Graphic design is a strange profession – an ever expanding field with new disciplines created as technology evolves. Without being able to define the subject it is impossible to create a chartered membership. However, as previously mentioned, other professions have to update their definitions and ethics over time and a graphic design code would be no exception. The definition explored in the defining graphic design section is certainly loose enough to cover all aspects of the current profession.

The question remains, if a code of practice requires a certain level of competence, how is this to be defined and assessed? Are these bodies looking for aesthetic standard, or is it a certain intelligence, does it require a graphic design degree? With a large proportion of current designers without any formal education perhaps there is more reason to assess the standards of those claiming to be graphic designers. The RIBA is not only concerned with educational qualifications: in their code of conduct the principle of competence also covers whether an architect has the resources to complete work they take on; will it be to the standard the client is expecting; are they balancing the interests of all parties involved in the project, amongst others [, Accessed 22 November 2009]. Some of these areas could be covered under the principle of integrity but competence seems to be about how an architect behaves towards the client and informs them of the projects' progress. It is interesting that they make this separation between integrity and competence, the difference between the two is obviously that competence is an issue of designers' skill even though the entire code could fit under the one principle of integrity and honesty. To define these principles separately makes the code seem more thorough but also makes it easier to adhere to. It is interesting that the RIBA's definition of competence is concerned with so much more than aesthetics. In graphic design, the ISTD and AGI membership, without a code of practice, only seem to be concerned with whether you possess the technical ability to produce competent, aesthetically pleasing graphic design. The CSD does have higher expectations and requires members to not only meet its aesthetic standards but also demonstrate sufficient skills, professionalism and knowledge [, Accessed 22 November 2009]. Bell talks of the dangers of judging work on aesthetics,

I think it's something that is very difficult to agree on... so much of graphic design is about communication, ... you can produce ugly work but if you say something very important, everybody thinks that's really really valid, however ugly it looks, if it's an original thought. ... How do you decide whether someone should be a member? If it's based on judging their work on an aesthetic criteria that's a very difficult thing to do, you can't, to actually say, I'm sorry you've not met the criteria, you can't function as a graphic designer. Maybe there would be a number of very good graphic designers out there that would have not been able to practice; which sounds ridiculous.
[Bell, 2009]

Who should decide who is competent and who is not, how can you decide this in an almost purely aesthetic profession? In architecture there are skills to learn and exams to take. In graphic design there are rules of composition and layout but the best designs break those rules, making it extremely difficult to judge. It seems all the qualities of competence that do apply to the field of graphic design have already been covered in the previous section on integrity. It is important to note that both the AIGA and AGDA do not have restricted memberships based on competence, with restrictions it may have been difficult to reach their prominent status.

Relationships and responsibility

Existing codes of practice use the section on relationships to cover issues that have been addressed such as conflict of interest and working for competing industries. However, there are further issues that fit specifically under the value of relationships. Most codes of practice split relationships into a number of sections, usually referred to as responsibilities. These are responsibilities to the public, environment, clients and to other designers. Relationships or responsibilities is the area where there seems to be the most cohesion between organisations. As with competence, the PCC does not cover the issue of relationships specifically. However, the RIBA's code, even though it does not split the relationships principle further, covers the four areas mentioned above in its separate points. I suggest, therefore that we should adopt this principle in those sections.

Responsibilities to the public
The RIBA and AIGA both have similar regulations relating to the behaviour of designers towards the public, here is an extract from the AIGA code:

A professional designer shall avoid projects that will result in harm to the public. ...

A professional designer shall respect the dignity of all audiences and shall value individual differences even as they avoid depicting or stereotyping people or groups of people in a negative or dehumanizing way. A professional designer shall strive to be sensitive to cultural values and beliefs and engages in fair and balanced communication design that fosters and encourages mutual understanding. [Stone & Rigsby, 2009]

This goes further than showing integrity by avoiding misleading statements or working for 'tainted' companies. It is asking designers to actively create work which is balanced and encourages an understanding between people without being prejudiced or negative. Icograda goes even further with its requirements for graphic designers, asking them to not just be fair and balanced but actually be active in trying to make the world a better place:

A designer accepts professional obligation to further the social and aesthetic standards of the community. [, Accessed 10 January 2010]

It is difficult to argue against these principles. Surely all professionals should be interested in furthering their practice to improve the community? This is not purely an altruistic aim, it also improves the public perception of the graphic design profession, making graphic design more valuable and desirable.

