Design as a Social and Political Force
Article by: Katherine McCoy
Pages 2-8

Table of Contents


A design has no more integrity than its purpose or subject matter. Garbage in, garbage out.”[1]
This introductory essay is a justification for all of the essays that follow it. Katherine McCoy makes the argument that designers must see themselves not just as neutral, objective messengers, but as advocates for the messages they help deliver. Since design is a powerful tool that can be used to good and bad ends, designers are obliged to acknowledge the responsibility they have for the work they do. However, there has been an increasing trend in designers eschewing imagery and content for metaphorical "white lab coats," the "myth of universal, value-free design - that design is a clinical process akin to chemistry, scientifically pure and neutral, conducted in a sterile laboratory environment with precisely predictable results."[2]
McCoy argues that sterile objectivity in design is nothing but a myth, a façade designers affect in order to avoid responsibilities. She points out that there are moral considerations even in the most objective and scientific of fields, citing Oppenheimer. McCoy urges designers to resist self censorship and to not be afraid to imbue designs with the socio-political context in which they were created.


I agree that designers must consider the moral implications of the work they do. Design used as social and political force is a real thing.


  • McCoy, Katherine (1993). "Good Citizenship: Design as a Social and Political Force", Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne, Citizen Designer.

  1. ^ McCoy 1993, p. 6
  2. ^ McCoy 1993, p. 3