"You can't design for something that you wouldn't stand behind outside of the design world"
Raphael Roake: I've been wondering and talking to people in the industry about how they navigate ethics within their work. So do you do that, with say picking up new clients or particular jobs that you do for clients?
Elliot Stansfield: Yeah definitely. I think it’s become more prominent now I’m independent and I can decide which projects I work on. I know a lot of designers in big agencies probably aren't in a position to choose who they do work for. Every time I go to work with a client I need to know that their product and the way in which they go about their business reflects the design that they're asking for and that I feel comfortable doing work for them. I guess I'm aware of how powerful design can be and I don't really want it to be for the wrong people and the wrong reasons. You won't catch me doing a marketing campaign for Trump any time soon.
RR: [laughs] Interesting...
ES: Yeah, it's difficult. You have to do your own research. There was a charity foundation that approached me recently and I had to make sure they were going through the right channels and things like that. It turned out that they were transparent enough that I felt comfortable working with them. It requires a bit of research I suppose.
RR: It's quite tough especially when you're out freelancing by yourself a lot of times, a job is a job and it's the difference between being able to stay in your house and not, so that it could be a tough call.
ES: Yeah. I guess financially, there is always a hard choice to make. As far as all the designers I know and have worked with, they are quite conscious of it. There's no, like you know, set in stone handbook to it, I mean there probably is...
RR: There actually is! [laughs]
ES: Yeah you’re probably going to design one yourself! I guess we all know the resources are out there but I think everyone has their own ways of figuring out whether projects are worth working on or if it’s something worth shouting about. I've certainly never been a part of a project where I felt like it was wrong ethically. I think it's important when you're designing and generally being creative, that you've got a level of trust with your clients and they’ve got a level of trust with you. I guess that it's a two way street, you might have a fantastic client but you need to make sure that your ethics and processes as a designer reflect their products as well.
So there's two sides of the sword, isn't there. The client has to hold up their end of the bargain and make sure that the content, the subject matter and the products are honest and genuine. Then as a designer, you've got to make sure that the work you're doing is up to standard in regards to our industry and all the stuff that goes along with that. Good designers seem to be acutely aware of it, as well as things like licensing typefaces and imagery. Personally, that’s one of the things I always have in my mind, especially when I use typefaces, it’s really important to me. The designers who design typefaces spend so much time and energy producing these amazing things, it's only right to licence them appropriately.
RR: You know it's interesting because there’s so many different sorts of facets and shades of grey. People think about it in terms of the designer-client relationship but then there's the client-customer relationship. Then, say if you work with someone who's manufacturing goods, what processes in terms of the manufacturing process and then the acquisition of what they're manufacturing and then you get into the design of the typefaces, you've got image use, you've got paper stock...
ES: Yeah definitely. I’m sure it can be quite difficult to know what’s going on behind the scenes sometimes. For example, you mentioned the production of products and I don't particularly work with companies who produce on a large scale. But if I did, I suspect it would be difficult to know exactly what materials they’re using and where they’re sourcing them from. Obviously you can't be the moderator for those kind of things because you're not an expert. I mean, you're a designer, so you've got to apply some sort of common sense to it. Do what you can in regards to research and then look at the industry. A lot of industries have standards that assess quality and give you something to measure them against, that can often be a good way to tick the boxes on the client side.
RR: I thought that was really interesting with what you said about the power of design before, because that was kind of where I started with this project. It's interesting talking to someone who is fully aware
ES: I guess I sort of admire design in that way and university opened my eyes to that side of things. Early on, I wasn't particularly aware of how far design can go, but when I left uni I was quite enthusiastic about trying to promote design as a powerful tool. It's like that quote from Spiderman, 'With great power, comes great responsibility.' I guess you just have to design like Uncle Ben. Make sure that you're not misleading anyone or convincing people of things and information that isn’t true. It’s crazy all the subtle things that can change somebody's behaviour or reaction. There are a lot of smart people in advertising and design who understand things like the subtlety of colours and tone of voice and how they impact people when it comes to buying (or not buying) a product. Being aware of it is a good start and then making sure we use it in a manner that's representative.
RR: I've talked to a few people, one guy who you might know, Christopher Doyle?
ES: Yeah, his work’s great.
RR: He said to me that they've actually got a bunch of industries that they don’t want to engage with. He didn't stipulate what those were. But I did assume it's probably going to be in Australia, something like the mining industry and stuff like that. Do you have anything like that?
ES: Well luckily, my clients are mostly small businesses and they create quite fun and easy products that you can easily get behind. I don't deal with much smoke and mirrors. With most of my clients, I can go buy the product and sample it in person. I guess I'm not the target designer for clients like oil and gas companies and things like that. But yeah sure, there's definitely a hesitation. If I was approached, I would certainly have to make sure that it was something I was behind. I think it comes down to a political stance as well. You can't design for something that you wouldn't stand behind outside of the design world you know. Your work can't exist in a vacuum. So when you look at your Instagram feed, I suppose it needs to represent work that you would want to see other designers doing. I'd be disappointed in myself if I designed for a company that I didn't believe or trust.
RR: Do you do much design for full on advertising or is it mostly identities that you're doing?
