The Design Responsibility

By: Stefan Rijnbeek

The Design Responsibility

By: Stefan Rijnbeek

W hen Papanek discussed a designer’s social and moral responsibilities in his book “design for the real world” he stated that: “not a single volume on the responsibility of the designer, no book on design that considers the public in this way, has ever been published anywhere”. Forty-seven years later, the design profession has developed enormously with a more conscious and ethical stance.



It can be argued however that many food products still convey information that consumers find misleading. This raises questions over how much of the responsibility to effectively communicate a product’s ingredients, origin and production should be left to graphic designers. With ethical production and conscious lifestyle choices becoming more prevalent in modern day society, to what extent do graphic designers have a say in how they inform the general public, and should they have more of a say?

The mass market food industry provides huge scope for graphic designers and packaging experts. This multi-billion pound industry provides a perfect example of the complex responsibility that lies in he hands of the graphic designer.

Milk, in layman’s terms, is something that we expect to come from a mammal such as a cow, goat or sheep. Other forms can be derived from certain plants, such as the thistle or a coconut. Such products are natural and, because of their history and origin, are trusted by the consumer.



However, if you were to see a picture of almonds on a bottle with the label “made from real almonds” you might be forgiven for expecting a mixture of pressed almonds, a small percentage of water, and possibly some preservatives or sugars to give it a longer shelf life and better taste.

I n a recent New York law suit against America’s best-selling almond milk producer, “Almond Breeze”, a study showed that customers expect 25-33% almond content. If you were to know that your average bottle of “almond milk” contains only 2% almond extract, with the rest of it being made up of water and preservatives then would you be as happy to call it “milk” rather than an almond flavoured drink?

The attorney leading the law suit stated that the real question is to whether “they are deceiving consumers about the quantity of the ingredients by calling it milk”. We are clear in labelling the difference between ‘fresh juice’ and ‘juice drinks’, so why not with milk alternatives?

Does a simple bit of clear information change your decision on whether you would buy the product or not? Perhaps not, but having it there can help you adjust your daily food choices in a healthier, and more positive direction that brings us one step away from today’s negative food cultures.

Furthermore, it would force manufacturers to provide us with better products. This transparency over the nature of the product should lead the consumer towards buying better quality products. Just look at the movement of juices from concentrates was stopped in its tracks by the EU. In the early 2000’s, all orange juices were labelled as just that, mis-leading people into believing that what they were drinking was a fresh, healthy option, instead of another sugar-filled refreshment.

Often enough, your bottle of Capri-Sun had just as many harmful ingredients as a bottle of Cola, but it wasn’t until EU regulations were brought in that anything that wasn’t freshly squeezed would be labelled as a “juice drink” or ‘from concentrate’. If this could be done with orange juice, then why couldn’t this movement happen across all the products in our supermarkets?



M any would argue that the packaging designers behind these kinds of products have no power over the final shop-ready product. However, if you were to look deeper into the creative process behind the final decision making on packaging branding you would find that they do hold a lot more power than first meets the eye. Small changes in the designer’s mindset during their creative process, and realistically changing what their priorities are within the process could easily filter up to the decision makers within a company.

Being more open about the contents of food products has proven to work wonders for many companies, but it’s only with revolutionary branding design and marketing that it can be pulled off well. To get a clearer picture of how this can be achieved on a mass scale; consider what Innocent Drinks have done with their new range of dairy milk alternatives. Looking at this you can start to see the direction that other brands should be moving. Building a positive experience around using the product.

Papanek famously opened his book “design for the real world” he stated that “industrial design was one of the most harmful professions in the world”, but he also followed that up by saying “…and possibly only one profession is phonier – advertising design”. The design industry has progressed with far reaching consequences since its publication. We can now see clearly the benefit of responsible design in so many areas of society. Graphic design and packaging should be no different. The designer always has power and the influence of the designer of society should never been taken for granted.

W e may be sitting at the critical tipping point in history. Where consumers may have more power than the corporations that have always directed the markets. It is the right time for the designers to step up and take the risk, be more open with their branding, and put their morals higher on their priority list of the creative process behind packaging, sales and design.

As always, we’d love to hear what you have to say. So let us know what you think or if you have any questions or comments! You can email me or a member of the team via the website contact page or at

We look forward to hearing from you. Follow us on Instagram to see our latest goings on and sign up to our newsletter to receive all our updates and articles!

Disclaimer: This blog is a non-profit educational facility for a worldwide community. All images are taken under the Education Fair Use title. All images used are sourced by us for use in educating and informing our audience to the best of our ability. If any persons or agencies find us in fault and would like us to stop using their image/s please contact us directly and we will remove the image indefinitely without issue.