THE ETHICAL DILEMMA AS A DESIGNER
Updated: Aug 16
I don’t want to kill my creative business by saying what I’m about to say, so I will try and word myself carefully. Hey, I need to survive too in this capitalist society we live in. I will also preface my thoughts by saying that this in no way reflects any client I have personally worked with or project I've been part of (I feel I've been pretty lucky to work with some amazing companies and teams). However, I have an ethical dilemma as a designer that I want to address. I often grapple with the disconnect between the purpose of my work as a designer and the shallow and superficial impact it seems to have in the world. Generally, what we do as designers is create visual works, brand identities, ad campaigns etc. with the primary goal of capturing the attention of an audience and persuading them to part with their hard-earned money, in turn lining the pockets of the already grotesquely rich corporations, CEOs, and stakeholders. I hate that most things come down to this very principle — but it’s true. In most cases, we are being sold something we don’t even need in the first place. It’s a machine that prioritizes profits over all else, a behemoth of an engine that is destroying our planet in its hyper-consumerism pursuit, perpetuates corrupt societal values, and takes advantage of us — gutting the very souls of all who are swallowed by the beast. Gross — y’all know the story. As a designer, it has become increasingly challenging for me to ignore the impact my work can have and the growing desire within me for it to achieve greater significance.
Don’t get me wrong though — I love design and brand building. I love the idea of what I do in theory. From the time I was 8, I was drawing logos for fictitious companies and designing brochures in pencil crayon, so I seem to be born to do this. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am anti-capitalist either. I love witnessing the flourishing of ethically built small businesses and the success of established enterprises that have been constructed with integrity. I’m talking about businesses that prioritize providing living wages to their employees and exemplify best practices for a sustainable and responsible future. However, the need for more of these ethically conscious businesses is evident. I’m saying as designers, we need to vet the clients we take on to ensure they align with our value system, so we can feel good about what we create for them in their pursuits. In a time where we have a disappearing middle class and the largest economic inequality we’ve seen in modern times, we need to think about where we spend our money (or if we “need” to spend it at all) and what our work contributes to the grand scheme of things.
Aligned with my commitment to working with clients who strive to make a positive impact, I recently had the privilege of supporting two senior homecare companies in developing their company brands. It was an incredibly gratifying experience that allowed me to connect with the founders, who shared their inspiring visions and origin stories—a driving force born from personal life events that compelled them to make a meaningful difference in the senior homecare industry. Collaborating with them to craft a compelling brand image and communications that authentically conveyed their narrative and resonated with their audience was truly transformative. One particular story shared by my client has stayed with me—the sheer delight of a daughter as she joyously shopped for lipstick once again for her elderly mother, something she thought she would never do again. In that seemingly small moment, often taken for granted, there was an overwhelming sense of gratitude and pure joy. If I can support my clients in connecting with their audience to do good in any capacity, it becomes an immensely fulfilling and compelling reason for me to be a designer. I am committed to holding myself accountable to working with clients who align with my personal value system.
So, whether designers or individuals from any profession, what can we do? The answer lies in holding ourselves accountable for the contributions we make to the world, both in our professional and private lives. We must find the courage to speak out, even when our views go against the grain, and relentlessly challenge ourselves and our companies to strive for better. Our power to effect change extends to the choices we make with our hard-earned money. So let’s get out there and support our local economies and prioritize purchases from companies that uphold strong business ethics and moral values. By doing so, we actively contribute to bridging the gap in economic inequalities and fuel a meaningful movement for positive transformation — for the great of the world and each and every one of us.