ES: Not too much advertising. It's usually about starting off with a new brand and developing it’s identity. Recently it’s been new brands, web design and then some of the social media side of things as well. Sometimes teeing up ways they can start interacting with their audience on a really casual level. No big campaigns at this stage or anything like that.
RR: Yeah. I've gone through kind of a bit of a progression with university. Going from my 'I want to do advertising', in first year and then, 'we'll, what is advertising?' and then, ‘shit, I don't really want to do that’ and then kind of come to brand design like 'wow okay, actually the creation of brands is what I'm really interested in.'
ES: I didn't start off with advertising but I understand where you're coming from. Advertising shares a lot with the design industry. The people who produce good advertising are witty, very design minded, creative people. They do good work.
I guess why I didn't go down that route, I suppose, you can become a little dispirited in always trying to sell. That still happens with design though, of course. Perhaps there's a nice side to design in that you can do good work without the intention of it being sold but it still has a retail value. And because you've created something that represents the product in a strong way, chances are that if the product is quality, people will want to buy it anyway. You won't have to explicitly go out of your way to tell someone that it's good, it sort of speaks for itself. But in saying that, some of the best modern brand designs often come in tandem with a great advertising campaign, especially for big brands. You can't live without it in this day and age. In that regard, I'd love to see independent websites take the reins with what advertisements they show. Now we get a lot of tailored content which is probably better than getting random content.
RR: Slightly yeah, haha.
ES: Hahaha at the same time, I think the ways in which they impact our lives is important. A friend, who was a tutor of mine at university, recently tweeted about how unsolicited advertisements shouldn't use his mobile data.
RR: I saw that actually!
ES: It resonated with me because I hate getting flooded with advertising before I can even get to the content, it feels like bad design. Maybe that's where independent sites, that are doing really well, need to sort of step up and say 'you know what, this is where we’re going to draw the line.' Obviously they have a financial motivation and that's totally understandable because it can be difficult to make a living off non-retail sites. The content is great but it's just finding that balance. Without advertising, a lot of people's businesses and livelihoods wouldn't work. So it's certainly a necessary part of the creative industries. You know, there's a time and place for everything and there's a time and place for advertising.
RR: For sure. Recently I've been hearing a lot about the ramifications of everyone running their advertisements through Google or Facebook. Because you have Facebook, Instagram and Google and suddenly they've been skyrocketed to the biggest companies in the world at the moment. All of this advertising revenue is just being funnelled directly to them. That's something I think that, a lot of people haven't thought about. I've kind of been in a few advertising agencies in my time at university doing internships and stuff. That's something that's not really thought about too much. From what I've seen and know because that's a huge chunk of the local economy that is effectively just being moved to America.
ES: Yeah. Well it's a bit political at the moment because it turns out some of them don't appear to have been paying all of their taxes and it’s likely that a lot of that income would have been generated from this kind of advertising. It's difficult because you want healthy competition, but when you talk about companies like Google, Facebook and Instagram, it's difficult to find alternatives that give people a financial income from it. There are alternatives out there but the bigger brands have the capacity to make their service more accessible.
For example, there are a lot of people who operate almost solely on Facebook as businesses. In that situation, accessibility is paramount. So yeah, it's a difficult one. I certainly don't have the solution myself. An interesting development recently is the whole advert halfway through
I don't know if you've experienced that? That for me is awful. It's sort of like, if you went to the cinema and then halfway through the film you get all the promo stuff that you used to get at the start of the film. Put it at the start and people will sit through it.
RR: I think it also becomes even more of an issue for me because I know that they have no intention to have any form of revenue sharing with the people who are creating these videos. With YouTube, a portion of the revenue goes to the creators which is great. It's probably not enough but it's something. With Facebook, there is just zero talk about that at all. It just doesn't sit right.
ES: It's sort of like everyone's got their own digital billboards with their own viewership and I guess there’s room for content creators to get underpaid. But yeah, I don't know the details of it in regards to how much people make off those things.
RR: Yeah. It's not a great situation. I think that it's something I think we've got to face in the future. When you have a small business you can't be spending, I don't know, twenty thousand dollars on a bus shell ad. You can spend 200 dollars and reach 50,000 people on Facebook. So you can't blame anyone.
ES: Digital advertising isn't going to go anywhere and for the most part, it's incredibly cost effective. We can't ignore the benefits of it. It's certainly a fantastic way for small businesses and startups to reach people. Maybe some restrictions need to come into play in the future to address how people use it. I like getting tailored content but it would be great to see a company like Facebook give you complete control over the personal information that's being gathered. If this is our information, it would be nice to see our individual digital fingerprint so to speak, 'This is what we have gathered, this is what we think you like,'. It's like the whole one time purchase thing that always creeps in. For example, you need to buy a dishwasher, you end up buying a dishwasher and you're really happy with your dishwasher. But for the following three weeks you see dishwasher ads everywhere because somewhere along the line Google or Facebook figured out you're looking for a dishwasher.
RR: That creeps me out.
ES: I guess what catches you off guard is when you think, 'Well, wait a second, I didn't actually look for a dishwasher on Facebook but I'm getting those ads on Facebook’. You can tell there's a network of information being shared about you through all your accounts. I guess we're dipping into privacy here but yeah, it's an interesting subject.