Responsibilities towards the environment
The environment is an increasingly important issue and codes of practice are encouraging designers to be environmentally friendly. Designers have a responsibility to encourage clients to think about the damage projects will cause. Designers are employed to help with aesthetics and the communication of ideas. It is therefore vital that, as part of the brief, an environmentally responsible solution is found. Design makes statements and so is the perfect opportunity for using environmentally friendly techniques for the clients' benefit too. Designers can use their skill sets to make the environment a more engaging issue. A recent exhibition at the Barbican had the theme of 'radical nature'. To reduce its impact on the environment, the exhibition used old posters and previous exhibition materials to create this new piece. Not only did this promote the environmental cause but it also added a layer of history to the design of the objects [Manacorda, 2009]. Existing codes of practice, reflect this new requirement, the RIBA now asks for members to be aware of the impact of their work [, Accessed 22 November 2009]. The AIGA asks for the protection of natural resources, animals and the environment [Stone & Ribsby, 2009]. However, it is not always easy to do this, Lucienne Roberts does a lot of work in publishing and spoke of occasional conflicts between the environment and aesthetics,

A lot of what we make promotes things to sell, ... by default we are partly responsible for encouraging insatiable desire. Not only does this seem to make people unhappy but it also means an endless production of stuff, much of which is then thrown away.  ... None of this seems very sustainable so graphic design will be forced to change...  perhaps there will be less graphic designers creating less stuff, which is very sad because we all love graphic design, we like making things; but how do we justify making this stuff when a lot of it isn't necessary? Is there enough stuff that is necessary that we can make instead?

I have a fair bit of experience of publishing. Currently publishers argue that books printed on thick paper have a greater perceived value than those that are not. Publishing is a perilous business so anything that means people will pay more for a book is considered carefully. I have tried suggesting to publisher clients that projects use very thin paper but the worry is that it will 'look cheap'. But maybe that's ok! The problem here lies with the buyer as much as the seller. Perhaps an aesthetics of frugality will start to be attractive now which could be a good thing. [Roberts, 2010]

These practices will need to change if graphic design is to become less environmentally damaging, publishers will need to be more economical with materials. Roberts talked about the publications produced during war time and the effect rationing had on design, margins being reduced to make the most of every space for example. She also talked of a need for the profession to be more politicised, believing we can actually make a difference [Roberts, 2009]. A legitimate body would be the perfect mechanism to encourage designers and their clients to embrace this new responsibility.

Responsibility towards the client
Nick Bell talks about the issue of conflicts between the client and the public and who he felt more responsible for:

As a designer you should value people very highly because if you do well for them you'll be doing well for your client. [Bell, 2009]

This is a crucial point but there are specific things that we can do to help the client relationship. Graphic designers are responsible for making sure the client knows how the project will progress, how long it will take, how much it will cost and whether it is running on time and budget. If a client understands the process and is communicated with effectively there will be less reason for conflict. This is the approach taken by the AOI [, Accessed 23 November 2009, Appendix 2]. However, Lucienne Roberts says:

Sadly, it's impossible to be honest with clients. Most like to imagine that you're only working for them, for example. If I were to say, 'I can't work on your job this week because I am working on somebody else's' I suspect I'd be risking the relationship so I am cautious about how much I reveal. A lot of issues arise around scheduling of course. Clients are often unreliable in their own timing and jobs can suddenly stop without warning or run very late. We often agree to deadlines we know are unrealistic safe in the knowledge that everything will change anyway. I have found that the projects I'm most proud of are in part the product of trust in my capabilities so it's a shame that in order to protect ourselves we can't always be completely transparent. But if we turned down work on the basis of an agreed schedule for another job, that then changed, we'd be left without enough work. These are the kinds of areas a code of practice could really help with. [Roberts, 2010]

Roberts raises some real problems with the perception of how graphic designers work and how long projects take. An example Roberts mentions is the common practice to charge a proportion of print costs, which is done in order to make up for the lack of money for the design stage of the project [Roberts, 2009]. However, she says a code of practice could solve these issues:

