5.1 Limitations of Research

Throughout the course of this research, many limitations were encountered. The first and most limitation was the lack of time to conduct research. Qualitative research methods such as focus groups and interviews were incredibly time-consuming, and with the broad scope of coverage that comes with the subjects of design responsibility and ethics, it has been difficult to gain enough insight needed to confidently and comprehensively tackle the paper’s research questions. While the initial target of 20 students, 10 professionals and 5 educators were met, this paper recognizes that a larger sample size has to be pursued if one wishes to properly meet the requirements set out in the beginning of the research paper.

For focus groups, one limitation met was the overwhelming number of students that originated from one institute. As mentioned, out of 24 number of students, 21 are from LASALLE College of the Arts. This is partially due to the difficulty that comes with arranging focus groups with people from external institutes, as well as poor reception from outside students. Furthermore, qualitative research methods such as focus groups and interviews face the limitation of unpredictability — participants may sometime be unable to respond for various reasons, such as absence due to unforeseen circumstances. As such, while the initial target sample size was achieved, there have been instances where some participants could not answer a few questions due to being absent.

As proven by this paper, ethics is a sensitive and relatively alien consideration in Singapore. As such, results gained through interviews and focus groups may not have been unbiased. It is conceivable that participants might have been inclined to providing politically correct — and thus less than honest — answers because they know they were recorded. Furthermore, by complying to some participants’ request of viewing the questions asked before the interview, this research may have also allowed participants to “prepare” answers that once again may be biased. Another consequence of design ethics being a sensitive subject is the fact that many have refused to be interviewed. It is a possibility that the participants who have initially agreed to be interviewed have only done so because ethics was something that they were already interested in, or had first-hand knowledge about, and does were confident to discuss about it. Potential participants who may have had a fresh but deviant perspective may thus be missed out upon.

On the overall, the research methods used may not have been sufficient to form a clear and comprehensive understanding of the local industry, as well as to properly fill the identified gaps in the literature because of the mentioned gaps. It was also difficult to ascertain if the results gained were biased, and to the extent of how biased it is. But in light of the limitations faced, this research believes it has attempted its best in meeting the requirements of this paper.

Time, sample size & sensitivity

5.2 Concluding Statement

The potential for damage from irresponsible design and advertising is profound.

This research is far from perfect. Given the opportunity, there would be many amendments to the way that this research was conducted. But amidst the few truly conclusive statements that this research has made, the one that is clearest, most indisputable and also the most troubling is this — people have practically made potentially life-threatening decisions as a direct result of design irresponsibility. (Forlizzi & Lebbon, 2006) Given design and advertising’s prevalence in our society, it has the far-reaching potential to alter the very way that the public behaves and perceives the things around them. Once again, this research put forth two statements made by Berman (2009): ‘The average American encounters over 3,000 promotional visual messages each day (up from 560 in 1971).’ and (Berman, 2009, p. 53) ‘The age at which children recognize that advertising is not always truthful is around eight.’ (Berman, 2009, p. 89) What belies these two statements is the infinitely profound and ominous implication that whether we like it or not, design and advertising have now formed an intrinsic part of the development of our modern youth. Simply imagine the consequences if design irresponsibility is allowed to manifest more than it already has — to say it is a chilling thought is a gross understatement.

It is then a dire thing that from the research conducted, there is the problematic trend of the considerations of design responsibility and ethics being lacking in a local context. This is proven by the fact that local institutes mostly do not cover these topics in their curriculum, as well as the observation that students appear to be generally jaded or apathetic. There is also the possibility that local professionals operate on very different scale of ethics — while the subjectivity of ethics allows for flexibility, the majority response that many professionals have not yet encountered any ethical situations proves to be somewhat troubling.

Locally, there is little discussion on these issues.


Ethics in design may be in its infancy and is fraught with subjectivity, but this research believes that it has identified some key factors that may be a useful start in the quest to define a working code of ethics for the profession of graphic design. Defining a code of ethics for graphic designers can no longer be argued to be a superfluous thing or a pursuit of the moralistic. It has become a must — a necessity. Doctors, lawyers and other professions have already gone a long way in terms of defining a set of ethics. With graphic design’s increasing prevalence, it should be of the utmost priority of the graphic design community in general to arrive at a consensus of how designers should behave, and what responsibilities they entail. This is not only for the sake of society, but also for designers. As Roberts (2006) mentions, the Aristotelian point of view is that is happiness is the primary driving factor in the decisions that people make. Perhaps that is the answer — we will have known that a successful code of ethics has been devised when it has ultimately helped designers achieve happiness.

Ethics is subjective and tricky;

but it can be tackled.


5.3 Recommendations for Future Research

Over the course of this research, there have been numerous considerations of how future attempts of researching the same topic could be done in a more effective and comprehensive manner. These considerations have been framed into suggestions tailored specifically for students who may be interested in doing a similar research in future.

The first and foremost consideration one has to consider before taking on a research on this topic is time. It is highly recommended that one does not pursue this topic if he or she only has one year to do so. In the local context, ethics is currently a sensitive topic. And in the grand scale of things, ethics is a huge subject with many fields to cover. It is in the opinion of this research that much more time is required if one wishes to achieve clear and unbiased results.

Pursue a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods. One may help to uncover possible biases in the other, and having a mix of varied research methods will be helpful to provide evidence for any judgement you might make from analysing one’s research results. If time would allow for it, look into different research analysis methods as well. It is imperative to cover all grounds if one wishes to tackle design ethics with the goal of being precise and practical. In the process of analysing results, consider sharing your insights with well-known critics in this field as well.

Consider interviewing people who were once in the industry. Participants who are currently professional designers may give the most relevant insight on the state of the creative industry, but they might also be prone to giving politically correct answers precisely because they are still part of the said industry. Designers who were once professionals but have either retired or left have no such bearings, and as such may be able to provide more truthful answers.

It is important to argue whenever the situation requires it. If one is interviewing people, or is performing other qualitative research methods that involves discussion, one has to ensure that the insight gained from participants is clear and not ambiguous. Uncover any fallacies or contradictions that one has found and pose them back to the participants. Such is yet another useful manner of learning whether or not the answers gained are truthful or are merely a result of the participant trying to be politically correct.

And finally, it is recommended to extend one’s scope of research to studying ethics in general, if time would allow it. It might be helpful to research the philosophical and theoretical side of ethics before attempting to tackle the applied form of ethics in design.