Ethical Dimensions of Art and Design

By: TAI Professor Mark Allen

As someone who has studied both art and philosophy, people regularly ask me what, if anything, they have in common. While I think that there are many fascinating ways in which these two domains overlap, one similarity that I find particularly interesting is the intersection of ethics and aesthetics.

One way that ethics and aesthetics are similar is that they both deal with value. When we say that a painting or a deed is “good,” at least one of the things we mean is that the thing or action in question has value. When we say that a painting or a deed is “bad,” at least one of the things we mean is that it has little value, or even negative value insomuch that it diminishes our experience of life or the world around us. It’s why we use words like “beautiful” and “ugly” interchangeably to describe both artistic works and moral acts.

– That was a beautiful song. 

– That was a beautiful thing you did. 

– That sculpture is ugly. 

– That was a really ugly thing to say. 

In other words, murder is not merely wrong, there is something truly ugly about it. And when a painter puts the final brushstroke on the canvas, there is something distinctly right about it. So, there seems to be an aesthetic dimension to the moral life and an ethical dimension to the aesthetic.

Whether it be moral or artistic, things of value improve our lives in some way. But it is important to point out that many of the things we value most (like good art and good deeds) are worth pursuing for their own sake, regardless of any utilitarian benefit we get out of them. Sure, listening to certain types of music can lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. Those who live a life of kindness and generosity often experience the rush of positive feelings and a general sense of well-being. Such benefits are real and welcome, but nonetheless secondary. Good music is valuable even if it doesn’t reduce our heart rate (sometimes it does just the opposite). Acts of kindness and generosity often go unnoticed and lead to self-sacrifice.

Another thing that the spheres of ethics and aesthetics share is the concept of wisdom. No one appreciates it when their difficult seasons or ethical dilemmas are met with oversimplified advice and platitudes from those who mean well, but lack the awareness and nuanced sensitivity that a situation calls for. so often life doesn’t seem to play by any rules, which is why—when things gets complicated—we seek out the counsel of the wise, not just the intelligent or talented. Nor those who have simply memorized a rigid code of conduct: Always do this. Never do that.

Of course, it’s important to start with the “unbreakable” rules that all people everywhere value: don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie. We instruct children to tell the truth, to be kind and to respect their elders. And yet, as they mature we explain that there may come a time when other rules come into play. When a stranger asks if a parent is home; when a bully is cruel to the weak or marginalized; when an adult behaves inappropriately toward a child. It such cases, it’s not time to be nice. But the proper responses in these situations are not somehow violations of the fundamental moral principles of truth, kindness and respect—quite the contrary, the fitting responses are based on and upheld by the most basic fundamentals.

Over the course of my career I’ve been able to witness these parallels play out in the classroom, particularly my design classes. [1] Pick up any good textbook on the topic and more than likely you’ll find a set of rules that, when followed, lead to good design. My go-to text for beginners is Timothy Samara’s Design Elements, which starts off with just such a section entitled, “Twenty Rules You Should Never Break.” Here Samara makes it clear that students of design should:

#4 Never use more than two typefaces. 

#8 Never fill up all the negative space in a layout. 

#18 Always make sure your composition is dynamic and full of motion.” [2]

I like Samara because he is great for beginners in that he gives clear-cut, easy-to-follow rules that help students avoid some of the most common pitfalls that the untrained or self-taught designer may struggle with. However, the complaint I frequently get after a few weeks is that Samara’s method is a very strict and narrow way to approach such an artful discipline. I mean, is the process of design really just a set of rules? A flowchart of do’s and don’ts?

In one sense, I think my students are right to complain—the book does start off in a rather rigid fashion. Always do this, never do that. But the other big reason I use this text is the way Samara ends the book with a chapter devoted to examples of how each and every one of his twenty rules can be broken. Of course, Samara saves this chapter for the end because he is a seasoned professional and an experienced educator. He knows that, until students master the fundamentals, they have not yet developed the aesthetic savvy needed to flex foundational principles like an experienced pro. The fact that Samara offers up twenty ways to break his twenty rules is not proof that aesthetic relativism is true; it only reveals that both skill and experience are needed in order to become a good designer.