I think it would be really useful to have some kind of document that we gave to our clients that set out in real detail what the process is and why – I guess that set out expectations on both sides. Relations can become fraught when lots of changes are made, for example, because it is an undermining process – and in the end doesn't produce the best results. In my experience this is often the result of initial briefings that aren't rigorous or thought through. When designers are involved in developing the brief it can be a much more rewarding experience for everyone. [Roberts, 2010]

Roberts mentions problems with the perception of designers, this is something that an organisation could try and change. However, the issue of a document or contract to give clients has actually already been done for members of the AIGA, who have not only written terms and conditions for its members to give to clients but also advises them on how to set up the other aspects of the contract including fees [, Accessed 23 November 2009]. Roberts' raised the idea of outlining the design process, however, this is likely to change from designer to designer. In fact the AIGA has updated their terms because of this very issue,

If you're familiar with the previous versions, you'll notice that this one is quite different. It does not take a one-size-fits-all approach, and it is not an extensive pre-printed document where you simply fill in the blanks. Instead, it acknowledges that most design firms develop their own custom proposal document for each project and are looking for an appropriate set of terms and conditions to attach to it.
[, Accessed 23 November 2009]

Most issues centre around being honest to the client so that they know what to expect, complimenting the principles of integrity. Other important considerations are: who owns the work, making sure any sub-contracts have been approved by the client and making sure you are available to the client should anything arise. Employing someone from the creative industry can be stressful and to avoid clients being put off, resulting in a detrimental effect on the industry, good communication and respect for the client is paramount. The AOI, to accomplish this, ask that no major modifications should be made without approval from the client,

commissioning illustration is already an unpredictable process, and sudden changes at artwork stage will only add to the client's nervousness about the outcome, and may affect their willingness to use illustration in the future.
[, Accessed 23 November 2009, Appendix 2]

Behaviour towards other designers
Most codes of practice cover behaviour towards other designers, regarding competition, pitching for work, and also the way designers should critique each others' work. The CSD and AIGA have similar principles when it comes to behaviour towards other designers, asking members to not get involved in projects other designers are working on. Designers should also only engage in competitions which are fair, and transparent. The RIBA has the same principles and asks members that:

Any competition process in which they are participating must be known to be reasonable, transparent and impartial. If members find this not to be the case, they should endeavour to rectify the competition process or withdraw.
[, Accessed 22 November 2009]

Internships are commonplace and highlight some of the problems with behaviour towards other designers. Lots of professions make use of interns, not just graphic design, and their use is increasing with the current recession [, Accessed 26 November 2009]. Specifically in the field of graphic design I asked Nick Bell his opinion: employing an intern is a win-win situation, the designer gets work done when often they cannot afford to employ a junior designer and the intern gets experience doing real work for a studio [Bell, 2009]. However, there are a number of problems which arise from this relationship. The remuneration usually given to interns is very low, often only expenses, and often well under the minimum wage. This can make internships only available to students with other funding, giving an advantage to those from a wealthier background, and creating an unfair social gap in the profession. The process is also insulting to graduates when the industry implies they are practically worthless. Bell says that it is normal to go into an internship after graduating. The problem is basic economics, as graduates are not differentiating themselves enough – they only seem to be in the three areas of illustration, typography and moving image – and by being unable to demonstrate their specialisms result in a market where there are so many interns you can pay them very little [Bell, 2009]. However, Bell added, the design graduate does not have to intern, if a student works hard enough at college there is no reason why they would not be able to go straight into a design job [Bell, 2009], however, this is definitely the exception. Naomi Klein, journalist and novelist, touches on the issue in her book, No Logo:

The culture industry has led the way in the blossoming of unpaid work, blithely turning a blind eye to the unglamorous fact that many people under thirty are saddled with the mundane responsibility of actually having to support themselves.

