Speak UpA Former Division of UnderConsideration
The Archives, August 2002 – April 2009
advertise @ underconsideration
---Click here for full archive list or browse below
Where do you Draw the Line?

When I was first starting to look for a job in the U.S. from the comfort of my own home in Mexico I came across a listing for a Jr. Graphic Designer. Great hours. Great pay. Great everything. The catch? Designing web sites for adult sites. XXX stuff. You’ve seen them (don’t kid yourself, you have,) they are actually very well designed. So they obviously need designers. It wasn’t going to be me though. One could say it’s a dream job for any man (and that would support pk’s las post) but what about the responsibilities involved? What about the 10 year old kid in the library accessing a really well designed porn site.?

Believe me, I’m no angel, but we all have our limits. Milton Glaser put together a nice list of projects that would lead any designer straight to hell. Where would you draw the line? If strapped for cash would you do anything? Ethics out the window.?

We know about the ethics (or lack thereof) in advertising. But how does this apply to graphic designers? An annual report for Philip Morr… I mean Altria, package design for alcohol, posters for corrupt politicians… you know, the good stuff.

Thanks to Corey, who is battling his own ethics, for the topic.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Apr.11.2003 BY Armin
Sam’s comment is:

Especially recently, the need for a paycheck might override one's choics of job. Could you justify taking a job and working on the Altria account by saying that you didn't pursue the account, negotiate the contract, create the strategy--in other words, you the designer were just doing your job, just following orders?

What about taking a job at an excellent firm like Slaughter Hanson in Birmingham? They do the annual report for Boy Scouts of America (or have done it recently). BSA does not permit gay scout leaders (or women scout leaders, I believe, for that matter). Does that mean it would be wrong to work for Slaughter Hanson?

On Apr.11.2003 at 04:24 PM
kev’s comment is:

hrm.. i was approached by a representative of an 'escort service' once, and I found i really didn't have any moral objections to it. The thing about people who make their living from the objectification of other people is that they tend to do the same thing to you as a designer... as in my client never ended up paying for what i designed/developed and basically screwed me. pun not really intended.

On Apr.11.2003 at 04:31 PM
brook’s comment is:

everyone has their moral limitations. i think a good person would follow them. i doubt many of us are seriously struggling to feed ourselves or perhaps our families. if i were to be in that situation, though, i'm sure sacrifices would have to be made.

personally i have pretty strong convictions about some things. i'm politically active and quite to the left in that respect, so i would have some issues working for any corporation that i felt was doing anything unethical. but if i were working for a small design firm and doing work for a corporation through it, that would be a little easier to stomach. i could go on and on i guess.

On Apr.11.2003 at 04:34 PM
jonsel’s comment is:

If we were all to support our personal ethics to the highest degree, we would probably not work for most of the clients which we do.

It often comes down to power. Sam, I get the war criminal intent of your comments, but in an employment environment, how many of us are prepared to say no to a project without fear of being fired? (At least they don't throw you in prison for being a conscientious objecting designer...)

For me, it comes down to a slightly moveable line. Have I worked on cigarette projects? Yep. I rationalized it at the time by doing work that I knew would never be selected by the client (i.e. not bad but beyond their comfort level). At this stage of my career, I can reject jobs like that, but back then I couldn't.

I don't have a personal answer for working for companies that have SOME objectionable clients. I worked for Landor, but I never worked on the Altria identity project. Does that leave me unscathed? I dunno.

On Apr.11.2003 at 05:07 PM
Rebecca’s comment is:

Frankly, you're just asking for trouble if you're going to take your morals into advertising work with you. Almost all advertising is, to some degree or other, lies.

But not all design is advertising. Much of it merely serves to clarify, organize, or illuminate—certain tables and charts, for example, or signage, or the design of a newspaper. If a designer felt uncomfortable "creating need" as part of her job, there are other uses for her talents. It's not a hopeless situation.

I might concede that all design is political though.

On Apr.11.2003 at 05:18 PM
TOM’s comment is:

While at Coca-Cola I asked to be removed from a project that involved creating an identity for a promotion around a religous holiday that was different from my personal faith. I did not suffer any backlash or job threats.