When teaching through this text I always stress that Samara does not end his book by saying “Now, throw out all the rules I mentioned earlier and do whatever you want because, after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” If this were true we could choose type, color and style arbitrarily, despite the context or meaning of the work. By contrast, Samara provides detailed, illustrated examples of legitimate exceptions—not contradictions. It’s why the actual name of his final chapter is When and Why to Break Every Rule in this Book.”

Personally, I wish Samara had used a different word than “break” because it’s not as if he is teaching students to actually violate or contradict any fundamental rules of design here. He’s making an appeal to a higher (yet complementary) set of principles that can only be properly wielded with a great deal of knowledge and experience. The examples he gives are exceptions based on more advanced rules that don’t translate well into pithy lists, templates or 140 characters—methods that are the domain of master designers and artists. Perhaps there is a proper time and place for truisms and templates, but with complex themes and problems comes the need for artists who have more than just a set of skills, but in a very real sense demonstrate a certain kind of artistic wisdom.

Aristotle’s approach to ethics most closely embodies what I’m trying to demonstrate and is largely based on what is known as the Golden Mean—that is, finding a “middle” way between the extremes of deficiency and excess. For example, courage is a virtue with respect to how someone responds to danger—if taken to one extreme in excess, it becomes recklessness, while the deficient extreme manifests itself as cowardice. It is no accident that Aristotle uses art as a way to illustrate this concept in his Nicomachean Ethics:

“Hence people are accustomed to saying that there is nothing to take away from or add to works [of art] that are in a good state, on the grounds that the good state is destroyed by excess and deficiency but the mean preserves it; and the good craftsmen, as we say, perform their work by looking to this.” [3]

Aristotle says that we should always strive to be courageous (which might sound dogmatic). But he also says it’s important to take the particular person and situation into consideration (which might sound relativistic). But the beauty of his system is that the mean is not the exact middle, nor is it always found in the same place along the continuum between excess and deficiency. [4] Some situations call for the courageous person to act in a way that is closer to the reckless end of the spectrum, while in other situations what is courageous may seem like cowardice. For instance, a 6’4” military officer who wrestles an armed terrorist to the ground in order to save a train full of people vs. Rosa Parks who simply refused to give up her seat on a bus. Both people did the right thing—the equally courageous thing—but they did so in a way that was fitting for each context. [5]

In summary, when it comes to ethics, the well-lived life certainly comes with its fair share of rules—but it is the wise among us who are most skilled at navigating life’s complex seasons and dilemmas with earned experience and a familiarity with those moral principles of a higher but complementary order. Likewise, the fundamentals of art and design are inescapably important—in fact they form the only foundation from which more advanced skills and principles can be applied or even thought. The fact that such striking parallels show up across the seemingly unrelated disciplines of art and philosophy reveals something significant about the world and our shared experience of it—namely, that values like truth, goodness and beauty are perhaps aspects of reality itself and represent common goals toward which all humanity strives (whether we are conscious of it or not).

 

NOTES: 

[1] While I will focus here on parallels between philosophy and design, it should be noted that legendary advertising icon, Bill Bernbach, studied philosophy at NYU and remained an avid reader of philosophical works throughout his life. In fact, in a speech speech he gave to the 4A’s (the American Association of Advertising Agencies) in 1980, he specifically mentions Aristotle, St. Augustine and Bertrand Russell (among other thinkers) and relates their work to the task of advertising.

[2] Samara, Design Principles, pp. 10-23.

[3] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1106b 10-14.

[4] It is important to note here that the “middle” state that Aristotle advocates is not the exact middle or “average” between extremes, but rather a mean relative to the situation. With this feature, Aristotle’s ethics avoid the moderation fallacy (Ex: Jim isn’t paying attention and backs into Pam’s car. Even though it’s Jim’s fault, he offers to do what’s “fair” by meeting her in the middle and paying for half of the damages).

[5] Aristotle also points out that certain vices that are not on a continuum between extremes, so there is no mean. Ex: there is no “just right” amount of racism, cruelty or adultery.

