Dear Designer

Dear Designer: The Happiest Design Ethics Article You Will Ever Read

Ethical design isn’t a punishment; it’s a true expression of what design is really about

Mike Monteiro
Modus
Published in
8 min readJul 25, 2019

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Illustration: Tim Lahan

Dear Mike,

Dude. I get that it’s important to work responsibly and ethically, but every article I read about ethical design makes it sound like punishment. What a fucking slog. You make it sound like working ethically is all hair shirts, self-flagellation, and crying. Why are all the articles about ethics so negative? Can we please get something positive for a change?

— A Designer

Dear Designer,

You know what? You’re not wrong. I’m certainly guilty of this. And I tend to come into conversations pretty hot. Obviously, design ethics is a serious issue. But I do tend to dip my quill in more vinegar than sugar when I write about it. Why is that? Maybe because I want to convey the seriousness of the situation we’re in? Maybe because I enjoy writing angry? Maybe I’m just a grumpy old man — who knows. Tell you what: I accept your challenge. Today I am going to write the happiest article you will ever read about design ethics.

I love design

I’m going to start by telling you how much I love design. Because, when you get down to it, that’s where all this is coming from. That’s hopefully why we’re all here. We’re all united together in this thing we call design. And yet, we have at least as many definitions for design as we have for God and for what makes a good pizza. For some of us, design is a thing we can see, for others it’s what we can’t see, and for others still it’s the plan that puts everything in motion. For some of us, good design is an intuitive interface, for others it’s a well-designed football play, or the Dead Kennedys logo, or a Robert Altman plot, or an activist action. And, somehow, none of us are wrong. But so much of our ability to work together involves finding people with definitions of design that match — or, even better — complement each other, and a willingness to learn from those we don’t understand.

And yet, I believe there’s a definition that all of us can stand behind: The whole spark of design comes from our…

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Mike Monteiro
Modus
Writer for

English is my second language. You were my first.