... you will never catch a television network or publisher confessing that the absence of remuneration for internships might also have something to do with the relative privilege of those applying for those positions at their companies. This racket is not only exploitative in the classic sense, it also has some very real implications for the future of cultural production; today's interns are tomorrow's managers, producers and editors and, as [Jim] Frederick writes, 'If you can't get a job unless you've had an internship, and you can't take an internship unless you get supported by daddy for a couple of months, then the system guarantees an applicant pool that is decidedly privileged.' [Klein, 2005, pp. 245–246]

In Tony Brook and Adrian Shaughnessy's new book, Studio Culture, they interview many design firms about the way they work and also ask about their attitudes to internships. Interning has become such a norm that almost all the studios talk of having interns. What is more worrying is the candour used by Doyle Partners in New York:

Lucky kids, they get a double whammy: both on-the-job training, and a multi-month interview for a job. In a small studio, interns get to work on big projects, and a variety of them. Many, many of our designers here started as interns, including an art director who's been here for 15 years, not including his moves to Texas and Connecticut. But he came back. Now we pay him.
[Doyle to Brook & Shaughnessy, 2009, p. 75]

It is this last point that I find disturbing, 'now we pay him.' It is openly acceptable to not treat workers with respect, or even offer them payment. Experimental Jetset reveal quite a lot about the industry in their answer to their policy on interns,

It would be awkward having an intern in the studio. We really feel we have to do all the work ourselves: DIY. To have somebody do all the 'dumb' work for us would make us feel terrible. [Experimental Jetset to Brook & Shaughnessy, 2009, p. 94].

Internships seem to be deeply set in place but could be modernised by a code of practice insisting at least on the payment of minimum wage; but this would be an unpopular regulation. Nick Bell says he barely makes any profit each year [Bell, 2009], and it would be hard for the already stretched designer to part with more money for an inexperienced designer who may not even be useful. This surely supports Roberts' opinion of there being a lack of understanding and money from the client, resulting in a very competitive industry:

We don't organise ourselves as a profession in the way architects do, the bad side of this is that we're unprotected which encourages bad behaviour. We see each other as competitors for example, rather than supporting one another. I think it's confusing for clients too. Because there's no code of practice they don't know what to expect, they don't understand what they're buying and they get different levels of input from different people, there's no consensus basically about how the whole thing should work. [Roberts, 2010]

The treatment of interns reflects this general insecurity in graphic design and provides designers with an ego boost because graduates will work for them for free [Roberts, 2009]. If designers behaved better towards each other many of the issues raised throughout could be solved. Roberts certainly puts part of the blame on the profession for not standing united and representing ourselves properly. There is not a healthy relationship between different designers at the moment, even the title of Brook and Shaughnessy's book, Studio Culture: The secret life of the design studio, demonstrates the inherent secrecy in graphic design.


When considering the question of whether graphic design would benefit from a code of practice there are a number of key issues that could be solved with its implementation. The integrity of the graphic design profession is not controlled by any organisation but the whim of individual designers, resulting in confusion for clients who do not understand what they are paying for. The lack of honesty in the profession is due to clients underestimating the length of project and budget, fundamentally misunderstanding the design process. Graphic designers' integrity is undermined by the common practice of free pitches, implying that the concept is the 'easy part' of any project [Roberts, 2009].

However, regulating graphic design would be problematic. How would an organisation decide between who could be called graphic designers and who could not? A Royal charter could result in a too exclusive membership for the organisation to have legitimacy. Although graphic designers would perhaps be reluctant to join an organisation if they could not be sure of the standard of members,

I imagine that the reason why designers are a little bit wary of professional bodies is partly to do with a minor form of snobbery ... you know, whether everyone would be the same sort of calibre?! Designers want to feel free of course ... but the freedom comes at a price. [Roberts, 2010]

Distinguishing between those who see graphic design as their raison d'etre and those who 'job' it would be beneficial. This lack of distinction causes client confusion. Is it likely that the jobbers would want to join a professional organisation and would this impact negatively? The RIBA has an aura of greatness and if anyone could join this would be massively diluted. Although perhaps it is up to the client to take some responsibility for talking to the designers and looking at previous work when making a decision about the type of designer they need.

One of the more worrying sides to the current state of the profession is the relationships between designers. Michael Rock argues that graphic designers have a 'deep-seated insecurity' [Rock, 1997, p. 168] which results in graphic designers seeking reassurance in a code of practice, this matches Lucienne Roberts' concerns that there is this feeling of isolation and lack of support [Roberts, 2009]. Although Rock sees seeking a code as a negative, the outcome would be most positive. Roberts adds that there is a nasty competitive side to design. If we organised ourselves as a profession we could raise the perception of graphic designers and eradicate some of the problems by speaking with a uniform voice [Roberts, 2009].