Step Away From the Google Doc: Fostering True Collaboration

Step Away From the Google Doc
Fostering True Collaboration
by TAI Professor Amber Benson

 

Today, Jeff Bridges will deliver the final talk in the SMU Tate Distinguished Lecture series. Most college students know Jeff Bridges for his role as The Dude in the cult movie The Big Lebowski. Your film professors would probably remind you that he is also a seven-time Academy Award nominee, with a win in 2010 for his starring role as a down-on-his-luck musician in Crazy Heart.

But my first memory of Jeff Bridges was seeing him in a quirky science fiction movie called TRON. In it, Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a computer hacker that gets digitized–by a laser, no less–and trapped inside a mainframe computer. While there, he partners with other programs to break free and keep himself from de-rezzing (or dying). The special effects, which look like a bad 80s nightclub to a modern-day viewer, were groundbreaking. Although Disney updated the franchise (and Bridges reprised his role) in 2010, it’s worth checking out the original.

Or you could just visit one of my classes. Because I think the ghosts of TRON haunts the halls of Umphrey Lee.

Recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Whenever I encourage my students to work in groups, I watch as they circle up their desks, fire up their laptops and then go radio silent. They are sitting right next to one another, yet they are miles apart. And I know exactly what’s going on.

They are trapped in a Google Doc.

As a professor of digital advertising, I encourage my students to use technology to their advantage. I just wonder if that confab of multi-colored cursors in your browser is helping you achieve your goals. Sure, you are creating a document together, but are you actually creating value?

Value creation is at the heart of the advertising industry. As advertisers we create that value by turning insights into ideas. And to do that, we need to bring various perspectives to bear on the challenges our clients give us. And that requires more than mere collaboration. It requires dialogue.

The word dialogue has Greek origins, its roots are “dia,” which means “through” and “logos” which means “speech.” Dialogue literally means to “pass through speech.” It is the literal exchange of words that propels ideas forward.

Imagine that I give you a small piece of moldable clay and tell you to create a bust of Abraham Lincoln. You could try to do it yourself. You could make your best attempt and then give it to someone else to revise or edit. In the end, you might achieve your goal, but a linear, sequential process leaves little room for inspiration or optimization.

Alternatively, by working collaboratively, gathering team members and talking through the challenge, you are far more likely to achieve your goal and to do it in a shorter amount of time. Why? Like atoms bouncing off of one another, insights create energy when they are combined.  And once you hit on the perfect combination, that clarity provides momentum. When everyone fully “gets” the concept, then you delegate tasks without losing cohesion.

At one point in TRON, Kevin Flynn says, “On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.” Collaboration software, such as Google Docs and Slack, can be useful tools in coordinating team member contributions, but they cannot think for you. And that focus on finishing the assignment rather than solving the problem is “de-rezzing” your grades.

So, next time you get a group assignment, step away from the Google doc and toward a white board. Grab a pack of Post-Its and a Sharpie. Visualize your data. Start a dialogue.

Escape the machine.

TAI professor Amber Benson is a results-driven marketing executive and consultant with over 15 years of varied and progressive experience in strategy development, digital marketing, e-commerce and corporate communications. Benson is dedicated to building successful brands through design thinking, strategic intuition and relentless innovation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Navigating the Waters of Data-Driven Storytelling at SXSW Interactive 2018

Temerlin Advertising Institute graduate students Jessica Phillips and Catherine Scholl

Complexity, Complexity, Complexity

In an enlightening talk about data-driven storytelling, we heard from a panel of professionals about how they combine art and scientific data to execute seamless storytelling in their companies. The panel consisted of Renee Lightner, User Experience Technologist at Viacom, Russell Goldenberg, Editor at Polygraph / The Pudding, and Alex Simoes, CTO at Datawheel. Each member of the panel provided unique insight into perspectives and paradigms within data-driven storytelling through the lens of each of their respective disciplines.

