Have you ever bought into something to only find out that it is not entirely true? Lying is typically known to be negative in all aspects, at least that is what is commonly thought to be true. The irony of that belief is that lies are used excessively in the world of design. With the prominent use of lies, the true question remains: is it wrong? There are many conflicting opinions in the world of design, some say that honesty is the best policy whereas others believe that convenience trumps the truth. The ethics of this topic are debated often, is it false advertising or playing to people’s mental placebos? The ethical dilemma between these two topics has been a focal point in the digital age.
In October of last year, the executive director of National Elevator Industry Inc. revealed that the “close door” button does not actually close the door. In fact, the button does not do anything at all, unlike the “open door” button. As Ellen J. Langer of Harvard University put it: “Perceived control is very important… It diminishes stress and promotes well-being.” When the effects are laid out the lies seem harmless, but they are still lying. In a society that cries out for open information and truth, is being a lie enough to be considered unethical?
Playing devil’s advocate, advertisements are notorious for using the phrase “up to..” in the advertisements. For example, a company could state that a client could “save up to 15 percent” on a certain service, product or plan. This statement by technicality is true, you can save up to 15 percent in most cases but this is true for any number below that as well. The phrase “up to” is misleading to some people, as some may cut that phrase out as a whole and focus on “save… 15 percent”. “Up to” in this case is similar to what could be called a verbal fine print. Even though this is true, is it ethical if it misleads people into thinking naively? The conflict of ethics between truth and lies is very situational.
Clever word usage is prominent in white lies, as stated above. Advertisements or signs claiming things such as “Best Pizza in Town!” are very interesting in this aspect, as they cannot be proven wrong. The reason for why these advertisements cannot be disproved is due to the matter of opinion. The usage of opinion is very common in the world of advertising, it is seen in movie trailers for example. This form of “white lie” is so common because it cannot possibly be disproved as it is a personal opinion. Whether the opinion is genuine or not is up to debate on a situational basis, but any statement could be used to justify the ads. Generally, that local pizza place may not actually be the best in town, but it is to somebody and that is all they need.
A sub-type of the white lie tends to lie unnoticed to most, but it in itself is very controversial to a large portion of people. Visual lies are used all the time in the digital era, with the rise of programs such as photoshop. Covers of magazines are plagued with what is technically lies. Many magazines that you look at have covers that are falsified with the usage of photoshop. Whether it be the manipulated body shapes of models or faces cleaned up of blemishes, there almost always is something that has been “touched-up”. In an age of social justice, many cry out to the designers and manipulators to stop falsifying and creating unnatural and nearly unattainable body images.
When looking closer at the topic of visual fallacies, it is important to note what harm it could possible cause to the general public. Harmful side-effects of altered images may, for example, cause self-esteem issues with how the normal person’s body size. The reason why this skill of manipulating photographs is so popular, however, is because they outright just look good. Whether it be properly showing off certain sets of clothing or products it has in the past been very effective. Even though photoshopped models in the grand scale of things is a minor concept, the fact that this fallacy exists is enough to cause uncomfortable feelings in the general public.
When summed up, the buttons that do not have any function may not be as bad after all. Of course, outright stating false information is unethical generally, but overall white lies do have benefits. In the age of consumerism, the balance shifts every day between whether white lies are worth it or not. However, I think most can agree that being in a universe where there is not a “close door” button in the elevator at the end of a long day may make your life just a tad more stressful than it needs to be.