Also after being laid off from marchFirst I hit the local design firm interview circuit. After interviewing with one and being offered a better than average salary, I learned from a former employee of theirs that they produced materials for local strip clubs and porn sites. I didn't take the offer.

I don't see how it would be fair to either party, designer or client, to accept a project you have personal issues with. For the most part, I put a lot of myself in my work, so if there is apprehension, then the work would suffer and would not be fair for the client either.

On Apr.11.2003 at 05:33 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Quite frankly I am in the job I am because I wanted to get out of the environment I was in. I worked for an ad agency who's two major clients were Brown & Williamson and Brown-Forman. If you don't know those are two of the bigger tobacco and alcohol companies in the world. I hated every minute of working on those accounts especially the tobacco account. The marketing of those products went against everything I believed in. I was also told when hired that I wouldn't be working on those accounts, but I was straight out of school and looking for work. Chalk it up to experience. I do feel an obligation to work for companies who hold accounts of respectable clients. If you do work on a project for whom you can't respect or believe in, are you going to do good work?

And with all due respect Sam, I would admire and respect a company that holds the BSA account because they are an organization that is trying to uphold its own moral beliefs. I don't see how this is the same as working on porn accounts since they are trying to tear down morals.

On Apr.11.2003 at 05:35 PM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

I used to work for a marketing company designing web sites for a number of things I didn't agree with. I drew the line at porn while I was there. I now work freelance only for things that I believe in or at the very least am not opposed to. This is pretty hard considering my strong political and ethical stance. I am struggling to feed myself and save up for grad school, but I am much happier now. Many may think the First Things First manifesto and the People's Communication Charter were at best idealistic, at worst egotistical. In some ways I agree, but ever sinced I signed the manifesto, I've followed it. I strongly believe design should act in the service of culture first, and business second if at all.

I recognise that I'm still pretty young and don't have a family to feed or a mortgage to pay, but I hope, and believe that I can, stay true to my ideals.

My two cents.

On Apr.11.2003 at 05:42 PM
jonsel’s comment is:

I would admire and respect a company that holds the BSA account because they are an organization that is trying to uphold its own moral beliefs. I don't see how this is the same as working on porn accounts since they are trying to tear down morals.

Careful how you make this argument. There are many people who'll argue that the BSA is a non-inclusive, discriminatory organization. Porn organizations have their own set of moral values, whether you agree with them or not. To me, the decision to work or not work for these companies depends on how they reflect on YOUR morals, not theirs.

On a lighter note, where DO you people find all these porn jobs?? ;-)

On Apr.11.2003 at 05:56 PM
Sam’s comment is:

I didn't mean anything by the war-criminal reference--I just got a little carried away and ended up at a tired old line.

Like mustard or ketchup on French fries--er, freedom fries, maybe this is a question best resolved on a personal level. I would not have any problem working on a porn site that was legal, and I was involved briefly with something called Marriott Beverage University, which was basically marketing all kinds of alcohol to the hospitality industry. I have generally turned down projects that were going to embarrass me as a designer or make me lose my mind dealing with idiots.

Fundamentally, I respect anyone's right to choose any type of work they want to do, be it for the Boy Scouts, a cigarette company, a massively mediocre company like Kinko's, or the U.S. government for that matter. Like the Craig Frazier discussion, what matters to me is the freedom to choose and the freedom of expression, and not so much the particular instance of that expression. I don't believe my moral choices should be the same as everyone else's any more than someone else's choices should be mine. Strike up the band!

On Apr.11.2003 at 06:04 PM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

hehe.... I was subcontracting for Bell canada (Canada's telephone monopoly) when my company was asked to do porn sites for them. The office was pretty split on the issue and it forced me to make some tough decisions.

PS. good point jonsel. MY morals definitely don't fit in with the majority of advertising/marketing firms. I won't hold it against them, I just won't work for them.

On Apr.11.2003 at 06:07 PM
Sam’s comment is:

I haven't done any porn jobs, and yet I feel so exploited...