Lightner opened by explaining the importance of online versus print graphics. Online graphics allow users to see the full picture and interact with the content, allowing for a better experience. A strategy she keyed in on was “complexity,” repeating a visual over and over so the reader grasps the content. Additionally, she said it’s important to allow the opportunity for the reader to explore the data on their own. Graphics should inform the reader while still allowing room for them to explore and take in the information at their own time in their own way.

Goldenberg explained the process that The Pudding goes through when providing content.

  • Start with an idea. Collect data. Analyze. Present.

The first three phases explore, while guidance is the final outcome. Great data does not matter – unless, it can be explained with a great guide. As we enter a world of AI with more data and more accurate data, consumers will be overwhelmed if it is not curated in meaningful ways.

Simoes’ approach to storytelling integrates data, extracts and matches entities and indicators, and builds integrated stories. Entities can be, for example, Los Angeles or coal mining, while the indicators within these categories can be something like exports or employment. Together, this information leads to integrated stories on the economy, education, health, etc. The outcome must be aggregated data that is easy to read, interactive, and entertaining. These three ideas seem to be a central theme to creating rich storytelling.

This panel was just one of so many incredible talks that we have attended this week. The atmosphere is absolutely electric as people immerse themselves in SXSW Interactive and all Austin has to offer.

SMU Students Skip Spring Break. Swarm South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive

Spring break at SXSW Interactive in Austin. A group of Temerlin Advertising Institute and SMU MA/MBA students launched into conference sessions including:

The SXSW Interactive Festival spotlights speakers at the developing edge of technology and those using technology in innovative ways. Dr. Steven Edwards, Director of the Institute and program leader at SXSW said, “We are here to explore how new tech and related issues are impacting the field of advertising and marketing communications.”

Temerlin Advertising Institute Students SXSW
Temerlin Advertising Institute Group in Austin at SXSW 2018
  • Students spend five intensive days exploring keynotes, panel sessions, speakers, and networking events to apply interactive technologies to advertising issues.
  • Students will interview key executives about issues in advertising at the intersection of new technologies.
  • In addition, students will maintain daily accounts and analysis of activities and meetings, contribute to a class blog, and will produce a paper on an assigned topic.

The 2018 conference breaks sessions into tracks on: Brands & Marketing, Design, Development & Code, Experiential Storytelling, VR/AR, and the Intelligent Future. There are also tracks focused on Government, Health, the Tech Industry, Style, Workplace, Food, Journalism, Social Impact, and Sports.

TAI faculty and staff are attending and are offering opportunities for meet-ups at the conference.

Students complete the experience by integrating knowledge from the conference with readings on Digital Disruption to produce a final paper solving a problem at work, identifying an emerging use for the technology explored, or researching a related topic in more depth.

Exposure to cutting edge technology, interacting with industry visionaries, and application of creative ideas across disciplines positions our students as unique in their fields. Bringing these ideas to work in current or new positions creates a point of differentiation that employers value.

As of hour three, Hannah Tymochko, Digital Media Strategy senior already believes, “It’s been amazing to see such a diverse group of people coming from all over the world to experience SXSW!”

TAI Hosts Visiting Scholar Dr. Sukki Yoon for Lecture on Speed-Induced Construal and Perceptions of Advertising Messages

Friday February 23, Temerlin Advertising Institute hosted a lecture by Visiting Scholar Dr. Sukki Yoon, associate marketing professor at Bryant University. Dr. Yoon discussed his research, “Slow Versus Fast: How Speed-Induced Construal Affects Perceptions of Advertising Messages,” with many SMU students, faculty and staff attending the lecture.

Through his research studies, Dr. Yoon addresses fundamental questions of consumer behavior: why and how people react to marketing communications. His research centers on Consumer Behavior but he is also interested in Branding, Integrated Marketing Communication, Consumer Psychology, International Advertising, Digital Marketing and Social Marketing.

Dr. Yoon provided a report of results of five studies investigating construals arising from the pace of commercials, which then affects consumers’ perceptions and responses.

“Dr. Sukki Yoon’s research provides important theoretical extensions to the construal level theory. It demonstrates that the speed of media stimulus can influence consumers’ cognitive processing. The findings offer useful information for the design and placement of advertising messages,” TAI Professor Dr. Yan Huang said.

