Perspectives on Responsible Design among Minority Millennial Graphic Designers

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  • Title: Perspectives on Responsible Design among Minority Millennial Graphic Designers
  • Author(s): Miriam Ahmed
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Design Principles & Practices
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Design in Society
  • Keywords: Responsible Design, Graphic Design, Advertising, Ethics, Minority, Millennial, Ken Garland, First Things First, Milton Glaser, Road to Hell, Mancur Olson, Collective Action, Group Theory
  • Volume: 12
  • Issue: 4
  • Year: 2018
  • ISSN: 2325-1328 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2325-1360 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Ahmed, Miriam. 2018. "Perspectives on Responsible Design among Minority Millennial Graphic Designers." The International Journal of Design in Society 12 (4): 29-44. doi:10.18848/2325-1328/CGP/v12i04/29-44.
  • Extent: 16 pages


“Responsible design”—a controversial movement spanning decades of graphic design discussion—resurged in 2017 after the US election of Donald Trump. Despite the ethics movement, design and advertising are not predominantly viewed as responsible. Additionally, pre-existing literature primarily conveys the homogeneous perspectives of White, male, mid- to upper-class designers and largely relies upon practitioners’ lore. To broaden the evaluation basis of responsible design, this study contributes the underrepresented perspectives of millennial designers who are African American, Asian, Black, Hispanic/ Latino/ Spanish, Middle Eastern, and Multi-racial or multi-ethnic (“minority” designers and designers “of color”) who increasingly occupy the larger future of the field given US population shifts. This study breaks new ground in applying the socio-economic framework of Mancur Olson’s collective action theory—specifically, his by-product and special-interest theories. Twenty minority, millennial designers completed an online questionnaire based on an amalgamation of Ken Garland’s 1964 “First Things First” manifesto and Milton Glaser’s 2000 “The Road to Hell” test with open-ended and Likert scale practice-based and attitudinal measurement questions. The qualitative textual analysis of thematically-coded responses showed that most of the designers’ responsibility efforts were neither spurred by organized action nor incentives, but were independent, uncompensated initiatives. Olson’s theory that successful collective action requires sophisticated organization and incentives might help explain why the wider responsible design movement is struggling. Instead, the participants’ personal values linked to minority status, cultural background and education proved powerful motivators encouraging responsible design, but were sometimes countered by capitalist advertising clients, under-compensation, and financial constraints.