Design & Morals: Working with Your Values

 Photo by  Kari Shea  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

You can do some pretty questionable things for money.

A lot of us have probably seen, been offered, or even done something out of our "moral comfort zone" to make some extra cash. There are widely-accepted and individual moral codes that dictate what we will or won't do in certain situations; as a designer, you must rely on both to navigate which projects you will accept, and which projects you'll {politely} decline.

When you're just starting out, it can be extra hard to turn away work. However, in the long run it's better to gradually build a client base than to cling to every project only to regret your involvement later. What factors of a project should we consider before accepting the job?

  • Client's industry, reputation, and history
  • Industry, political, or religious agendas/biases involved with the project
  • Benefits and drawbacks of the client's product/service
  • Supply chains and sources of client's products
  • Marketing and advertising strategy of the client (is it transparent?)
  • The legitimacy of the client's product/service
 Photo by  on  Unsplash

Photo by on Unsplash

Take some time to consider your personal values before you accept a project. Referrals are key to maintaining consistent work, and it's likely that clients will refer others similar to themselves. Craft - don't cram - your client list.

You can ask yourself some questions to help determine whether you're truly comfortable handling a specific client or project:

  • Would I be proud to list this on my portfolio/resume?
  • Would I feel comfortable being publicly credited for this project?
  • Do I support the industry of my client, or their approach to the industry?
  • Do I feel hesitant about this project? Why?
  • Would I personally buy my client's product/service? Why or why not?
  • Does any aspect of my client's product/service harm or mislead others?
  • Is money my main motivation?

Some subject matter that may bring up "moral" questions for you as a designer could be adult content, cannabis/alcohol/tobacco/supplements, political content, religious content, potential scams, environmental factors, or any personal ethical stance you may have.

When you decline a project based on your morals, this is not an opportunity to preach at or explain yourself to the client. You could simply say, "Thank you for your interest in my services, but unfortunately I do not accept projects in the XYZ industry for personal reasons."

If you have already accepted a client only to find that down the road you feel uncomfortable working with them, you may use the same "short and sweet" approach, with a bit more detail depending on your relationship with the client. If you feel comfortable doing so and have gotten permission, refer them to another designer to avoid leaving them in the dirt. Finish existing projects unless you would be significantly disturbed/distressed by doing so.

Remember that the designer-client relationship is a two-way street. If you're second-guessing your moral/ethical comfort with a given project, this will impact your effort and interest in your work. No client wants to hire a designer who performs poorly, especially if that poor performance is caused by disinterest or flat-out disagreement with the subject matter of the project. Do yourself and the client a favor in these situations and decline.

Did these tips help you resolve your moral design dilemma? Let me know! Be sure to follow @alexjanedesigns on Instagram and Facebook for more tips and inspiration.

Have a wonderful week!