Dr. Sukki Yoon lecturing to audience of SMU students, faculty and staff

Studies 1, 2, and 3 provide empirical evidence showing that slow-moving objects generate high-level construals and fast-moving objects generate low-level construals.

Studies 2 and 3 demonstrate that TV commercials featuring slow-moving objects will prompt high-level construals, which induces consumer preferences for desirability advertising appeals that emphasize product benefits and quality. Whereas TV commercials featuring fast-moving objects will prompt low-level construals and cause consumer preferences for feasibility advertising appeals that emphasize product benefits attributes and price.

Studies 4 and 5 demonstrate the same results when the same commercial is run slowly and rapidly.

SMU faculty and staff attending Dr. Yoon’s presentation

“Dr. Sukki Yoon’s lecture was very interesting in terms of how he connected a science theory with advertising. How fast pace music could speed up the path to purchase to process in stores, and how slow pace music can make people think more of their purchase before buying. His lecture was very well-spoken and simplified,” SMU student Chase Drexler said.

Dr. Yoon studies advertising and consumer behavior and has published articles in many international journals, served on editorial boards, and written columns for newspapers and magazines. He has previously taught advertising at Cleveland State University and has lectured as a visiting scholar at Grey Worldwide, Harvard, Sookmyung, Dongguk, and UNIST.

Temerlin Advertising Institute was honored to host Dr. Yoon for a lecture on his research. TAI is passionate about staying informed on all current topics in the advertising industry, hosting guest speakers periodically throughout the year.

 

SMU’s Inaugural Digital Accelerator Program

Entrepreneurship in Dallas is catching on like wildfire. Even Fortune 500s like AT&T are seeking a start-up culture to drive innovation. Innovation is great but must be managed effectively for business to succeed. Ever-changing technology landscapes and customer expectations means firms must understand how to harness these changes and create new valuable customer experiences that will thrive in the digital world.

Designed to meet the increasing demand for digital skills, the SMU Digital Accelerator trains working professionals in the skills needed to make sense of the complexity of real-world interactions and to apply what is learned to increase ROI within their company/organization. The Temerlin Advertising Institute’s first offering of the SMU Digital Accelerator was held at SMU-in-Plano November 14-17.

“We are pleased with the results of the inaugural Digital Accelerator program,” Managing Director of the SMU Digital Accelerator program Eric Greenberg said. “The feedback from the 30 executives who attended was very positive, and many firms have signed up for additional seats for the Winter and Spring sessions. While we are glad that the experience during the program was positive and getting repeat customers is fantastic, we are looking forward to following our alumni as they implement the ideas generated during the session back at their firm.”

The program had 30 participants representing 19 different companies. Most participants serve as directors/managers within their firm’s marketing/advertising, development or operations division(s). The four full-day in-person program provided interdisciplinary and hands on learning in eight topics: digital strategy, customer experience, design thinking, digital marketing, social media, driving innovation, big data, and digital transformation. Industry subject matter experts facilitated each module. The stand-out module that was a hit among participants was design thinking.

“We are also delighted with the caliber of senior thought leaders who participated as faculty for our inaugural program,” Greenberg said. “For example, Nicki Purcell, the Chief Digital Officer at the Dallas Morning News, did an outstanding job leading executives from firms such as Salesforce.com, Fedex, Cisco, AT&T, and Ericsson, through the design thinking module. Engaging them with hands-on exercises, they learned the tools and principles of design thinking generating innovative ideas to take back to their firms. We are privileged to have business leaders like Nicki as part of our faculty team, who are not only experts on the topics, but also bring real world experiences to share with the class.”

Some of the participants’ testimonials are featured below in a video about the Digital Accelerator.

For more information on the SMU Digital Accelerator program or to register for the next session, visit our website.

