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Is there a tension between ethics and aesthetics in design? BA Design Yr2

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Is there a tension between ethics and aesthetics in design? BA Design Yr2 Goldsmiths College Adam Coward Ethics are a fundamental element of any functioning society, essentially providing the codes of conduct that must be followed by a majority to ensure social survival. These, often unspoken rules, give us a sense of right and wrong but are not common to all cultures and are often subject to temporal change. This is evident if we examine the historical change in attitudes towards a subject such as suicide. For example, the ancient Greeks and Romans considered suicide as an honourable and heroic act, whereas in early Christianity it was pronounced a 'mortal sin'. In fact, in England suicide was considered a criminal act until as recent as 1961, perhaps due to the social importance of maintaining the family unit up to this point in time. This would suggest that ethics are not pre determined by our nature but rather are rationally constituted by a specific culture for its continued existence, depending on the conditions by which that society is to survive. Ethics can also be defined as moral ideals belonging to a culture and also those belonging to the individual. There is often much overlay concerning the two instances but it is important to recognise that every individual will inevitably put his or her unique spin on the dominantly recognised set of ethical values. So how does this relate to design? Firstly it would seem that there is a personal ethical responsibility on those involved in the production of objects, such as designers, material engineers, manufactures, business people, etc. Such elements for ethical consideration in this instance may include sustainability, socio-psychological well being, and a concern for the dehumanisation and cultural reduction that might result from mass production and globalisation. ...read more.


This best translates to the design of many existing refrigerators if we consider the use of colour white. White is most popular as it tends to signify ideals of purity and cleanliness, which might be explained logically by its ability to show up any substance that is considered unclean. As such the use of white constantly assures us of the absence of dirt. Examples of the use of white in other design objects include kitchen and bathroom appliances such as dishwashers, kettles, baths and bath towels. After all, it would be extremely uncomforting to use a bath after someone else if the bath was black and might be disguising remaining dirt from the previous person. Another manifestation of ethics concerning dirt is apparent in Raymond Loewy's 1935 refrigerator. As well as the use of white, the design also employs a streamlined, wipeable form and surface finish that conveys the 'physical embodiment of health and purity' (Forty, 156). As such it clearly has aesthetical advantage over previous designs that present an object similar to a standard varnished cabinet. 'Coldspot' refrigerator by Raymond Loewy 'Coldspot' refrigerator by Raymond Loewy designed for Sears The idea of using white to obsessively eliminate all that we consider to be impure and dirty is also in the chapter on 'dust' by Alastair Bonnett in 'City A-Z' by Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift. Bonnett explains the importance of white in 'Modernity's war against dust' (Pile and Thrift, 62) and explains how dust is threatening to the 'clean' simplicity and rational of Modernism. Nowhere else is this more evident than in the re-design of Hospitals from the end of the 19th century, as 'dust-free environments... with their endless 'spotless corridors, their regular white rooms and expanses of window' (Pile and Thrift, 62). ...read more.


One observation that is made involves the attitudes towards mobile phone etiquette by business people. As such Fox identifies two types of executive, those of low-ranking who tend to make a big ostentatious show of using their phones whatever the situation and those of 'higher-ranking people who have nothing to prove and so tend to be more considerate'. If we take the first of these two sections of society, who believe it acceptable to make a show of their use of a mobile phone, often using it to display their own self importance, then it is possible to design an aesthetic that compliments this ethic. An example of this is the development of mobile phone ring tones, which now allow the user to apply ever more elaborate tunes. In conclusion I hope to have demonstrated the importance of an ethical consideration in design. Firstly there is an ethical responsibility on those involved in the production of objects, such as government, captains of industry and designers. But more importantly I have shown that there is a definite link between the ethical values we hold and what is considered beautiful in the world. It therefore becomes essential to understand the ethics of different cultures and sub cultures in order to achieve aesthetical designs. This may then enable to foresee shifts in morals and in some cases perhaps challenge them. I have discussed some examples of sign associations with ethics and how they can be exploited by companies and products to convey false ethics, thus creating cynicism. Finally I think it is valuable to consider that transgressive sub cultures have their own set of ethics that are often in opposition to those of the dominant culture. In this instance the transgressive set of values are likely to manifest in an oppositional aesthetical style. ...read more.

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