Response and Responsibility: Promoting Responsible Thinking in Graphic Design Education


Now, more than ever, it is essential that students of graphic design take responsibility for the messages portrayed in their work. Current social and political climates demand considered, well-researched and articulate items of communication. Ignore this responsibility and our future design professionals run the risk of repeating the errors of the past: items of design that offend, pollute or simply misinform.

Graphic Design is everywhere. Whether we, as the public, are aware of it or not, we engage with it daily, from admiring the exquisite elements of our Apple products, to navigating our way through the pages of a daily newspaper, to disposing of our empty packaging into its appropriate recycle bin. Graphic Design has an enormous audience, and its responsibility to that audience cannot be understated. I fear however, that it has become so much a part of our existence we have come to take it for granted – perhaps, too much so. As the saying goes: familiarity breeds contempt.

With approximately 200 graduates from tertiary graphic design programs entering the public arena each year in Victoria alone, it is imperative that they are suitably armed with the intellectual capabilities required to produce responsible design solutions. An awareness of: gender and sexual politics; cultural and religious sensitivities; and ecological impacts, are just some of the issues contemporary designers will face in an average design career.

Through analysing the works of contemporary designers, historical precedents and student-based projects, this paper aims to highlight ways in which graphic design education transcends a mere concern with aesthetics, to become a responsible and valued contributor to an already cluttered visual landscape. Whatever our students add, it must be of value.

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Gene Bawden completed a Bachelor of Arts (Graphic Communication) at Chisholm Institute of Technology in Melbourne. In 1988, he began working at the Melbourne newspaper The Age then later moved to The Herald Sun as an editorial designer and illustrator. Since 1997, he has lectured full-time in graphic design, typography and illustration at Monash University, Faculty of Art & Design.