First things Next

The First things Next design studio ran in Semester 1 2020 at RMIT, and explored the ethics of graphic design. Working on real world briefs, our studio considered how to practice ethical design and be a socially responsible designer in a professional context. We investigated what ethics in design means practically, professionally, and morally. This studio functioned to inspire and equip students to continually study, practice, and develop ethical design work.

The studio drew on the work of Paul Nini, Mike Monteiro, and Sasha Costanza-Chock (among others) with a particular focus on the ethical obligations of designers to the people who will use/see/engage with their designs. We covered topics such as representation, bias, privilege, power, design justice, codes of conduct, respectful design, and a range of design manifesto’s from 1964 to 2020.

Within the studio we reflected upon our personal and collective values to evaluate the cultural and social impact of our work. We explored our profession’s responsibilities to audience members or users, specifically those who will experience the work we create on a daily basis.

Students learnt to identify and recognise ethical issues and be able to articulate, communicate, and present well informed debates about these themes and ideas. Students presented a series of personal values and principles, which led to the development of an ethical framework for their design practice. These frameworks enabled students to develop a creative, inclusive, and empathetic approach to ethical design practice and to creatively visualise their ethical stance as communication designer. Some student examples are featured within this post.

” I wanted to drop you a line to say thank you for such an incredible studio! This was by far the best studio I’ve ever taken at RMIT (and it was also my last one ever!) I feel like I have learned and grown so much. These were also the most enjoyable assignments I’ve undertaken. 😊 Thank you so much for all of the time you’ve spent giving me detailed feedback and also for being really supportive through the ups and downs of this semester, I really appreciate it. I’m going to be bookmarking all of the amazing content you’ve put on canvas for future reference.”


“Over the course of the past 12 weeks, this studio has opened my eyes to what ethics in the design industry means and how I can continue to grow and implement what I’ve learned into my design practice. Our studio this semester has been a mini community that has been supportive, engaging and full of beneficial conversations. Nicola was possibly the most supportive and friendly teacher I’ve had. Her feedback always helped me progress and I knew that Nicola would take in my opinions and views as designers. This studio has given me a wealth of knowledge and confidence in an area of design that intimidated me in the beginning.”

“This studio has had an immense impact on me by developing my personal ethics and refining my technical ability to argue for them, critically analyse my field and practice in accordance to my informed ethical stance. I also want to share this info with other designers and provide insight that is unfortunately quite hard to find unless you take a class like this.”