Visual Communications at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), incorporating graphic design and photography, aspires to instil social, environmental and ethical sensitivity within students in order to meet a perceived increase in demand for these issues to be addressed at local and global level. To meet this imperative students are required to produce visual communications solutions for charitable organisations and participate in community-linked photographic excursions that expose them to social and environmental issues within real life scenarios.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that students do develop a strengthened sense of awareness within the current approach, given that the research and design process facilitates exposure to and interaction with people and environments on a personal level. However, the teaching and learning approach, including assessment and feedback, tends to emphasise the creative end-product over social and environmental sensitisation.
Furthermore, this approach neglects to make explicit the importance of developing awareness as part of a personal and enduring value system within the student. As such the focus of this paper, which reports on research in an early stage, is to describe a proposed project framework and a set of criteria appropriate for emphasising social, environmental and ethical consciousness in visual communication students.
A qualitative research approach is used, drawing primarily from literature and experiences within the teaching and learning environment, and incorporates student reflections. The paper contextualises social and environmental ethics within visual communications at the NMMU. Aspects of Robinson’s Seven Doors Model for behavioural change (2007) are incorporated and research highlighting reflective journaling strategies is explored in the development of the framework and the criteria. It is vital that the personal development of social and ethical sensitivity within the student is made explicit and is recognised, particularly in the current climate of social, environmental and ethical imperatives within visual communications at the NMMU. This would contribute towards real development as opposed to a mere window-dressing approach, which seems to be a concern within the discourse of sustainable design.