The Irony of Ethics

The Irony of Ethics

Courtesy of The Telegraph.

Courtesy of The Telegraph.


A Response to Respecting and Representing Data Based on Ethical Decisions.


I’m choosing to address the topic of ethics with a rather journalistic approach (somewhat tongue in cheek). Although, I will consider aspects of journalism, design and business. When concerning ethics in graphic design, I seem to socially define it as: obtaining common sense. When evaluating his colleagues at the N.Y. Times in Storytelling With Data, Jonathan Corum quips, “I might be the only one with a design background,” but I think that what everyone (that I work with) all has in common, is that they’re all good at applying common sense.”

By definition, common sense and journalism deal with right and wrong. Granted, common sense is independent of specialized knowledge, and journalism should have a code of ethics. According to Paul Nini’s point about “roles as persuasive communicators in consumer culture,” how exactly do journalists and graphic designers differ? Or do they? Legally, it is possible that journalists and graphic designers can be sued over misrepresentation. However, what is considered right in one culture–or state, for that matter–may be considered taboo or indifferent in another.

Is America’s reaction to a major political scandal any different from that of France’s recent conundrum? Consider the U.S. reaction of President Bill Clinton’s affair versus the French reaction to President Francois Hollande’s affair. While the choice of topic is taboo in and of itself, my point is that what I consider highly unethical, apparently the majority of France feels somewhat ambivalent about, and well, French about. If that is not complex enough, Julie Hyatt Steele sued Newsweek over misrepresentation after being interviewed by journalist, Michael Isikoff. Steele was ultimately denied of her suit of being a source tied to the Clinton affair, because the state of Virginia (where the interview was held) “does not recognize that cause of action” (Klein 14).

If I consider how I might create a visualization of all political adultery scandals over the past 25 years, for whom would it matter more to: Americans or French? Could it be argued that ethics is also dependent on whom we are designing the information for? How is it that unethical facts need to be treated with ethical sensitivity?

With regard to information design, journalists and graphic designers need to foremost consider the audience in relation to respecting and correctly representing the data. Milton Glaser’s point about “… You start with the audience. If you don’t know who you’re talking to, you can’t talk to anybody” (Nini). Corum’s three types of people and the scale for balancing criteria when designing for information really is the starting point of ethics in graphic design. Moreover, while our industry leans into UX design, the business sector has been persistent with teaching, conditioning and practicing ethics inside their industry (i.e.: design thinking). Ethics, as it is, is not conclusive to just one field. Alas, it is our exposure to unethical headlines that drives business. Ironic, isn’t it?

Works Cited

Corum, Jonathan. Storytelling With Data. Tapestry. 3 May 2013. Web. http://www.tapestryconference.com/blog?page=1

Klein, Karen. Weird Torts: Coming To A Courtroom Near You. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)–The 2001 Pulliam Kilgore Report. Oct. 2001. Web. PDF.

Nini, Paul. In Search Of Ethics In Graphic Design. 16 Aug. 2004. Web. http://www.aiga.org/in-search-of-ethics-in-graphic-design/


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