TAI Alumna Launches Startup Promoting Tourism in Developing Cities

Temerlin Advertising Institute alumna Karissa Jobman (’13) is combining her advertising acumen and love of travel through Bucket, a startup aimed to boost tourism activities in Quito, Ecuador and other developing cities. BucketLogoAbout Bucket
“Bucket started out of a vision to share the culture of Latin America with the world by making tourism more accessible to international markets” says Jobman. This vision came to her and fellow co-founder, Daniel Pino, through a serendipitous meeting while the two were working for Southwest Airlines in Dallas, Texas. In October 2014, their vision became a reality when Quito’s Tourism Bureau selected Bucket as a recipient of their tourism innovation competition.

Bucket’s purpose is to promote tourism in developing cities through partnerships with the top attractions in each city, providing technologically accessible, discounted, convenient ways to travel the world. Bucket combines entrance tickets to the top attractions in each partner city, offering one Bucket Pass with full access to each attraction at a discounted price. Travelers can purchase the pass online or by mobile device. The Bucket app also features attraction information and trips.

Bucket launches today, July 23, in Quito, Ecuador. Tickets go on sale August 10.

About Jobman
Karissa JobmanKarissa Jobman came to SMU from Omaha, Nebraska to study advertising at the Temerlin Advertising Institute. She first visited South America through the Alternative Breaks program to Ecuador, then spent a semester of her junior year studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Jobman graduated from SMU with a BA in Advertising in December 2013. After graduation she interned with Southwest Airlines in the Community Affairs and Grassroots department, where she met her Bucket co-founder. As the CPO of Bucket, Jobman uses her advertising expertise to create an enhanced digital experience, as well as manage the brand and product development of the company.

You can follow Bucket on Twitter @BucketPass and Facebook.

Former Television Host, Mark Bunting, Teaching Technology Marketing Class at Temerlin Advertising Institute

hdrTechMarketingGuru

SPRING 2015 – ADV 5302: Technology Marketing and Advertising 

The Course: Taking cue from Inside the Actors Studio, this weekly 3-hour class will include guest speakers from some of the industry’s biggest names. We will explore a myriad of topics involving the marketing and advertising of technology products and services.

Professor Mark Bunting is the former television host of many popular computer programs from CNBC, The Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel, www.MarkBunting.com www.SkyTV.net.

As a serial entrepreneur in both tech and media, Mark will expose students to a broad spectrum of topics within the technology advertising/marketing arena. A few of the topics will includes

  • Marketing Technology to Consumers
  • Agency and Client Relationship
  • Social Networking and The Changing Media Landscape
  • Entrepreneurialism
  • Print Advertising
  • PR’s Role in the Communication Mix
  • Marketing’s Influence in the Product Development Cycle Out of home/Alternative Media
  • Mobile and Social 

This class is designed to help students to understand the fundamental disciplines of strategy, creative, media and interactive in all facets of marketing communications for the high technology industry. A rich schedule of leading high tech marketing executives will present general case histories, new product go-to-market launch initiatives, general state-of-affairs and developing trends in technology marketing, as well as creative/media “problem solutions” that run the gamut from traditional “brand development” to “crisis or advocacy” work.

Students will hear directly from many of the marketing and advertising executives from Silicon Valley and the media industry. The program is designed to expose communication students pursuing Creative, PR, Agency, or Media careers to a portfolio of leading thinkers in the vertical of technology and consumer electronics. In addition, entrepreneurial opportunities in the changing landscape of a “new media” will also be explored.

In addition, we will explore the latest trends in digital advertising from mobile to social and its impact across marketing segments and industries. Entrepreneurialism in media will also be covered, as will the exploration of career opportunities involving all of the aforementioned.

Guest Speakers have included a number of key executives from leading technology and media enterprises. Past Speakers have included:

  • Sam Gilliland, Chairman and CEO of Sabre (Travelocity.com),
  • Rich Silverstein, of Goodby Silverstein
  • Howard Mittman, publisher of WIRED Magazine,
  • Colette LaForce– Chief Marketing Officer (AMD),
  • Rob Wrubel, Chief Innovation Officer – (University of Phoenix), and
  • Ann Finney – PR (Hewlett Packard).

Speakers from TI, Samsung and technology companies will also share their experiences throughout the semester.