Creative Commons Image: Neubie
Way back at University, one of my design tutors was a well-know designer and illustrator. He told me that he once turned down a substantial design contract for a major company because he didn’t agree with their work ethos.
This seemed very strange to me at the time. I thought that if you’re a designer, you would design anything for anyone (within reason) because it’s your job? You need money to pay the bills and spend all your working life with a fully booked diary of work…right?
Below is a list of over 20 designers who have generously shared their thoughts on the matter; all answering the same question: What (or Who) wouldn’t you design for? Some answers are short and others longer, but they all offer valuable insights into this burning question, including my own. Here goes:
Liam McKay → www.wefunction.com
I’d have to say that I would definitely consider each project individually. Obviously you hope that every client you take on isn’t some sort of evil corporation, and thankfully so far I’ve not had to turn any clients away due to my personal beliefs or such. For me, there isn’t anything I could pick out and say I’d never design for anybody who was involved in this. At the end of the day I can easily detach my personal beliefs from my work if I needed to.
I think it’s more important for me to keep away from companies who have the wrong idea of what it is that I can do for them. I wouldn’t like to work for a company that would restrict my creativity on a project and be too forceful about doing things their way. Personally I’d be more concerned about how client would handle my ideas and then I would be about any ethical reasons that might hold me back.
David Airey → www.logodesignlove.com
The British National Party, because I’m not racist.
Jon Phillips → http://spyrestudios.com
I’m not one to turn down work, unless my schedule is full, but I can say for sure that I would not design for a hate group or website. I wouldn’t do it for many reasons, the first one being that I don’t want my name associated with those kinds of websites. I’ve worked with companies and people in many industries, form the adult entertainment business to the real estate industry, and every time it’s been a great, professional experience, and I learned a lot. Not sure I could say the same thing about a hate website.
Chris Spooner → www.blog.spoongraphics.co.uk
I’m afraid my answers are pretty boring and clichéd as I don’t really have any gripes about anything in the world other than the usual ethical no-go areas of terrorism, p**dophilia and animal cruelty (amongst others…!).
So I guess that rules out Bin Laden, Gary Glitter and Yosemite Sam on my potential client list!
Mark Biegel → http://markbiegel.com
I turn down work where the client has no respect for the process. In my last example I received a enquiry from my website and the potential client had a small budget. After dealing with him for a little working out what he wanted it came time for the deposit. After asking for a deposit to get started (as usual) , I then missed a call from the client. I promptly called back and said “sorry, I missed your call I was driving”.
The response was “Don’t ever ring me and say sorry, when I call you I expect you to answer! I have 2 other developers who could work for me so your lucky to get my business”
I promptly wished him well with his other developers and informed him that we could not do business together.
The main point, I don’t work with clients who are demanding in an abusive way who think that contracting my skills is the same as hiring me as their employee.
To this day (3 months later) his website is still not started…he must not be having luck with being pushy!
A note to clients, I and many other designers/developers will bend over backwards to help you and give you MORE than you pay for….if you are nice and respectful.
Andrew Keir → www.andrewkeir.com
I got a call asking if I could remove text from above a watermark on an existing document and reproduce a blank original document. The project was pitched as if for refining a letterhead that the digital source file had been lost for, or doing a vector tracing of a raster graphic etc. so I asked for more information and that an example be sent to me.
The document turned out to be a police criminal record check for prospective employers… I didn’t accept the job…
Typically speaking though, aside from the obvious stuff like promoting violence, racism, etc. I think the only product I wouldn’t work on would be cigarettes? A bit of personal history their and I would never help promote them.
