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Branded by an Ethical Framework

Throughout the quarter in Ethics, we have been building out an ethical framework as a means to test and check problem scenarios to, now and in the future. Getting to this point has been pretty challenging, it’s often felt like a dump of ideas, starred notes, and ethereal situations that are hard to ground in real life. I needed a way to bring these ideas together and build the rough draft of what should be my ethical framework as a designer for the future, and to do that I revisited a concept that I was familiar with.

I have always enjoyed branding and logo design, and thought the idea of attaching an ethical framework to a brand could be a powerful message. What if all of the brands we know shared the sub-structure of decision making that went into new product launches and deployments? I think some companies already wear a lot on their sleeve, but a mission statement is not the same as the thought process behind development. This is probably because a lot of the decisions that we throw at the framework may run counter to the idea of capitalism.

This is not to sound anti-capitalistic, but I do believe there is a level of greed and a myopic view towards investor earnings reports that has pushed ethics to the side. So what if a company was built around ethics in the first place? Would that change our expectations as consumers, and what about as investors? It’s an idea I want to continue to tease out throughout the remainder of my time at AC4D, but this seemed like a prime opportunity to think about it at a deeper level.

To explain the brand quickly, it is an idea that I have carried in my head for some time as a way to represent myself. The letters KNGSN are pronounced king-son or king-sun. This derives from two things, the idea that we are all beholden to the sun to survive. It makes the grass grow and the world go round, literally. The other half is that my father’s name is Kingsley and he goes by King, so I am King’s son. I couldn’t decide which spelling so I did the cool hipster thing and took out all the vowels. The icon represents a king’s crown and also a rising sun. I didn’t think of this solely for this presentation, it’s something I have worked on in the past, but this seemed like a great opportunity to put it to use.

For the rest of this blog post, I’m going to talk through the steps that I took to arrive at this framework, and hit on a few areas I feel are important to me.

Framework Presentation

Like I said earlier, trying to pull my cavalcade of ideas seemed a bit daunting. I had dug through my notes and found points of interest and quotes that spoke to me and tried to find a way to position them that made sense. I did a lot of digging around for existing architectures that inspired me, and found many good examples along with a few not so much.

Framework Presentation (1)

I experimented with different diagrams, thinking about how to work what was essentially a series of gut check questions, into an order that made sense. One idea that stood out was thinking about it through the phases of design. I tried categorizing the questions into areas like concept development, prototyping, and launch. It seemed decent, but it was not resonating with me, as some of it felt forced into a bucket that maybe wasn’t right.

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So instead, I fell back on the branding, and put that at the center. The mantra “keep your island beautiful” lives below it,, which is a personal saying I like to reference to think about problems from a micro to a macro level. Your island can be your mind or your body, something you need to take care of to be in the right head space for design. Your island can also expand, being maybe your office desk, or  your house, something you care about and want to maintain. Further than that, your island becomes  your community, your state, your country. Moving outwards, we should start to share this compassion we gave to ourselves and spread it to others. Ultimately, our world is an island that we are all inhabitants of, and thinking globally through design is necessary when we view things through time and scale.

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After that, I took the highlights of the quarter and re-wrote them onto post-it notes and found themes between them or general sentiments they were conveying. This allowed me to think of aspects as self-reflecting, as well as projecting ideas outwards. I created the groups Present-Past-Future for myself, and Create-Grow-Plan-Reflect to project. It helped me to ground myself with a statement, to understand the location in the framework before asking questions. All of this came together in what is my current framework, but surely not the last edit of it.

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Looking ahead, I want to run more scenarios of what a startup company might look like if it followed a framework form the beginning, and especially if it put that framework out open to the public. I believe it would make for more accountability, more transparency, and a deeper connection to the products we buy and use. It would build trust and alignment, and in theory a more loyal customer base.

One thing I have taken away from this quarter of ethics is that having these conversations is important, and good to share with others outside of the design community. It is something we need to keep front of mind, and not let it slip away or just be lazy about. I believe, lack of attention is equal to bad intention.