Mary Faber

Founder and Designer at Faber & Lo

"This world can be rather dog-eat-dog. If you don't do the job, another designer will."

Raphael Roake: I was wondering whether you view design in that sort of sense? Do you feel as if you have an ethical obligation when you’re undertaking design work? Or is it a purely commercial, 9-5 thing?
Mary Faber: It’s easy to put on the rose-tinted glasses and want to apply a holistic ethics to everything we produce. But at the end of the day, design is basically commercialised art. It is a commercial zone working towards outcomes that have value, be that economic or otherwise. So while, yes, I do think there is a certain obligation to undertake work in an ethical way, I guess this is also about your own perceptions of what is or isn’t ethical… and that varies with each individual.

RR: Is the ethics of the project or client values something you consider when a client approaches you?
MF: I guess, yes, although it may not be my first thought. But up until this point I can’t say that I’ve worked with a client that’s made me question my ethics, or at least not at the time. If, for instance, a tobacco company knocked on my door and said, ‘Hey we want you to do an artwork for this thing’, or ‘We want to advertise, X Y Z’, that’s when I’d think, ‘Is this about money to me now? Or is this something that could negatively affect the people to which are exposed to and might be influenced by it?’ But that as an example is more black and white than most clients. So while I haven’t had a client that’s directly made me question my own ethics or morals, it can be a grey area. At the moment I’m working with a non-for-profit organisation and I’m charging them the same rate that I charge everybody else. I did stop to think, ‘Is that fair? Should I be doing this for less, or free?’ But then I figured, actually no – they approached me as one business to another and even though they’re a non-for-profit they’re still a business.
RR: So I saw on your website, were you involved in the ‘Industrie’ collection that was designed?
MF: I was marginally involved, although that was more under Alice’s [Mary's business partener] umbrella – she worked with the client in Sydney and managed the project. However I did help with the finer refinement of the new logo.
RR: Why I bring that up is, I haven’t personally looked into it, but did you guys look into their business practice and their manufacturing practices or anything like that?
MF: Not at all, at least I didn’t. So that’s a totally valid question, you’re right. At the time Alice was working on it she was sub-contracted to them and I would guess it probably wasn’t a consideration to be honest. At that point she was probably of the mindset, ‘great i’ve got a job and it’s something that I love doing’. It would be quite interesting to see what she says about that. I might email her that question.
RR: Do you think that that's a designers role to say to these people who might have been doing this particular thing for 100 years and then they hire a visual designer and we say, ‘How you’re doing this is isn’t sustainable’. Is that our place to do that?
MF: I guess that's up to the designer – it's up to their own moral standards and ethics. The thing is, this world can be rather dog-eat-dog. If you don't do the job, another designer will. That's just the nature of the beast because you’ve got companies like Fiverr and Freelancer.com and they're certainly not asking any of those questions. People can just put an ad up, ‘I need a logo’, and it could just be a name with no background or context and they will get a design back, regardless of the logo’s purpose or company background. I think so much of the world wouldn't ask those questions. So yeah, I think it's up to the designer. But it is great to start creating awareness for designers to be asking these questions because even if it doesn't change that company, it’s planting a seed. Enough seeds planted will create growth eventually. It's a really hard juxtaposition for me and it's hard to say.