HOW CAN I BE AN ETHICAL DESIGNER?

How I redefined my relationship with graphic design and wrote myself a new rule book on being a 'good' designer.



For over 10 years I worked as a ‘normal’ graphic designer. First at agencies then as co-director of a design and advertising studio. I worked with some big clients on all kinds of projects from brochures and branding, to magazines, billboards, and radio adverts.


My typical measurements of project success were whether I had effectively answered the brief, solved the problem, made the client happy and created something that I liked the look of. For the client it usually came down to value for money, increased enquiries/customers/users and ultimately increased revenue. After a while, even projects that ticked most things off those lists still didn't feel like a win. Something wasn't right.



HAD I FALLEN OUT OF LOVE WITH DESIGN?

Thankfully that wasn’t the case but I realised I had fallen out of love with the hard sell of advertising. It no longer felt ok to be supporting a consumer society, to be part of the problem, promoting and advertising products and ideas with no real value or purpose.

I was no longer comfortable working with companies whose ethics didn’t align with my own.

The world is at a tipping point – we can either carry on as we are, destroying the planet and widening the gap in inequality or we can make changes for a healthier, fairer more sustainable future. Design can be powerful, it can really make or break an idea or organisation and influence how people think and behave.

I realised I wanted to use my design power for good. I wanted to be part of the change.

DESIGNING FOR POSITIVE CHANGE

I knew if I was to continue my relationship with graphic design, I needed to draw up some new relationship rules. So I put together a list of the type of clients I wanted to work with – clients I could believe in and support with my skills and experience.


The list looked something like this:

  1. Purpose – Organisations that have a purpose beyond profit. Charities, non-profits, social enterprises and organisations that strive to create positive change.

  2. Values – People that care about the same things I do. Equality, animal welfare and protecting the natural world are causes that I feel strongly about.

  3. Sustainability – Innovators of sustainable products or services that have positive environmental impact or that offer a greener alternative to an existing product.

  4. Philanthropy – Businesses that ‘Give Back’ and consider their social impact at all levels.


Seeking out clients whose values aligned more closely with my own was a first step in rethinking my role as a graphic designer. I still measure project success on problem solving, happy clients and beautiful work but now I use my skills to; build brands that tell a story; design communications that raise awareness, funds and voices; write words that create connection and action.

Now I love working on meaningful projects and I love supporting clients to effect positive change.


READ MORE I have worked hard to create a way of working that fits with my own ethics but it's not only about an ethical client list. Read more about how I conduct myself in all areas of work in my post A Designers Code of Conduct.