To summarise, it is evident throughout this dissertation that there is much to gain from installing a graphic design code of practice. However, one of the key problems is engaging with the entire design community and convincing them of the benefits that a code can create, it is only when a large majority join that these benefits will begin to unfold. There is currently a confusion, in the United Kingdom at least, over which organisation to join and none of the current organisations seem equipped to tackle this issue, even those with codes of practice. Nick Bell said the DBA seemed the most appropriate [Bell, 2009] but Nigel Whitely, the design writer, is wary of being associated as a business,

Design ought to be one of the professions at the forefront of 'making the world a better place for all'. Designers claim a status as 'professionals' but, unlike doctors whose ethical code is unambiguous and outward looking, designers often opt for commercial rewards, and the kind of celebrity stardom in their 'professional' press that makes them considerably closer to entertainers and salesman than doctors or teachers. ...

Many designers in Britain feel no need for a professional code, ... it is probably the case that the majority of designers think of designing as a business rather than a profession. ... it is crucial that those with a fully professional outlook face up to the issue of ethics and the designer's role in society. Otherwise – to twist one of its most common definitions – design will remain a problem-creating activity. [Whiteley, 1993, pp. 132–133]

So perhaps the DBA is not the correct institution to take up this responsibility, British designers need an organisation such as the AIGA or AGDA, an institution charged with progression in design. This does not guarantee anything, Heller was sceptical about the achievements of the AIGA but spoke of the importance to at least state the ethics even if it you can not enforce them [Heller, 2010]. The AGDA is convinced of the importance of its code of ethics and answers the question of the benefits of a code of practice most succinctly,

Our code of ethics is here to establish what constitutes 'fair play'. It is intended to provide protection for both designers and clients from unethical business practices and the havoc that can be caused by unwitting ignorance.

The code of ethics is a powerful tool in dealing with destructive practices such as competitive free pitching, to which AGDA is unequivocally opposed.

The code of ethics will also serve to enhance clients' understanding of the how/what/why of graphic design.
[, Accessed 10 January 2010]


Bell, N. [2009]. Interview with the graphic designer and member of AGI. London, 17 November. [See Appendix 1].

Bothwell, K. [2009]. Interview with the architect, lecturer and chartered member of RIBA, conducted on the telephone. 24 November.

Experimental Jetset. [2010]. Interview with the design studio, conducted by email. 12 January 2010. [See Appendix 5].

Heller, S. [2010]. Interview with the design writer and AIGA member, conducted by email. 6 January. [See Appendix 4].

Muir, H. [2009]. Interview with the graphic designer and member of AGI. Basel, 12 December.

Roberts, L. [2009]. Interview with the graphic designer and member of ISTD. London, 31 December. [See Appendix 1].

Roberts, L. [2010]. Interview follow-up via email. 25 January. [See Appendix 6]

Twardoch, A. [2009]. Interview with a member of ATypI board, conducted by email. 23 November. [See Appendix 3].

Brook, T & Shaughnessy, A. [2009]. Studio Culture: The secret life of the graphic design studio. London: Unit Editions.

Cranmer, J & Zappaterra, Y. [2003]. Conscientious Objectives: Designing for an Ethical Message. Mies: RotoVision SA.

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Newark, Q. [2002]. What is Graphic Design? Switzerland: RotoVision SA.

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Codes of Practice & Organisations
About dba – Our vision. [2010]. [Internet]. Available from: <> or <>. [Accessed 10 January 2009].

AIGA Design Business and Ethics. [2009] 2nd Edition. New York. Available from: <> or <>. [Accessed 23 November 2009].

AIGA's Mission – AIGA. [2010]. [Internet]. Available from: <> or <>. [Accessed 10 January 2010].

Alliance Graphique Internationale. [2010]. [Internet]. Available from: <> or <>. [Accessed 10 January 2010].

Alliance Graphique Internationale. [2010]. [Internet]. Available from: <> or <>. [Accessed 10 January 2010].

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