Karen Mc Dade → www.omegared.co.za
Some designers will say that work is work and there really shouldn’t be any distinguishing factors between the kind of projects you take on. However, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I’m a freelancer, so it’s very important to have a good reputation – and building a body of work I can display proudly is a part of that. I think it’s responsible to be socially sensitive as to what you put out there. Probably the most risqué thing I’ve designed was creating some artwork for a TV channel doing a biography on a 50’s pin-up star. Even though some of the pictures I got with the design brief where racy to say the least, I chose to use the more conservative images of her. I didn’t feel conflicted taking on the project as it wasn’t about the pinup industry per se, it was about her as an individual, and her story about how she came to work in the industry. That’s probably as far as I would take it – I don’t think I’d design anything that blatantly glorified extreme p**nography. I think I would also have issues doing work for any company I felt was harming the environment in some way. Excessive violence and racism/ethnocentrism are also areas I would steer clear from. I have no rules though – I consider the impact of each project I take on individually.
Hernan Valencia → www.theconstructcreative.com
A wise man once said, the measurement of success as an artist is the ability to turn down clients who are diametrically opposed to your belief system. I’m not sure who the author of this quote was but I would have to say that this is true of my experience. Never mind the obvious nightmare clients we’ve all encountered since I believe others have already listed them. If a client offers me a retainer and a contract to have a consistent amount of work but his agenda is to distort facts, promote aggression or demean race, sex or creed, then I won’t work with him or her.
Lauren “LaurenMarie” Krause → http://creativecurio.com
The story: I was approached by a colleague one time to design her church’s website. I take my Christian beliefs very seriously and I always screen potential religion-based clients; I don’t want to personally help promote ideas or beliefs that I think are false. It’s not easy to turn down the money, but keeping my conscience clear is far more important to me. Sure, there will be a designer who aligns with the beliefs of the organization or who simply doesn’t mind the religious aspect, but I don’t want to be a part of promoting something I fundamentally disagree with.
Emily Lozano → Emily Lozano’s site
When I decided to go freelance I struggled for a little bit with this idea. While there are a few causes or types of people on my blacklist that may change as my views change one steadfast group will remain on my list forever: Cigarette companies. Cigarettes, in my opinion, are nothing more than death sticks and I don’t want any part of that.
Phillip Lovelace → www.pixelflips.com
I had a client a few years back that wanted to hire me to fix/update certain areas of their site. The problem was that at the same time as I was supposed to be working they had another design firm working on a full redesign of the same site.
Quite a bit of the work I needed to accomplish was based on the other design team implementing their work and then I could make the updates I needed. I ended up turning down the work because there was also a tight deadline involved and I felt too much relied on the other team which I was not familiar with. They also weren’t very responsive when I tried to get in touch.
Needless to say, I wouldn’t work for a client with a separate design team which is working on the exact same website.
Jacob Cass → http://justcreativedesign.com
Deciding whether or not to design for a certain company or product is going to be determined by a number of factors, all of which must be taken into consideration at the time. To be honest, in this context, I couldn’t say who or what I would not design for… there are just so many considerations one must take into account before making a decision.
Brian Pajak | www.pajakdesigns.com
I would not design advertising for any pseudo scientific products/services. If I create something that promotes a downright scam or even a harmful product then I am an accomplice in ripping people off and I choose not to be a part of it.
Stephen Tiano → www.tianobookdesign.com
As a book designer, my sense of what work would be objectionable is a lot less obvious, since I rather think the whole freedom of speech thing enters. Would I refuse to work on a new version of Mein Kampf, for instance, knowing what it stood for? What about a new Mein Kampf—that is, this generation’s type of book?
I’d like to think so.
Two books I found objectionable, that I simply priced myself way out of league, so I wouldn’t get into an argument that would perhaps turn up in print or online somewhere, and sink me at a pivotal time in my career, were one on violence as a strategy and another on the harm of “wind turbine syndrome”.
I think I’d be way more forthright now, however, and just say I can’t get behind what such books are trying to make a case for and decline in so many words.
Andrew Kelsall → www.andrewkelsall.com
As a Christian designer, let’s say that there’s a whole lot of stuff I won’t design for—basically, I won’t promote anything against what is taught in God’s word, the Holy Bible. Apart from this, there’s certain doctrinal beliefs even from other Christians that I won’t design for. I’m more “picky” than most, I reckon.
Yeah, this costs me clients and money, but no amount of money is worth betraying my beliefs or principles.
