Design ethics

Continuing with the topic of my last post about CSR, today I’m going to write about two design groups that have a strong ethical personality: Thomas.Matthews and Ideo.

Thomas.Matthews is a design agency based in London. “We believe in good* design.*appropriate, sustainable and beautiful” is what they claim in their website, and for almost 20 years they have been doing that. Founded in 1998 by Sophie Thomas, the agency has been creating stunning designs that go from branding and wayfinding signage to communication strategies and simple graphic material, everything with sustainability at its core. They aim to communicate a message in the best way but also having in mind the environmental and social aspects of each project.

Gardens By the Bay signage system in Singapore
Isleworth & Syon School brand identity

One thing worth saying is that Sophie Thomas not only focuses on her agency, but also to share her interest and experience in sustainability. This led her to create The Great Recovery in 2012, a program that aims to spread the understanding about circular design in the materials supply chain through practical exploration.

Maybe one of the best examples where you can see the agency’s believes put in practice is in their own stationary, where they used leftover materials and sustainable printing for the project. This approach shows that they do believe in what they say and are truly committed to creating sustainable designs from start to end.

“We knew that by switching to a post-consumer recycled stock we could save up to 70% of the embodied energy of a piece of print,” explains studio founder Sophie Thomas of the thinking behind the work. But then we thought, ‘what if we use paper that is already sitting in our printer’s – Calverts – warehouse because of an over order?’ So we rifled through their surplus stock and chose some suitable weights and finishes. Then we asked our printer to use it as ‘make-ready’ i.e. paper that preps the press on a number of jobs. Once it had finished this useful task, we then saved it from being discarded.”

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IDEO is a design firm founded in 1991 by David Kelley, Bill Moggridge and Mike Nuttall. The company is known for using a design thinking methodology and a human-centered design approach (they have a field guide about it), which means that all the projects are tailored to the user’s needs. IDEO’s range of projects includes branding, business design, digital experiences, social innovation and many other fields. They work closely with organizations, public or private, to innovate, add value and solve meaningful problems.

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” —Tim Brown, president and CEO


IDEO’s range of projects includes branding, business design, digital experiences, social innovation and many other fields. One of the main things I found interesting about this firm is that they do a lot of field research to discover what the users really need and find the best possible way to achieve a viable and human solution. This approach focuses a lot on interviews, role play, focus groups, etc., meaning that they develop the whole project with the knowledge that people gives them and do not design based on assumptions. Everything they do is based on what the client can do and what the user needs, ensuring and appropriate solution for both sides.

Seeding innovation in the water sector


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