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14 April 2020

Member communications from the International Council of Design

World Design Day (WDD) is an opportunity to recognise the value of design and its capacity for change in the world — and to celebrate the birthday of

For World Design Day 2020 our theme is “Be Professional!” — a reflection on the designer's role, not only in designing, but in our greater responsibilities towards humanity, the planet and culture.

Dear Member

This year we have decided to concentrate World Design Day on virtual activities. Now is as important a time as ever to discuss the importance of professionalism in the practice of design and we hope that you and your members, students and community will participate in this exercise with us!

The basis for this year's theme is our reflection on the importance of developing an update to our resource document Model Code of Professional Conduct for Designers.  As you know, we are in the middle of a process that was shared with the General Assembly and Platform in Vancouver in December.

The breakout sessions we had with you brought to the forefront some of the specific challenges that designers are facing today. It also reinforced our belief that design is, in fact, a professional practice. And that our disciplines face an increasingly urgent need to position themselves that way.

In preparation for the online conversations that will start this week, we have posted the four TOPICS below. We think that in order to have a productive interaction we should share common principles and we encourage you to give us our feedback about any aspects of what we have posted. Based on these notions, we will start posting targeted questions to designers, future designers, and design educators about how they view their own professionalism. The conversation will be held via our facebook group "World Design Day".

To participate in World Design Day 2020 we encourage you to:
join the World Design Day facebook group as your organisation's page
share some of the notions (below) with your members, students, teachers and your design community
share the World Design Day facebook group with your community and encourage them to participate!

Theme: Be Professional!
Many people claim to be "designers”. But what is the distinction between a “designer” and a "design professional"? If we maintain that design is not just a job, but actually a profession, like being an architect or a doctor or lawyer, then we must also accept the responsibilities and obligations that come with it. Being a design professional is not merely a badge of acceptance. The title implies adherence to a code of  professional behaviour; it implies that we have obligations towards society and that there are lines that we are professionally bound not to cross.

When we talk about professionalism in design, there are two parts to this:
— the way we behave (what we are calling ‘professional conduct’ below)
— the way we practice our profession (we are calling this ‘professional responsibility’ below)

Professional Conduct

As professionals, designers are bound to their professional community to uphold basic values of professional behaviour. Those include:

Integrity and Transparence

Above all, a designer should uphold the values of honour, dignity, truthfulness, honesty, morality, integrity and competence in everything they undertake.

Honouring Commitments

As a matter of professional reputation, designers should always honour their commitments to clients, suppliers, collaborators and employees.

Fair Competition

Competition among designers for contracts should be transparent and honest. No designer should: misrepresent themselves or their competitors, take credit for work that they did not create or make untrue claims or misleading statements about experience or level of qualifications, standing or affiliation.

Intellectual Property Rights

Whether applicable in the country in which a designer practices or not, the professional designer is beholden to understand and respect their own intellectual copyrights, the intellectual copyrights of other creatives and to transmit this information to clients. Designers must not use the work of others without their express consent and attributing proper credit, they must not take credit for the work of others, they must not copy the work of others, and they must not allow that their work be used without permission, copied, used un-credited. Designers must uphold these values strictly, respecting the intellectual property of other designers and creatives. Many design professions use inputs from other creative industries including photography, typography, textile design, patented components, written material, etc. When using the work of others, permissions must be obtained, licenses procured, and credit given.


It is easy to fall in love with our ideas, but we do not design for our own pleasure. Good design comes from the ability to accept criticism, be open-minded, work in teams, and listen (to experts, to the client, to the end-user, etc.).

Education of Others

It is the responsibility of designers to convey the value of good design to clients, end-users, government and the general public. They should be active advocates to show the potential of good design to address issues of health and safety, quality of life, environmental sustainability, inclusivity, accessibility, cultural diversity, etc.

Lifelong Learning

It is the responsibility of designers to maintain their knowledge base and be current on developments in the profession throughout their career.

What are other basic values of professional behaviour that professional designers should uphold?

Professional Responsibility

As professionals, designers are bound to humankind to uphold basic values of professional practice. Those include (but are not limited to):

Environmental Sustainability

Designers are responsible for implementing a rational utilisation of materials, manufacturing processes, energy usage, recyclability and re-usability by maintaining a critical contemporary understanding of the science and technologies necessary to create designs that minimise environmental impact. Designers should be aware of the ‘whole life cycle’ of their designs.


Accessibility should be a consideration. This includes people with mobility challenges, the elderly, people with special needs, children, new immigrants or people with language barriers, different genders, etc. Designers should strive to ensure accessibility to all.

Legal Compliance

Designers should uphold all legal obligations in the country they practice. This may relate to copyright legislation, font and image licensing, piracy, plagiarism and appropriation, as well as health and safety standards, environmental standards and reporting, adequate product testing, IP legislation, etc.

Data Use and Privacy

Current technologies based on data collection and mining make manipulation possible and as a consequence raise important privacy questions. Designers are well positioned to ensure that proper standards are introduced and maintained by their designs.

Human Dignity

The resulting outputs of design (i.e. dress, spaces, objects, media) have meaning, whether intentional or not and as such the values that the designs embody should not negatively affect any sector of society. Designers should uphold basic human dignity by considering the respectful portrayal of all people, i.e. gender identities, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, awareness of body image issues, etc.


Designers are responsible for the safety of not only the end-user of their products but also of all those impacted by their designs. Designers have a responsibility for the safety of not only the end-user of the deliverables but also for the multiple direct and indirect impacts of their designs through all stages of production, use and afterlife.

What are other basic values of professional ethics that professional designers should uphold?

Code of Conduct

Many national-level professional organisations have Codes of Conduct or Codes of Ethics for their members. If you want to know more about the standards in your country, you can look up your local association. We have compiled a list of many of the existing codes, which you can consult. The International Council of Design has a Model Code of Professional Conduct for Designers.

Codes of Conduct and Codes of Ethics are central to the definition of what professionalism is in design. We urge you to look at your home organisation's Code and that of the International Council and reflect on how your own practice of design adheres to these guidelines and values.

ico-D Model Code of Professional Conduct
Reading List

We put together a reading list on topics connected to design professionalism. This list includes a selection of articles and think-pieces both about design and the practice of design and also about issues connected to design that we pulled from the headlines.

Join us in reading up on some of these issues!

Reading List

The International Council of Design (ico-D) was founded as Icograda in 1963. The name changed in 2014 to reflect the Council’s focus shift towards multidisciplinarity.

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