Recently, I ended up turning down a project that I had already started for a top fashion company here in the UK. Lets just say that at about 20% the way through the project, the client supplied images to be used that showed way too much flesh in my opinion.
Other project categories I have rejected in the past are heavy metal websites, foul mouthed rap artists (I’m not saying I won’t design for rap, but will review lyrical content), Christian-psychotherapy and new-age healing.
I’ve also learned as a designer that working on projects for friends and family can be a real nightmare. About 8 years ago, when I started as a designer, I would work for nothing for them—but would still end up chasing them for feedback. Now, I will quote them (apart from my immediate family). Even at heavily discounted prices, I have learned that they never get back to me as they want it for free. Now, the only free design I do is pro-bono work of my own choosing.
Ryan Scherf → http://www.ryanscherf.net
I would never design for any person or company that was expecting me to do spec work for them to decide if they want to hire me or not. You can’t hire a plumbing contractor to come over and do spec work to see if they do good work, so why should hiring a designer be any different?
Kyle Richardson → www.enrichdesign.us
• Those who want more than what they are paying you for
• Those who refuse to give you information (mission statements, business plan, overall vision)
• Those who want a project way faster than any normal time would allow
• Those who are late or faulty on their payments
Not a huge list, but those are some definite red flags that pop up. Obviously some of these things you won’t know about until you’ve started a project, but when you see a red flag pop up, it’s time to stop the project and get out of there.
Brian Klepper → http://briannotbryan.com
I would not design for PETA no matter the amount of money! I love animals and would never harm them, but give me a break. How much money does one have to spend on world wide smear campaigns? They could be spending this money on many other causes that actually save Human Lives.
Andrew Brynjulson → http://www.brennifresh.com
I had to respectfully turn down logo design work for a company/site that celebrated “love of strippers,” to be discreet. I wouldn’t have been able to look my grandma in the eye the next time she asked how work was going.
Daniel Whyte → http://danielwhyte.com
I would not design for people or companies that have just had work done by other designers that is overly complex, badly designed… and they are raving about how great it is.
Rob Cubbon → http://robcubbon.com
The only work I have turned down on ethical grounds involved nudity (not mine, I hasten to add). Not that I’ve got anything against people who would do this – I just thought it was a line I shouldn’t cross.
I’ve yet to be tested by other businesses, organisations or people who I would consider politically unethical. Obviously I wouldn’t work for people with deeply offensive views (eg. the BNP) but it’s difficult to know where I would draw the line politically. And, socially, as well. I’m sure lots of us work for companies who import from the third world. Do I think about what the conditions were like in the factory that produces the product I’m advertising? Not often, I’m afraid.
But I’ve got a list as long as my arm of other people I wouldn’t work for (I’m going to sound really picky here):
• Friends. Friends are a nightmare to work for. They always ask for “mate’s rates” or corner you at a social occasion saying they’re starting up a new business and need a fantastic new logo. The business never takes off and you don’t get paid.
• People who want you to work for no money or less money in lieu of promised future work.
• Ordinary people who want their personal photos Photoshopped in some way. They are terrible at briefing, really picky and you feel bad for charging them.
• Even people who can’t spell and don’t explain what they want properly. It’s always a bad sign.
These people I don’t just refuse to work for I just ask for a ridiculously high price and if that doesn’t get rid of them I’ll feign business.
Well, that’s a real mixed bag of opinions, but there’s one thing in common with the majority of them: we have limits on what or who we design for. Be it for political, ethical, religious or personal reasons, it appears as though we reach a point where we will say “no” to work—at the cost of personal income and potential long-term clients.
I think it’s obvious that most designers won’t design a p**n site for example, but it’s been a real eye-opener to see what other projects creatives won’t work on.
This has been a great article to put together—and the varied responses of all involved in this “poll” have been quite interesting. Thanks again to all who participated in this study, and I hope that anyone who reads it, be they a designer or client who hires creatives, will gain an insight into the issue of ethics in design.
Who or what wouldn’t you design for? Feel free to leave your own thoughts below…