An/Aesth/Ethics: the ethical potential of design

Design is often thought of as an activity seeking to change existing situations into preferred ones (Simon, 1969). But how are designers to discern what the nature of this “preferred” change should be? What would it mean to truly design ethically? In the admirable but naïve quest to improve situations through design, it is possible to end up bypassing the ethical altogether. Design can aesthetically provide the appearance and sensation of ethicality without the inconvenience of actually having to be ethical. Ethical discomfort is anaesthetisedthrough the process of aestheticising ethics: an/aestheticisation. Beginning with visual communication design, but maintaining a view to the applicability and importance of the argument for broader fields of design, this paper presents the case that there is hope for genuinely ethical design in an increasingly aestheticised world by drawing on German philosopher of aesthetics Wolfgang Welsch’s suggestion that the root of ethics can be found to emerge from within the aesthetic itself. Design, which for so long has been a principal contributor to an/aestheticisation, contains within itself – precisely due its aesthetic nature – the potential to return feeling to a society which finds itself constantly numbed to true ethical being.

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