On Apr.11.2003 at 06:16 PM
Su’s comment is:

Sam, you came dangerously close to Godwinising the discussion before it even got started *grin*

To follow up on Jonsel, Steven: While you're claiming that the BSA is upholding its own moral beliefs, you seem to be denying that the porn industry might be doing the same for another set of moral beliefs(sideline: sexuality != morality != dogma). Please remember that beliefs are just that, and not necessarily "truth." The BSA's morals, rather than being torn down by porn, are probably not even a factor in their actions, and that which you find disagreeable is not necessarily directed at you.

I don't think there can really be a hard line against products; it should be more a function of what is actually going on. Cigarettes are known to be marketed in repulsive ways and are just plain poison. Alcohol products, on the other hand, vary. While I do have a problem with beer ads that depict MGD(*barf*) as "party in a bottle," I don't particularly object to say, the Absolut ads, which really have no particular message and seem to just be an exercise in visibility.

Frankly, you're just asking for trouble if you're going to take your morals into advertising work with you. Almost all advertising is, to some degree or other, lies. How many of you have read the fine print on those car ads for 0% financing? Some interesting math going on there.

On Apr.11.2003 at 06:36 PM
herman’s comment is:

there is a fine line between ethics and design. porn is legal albeit "questionable" to society. politics is also legal and alot of us wouldn't even question doing work for a politician even if you knew they were corrupt...where and when do we apply our ethics?...should we be "selectively" ethical or just plain ethical?

ANY topic at ANY given time CAN BE an ethical dilemma, lets not kid ourselves.

On Apr.11.2003 at 07:06 PM
Trish’s comment is:

I don't think I would have trouble working for a porn company as long as it wasn't demeaning to anyone. And yes there is porn that isn't demeaning.

I actually used to work for a company that did work with Phillip Morris and various chemical companies and I'll tell you I felt very dirty when I went home many days. My worst experience was when I had to make a web page that showed the enemy as GreenPeace . GreenPeace is an organization that I admire and support. I went home that day and took a long shower.

On Apr.11.2003 at 07:06 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

You really can't debate personal morals. Everyone's is different. I just take everything on a job-by-job basis...and typically treat is as just that. A job.

Remember, ALL graphic design is a little bit dirty. Just decide how much dirt you feel each project has and how much you care to tolerate.

On Apr.11.2003 at 07:16 PM
Steven’s comment is:

>> Remember, ALL graphic design is a little bit dirty. Just decide how much dirt you feel each project has and how much you care to tolerate.>>

Design doesn't have to be dirty. And not all design is dirty. Design is here for the greater good of the community and its use is to add comprehension to a message. That message can either be good or bad. What you do with it defines its effectiveness.

At the end of the day you can try to distance yourself from it as far as you want and call it "just a job." But, in the end, you are the vehicle that made it go. You could also justify it by saying, "well someone else would have done it if I hadn't." Doesn't make it any better. That's why I am very selective in who I work for.

On Apr.11.2003 at 07:28 PM
anthony’s comment is:

> I haven't done any porn jobs, and yet I feel so exploited...

That's funny and true... I had a run in with a porn company for my 2nd job, when I was real unhappy were I was, doing ads for Apartments which had it's own set of moral issue, but mainly just sucked, and I was offered a job doing porn websites (in a great office on the water btw) but ultimately turned it down because I could not imagine using the work I made during that period to get my next job.

On Apr.11.2003 at 08:24 PM
pk’s comment is:

i won't do tobacco (i smoke, by the way).

i've done fetish before, and the client was one of the most pleasant and visually open-minded i've had.

i won't do porn unless i know the client fairly intimately—simply because i've heard several stories of how hellish it is to wring money out of porn clients. i suppose, from their point of view, there's something to be said for the shadiness of the industry.

i do actually have a naughty site on my docket soon. it's for a close friend, and i'm planning on having a lot of fun with it.

On Apr.12.2003 at 12:52 AM
Justin’s comment is:

It all comes down to morality. Myself? I don't feel comfortable with drug work (drugs are pornography, fetish, alcohol, tobacco - you get the picture). I'm a Christian and proud to be so. It's my moral choice and like I said, that's what it all comes down to.

On Apr.12.2003 at 09:39 PM
Joy Olivia Miller’s comment is:

God, I must be one of the worst of this bunch.

I haven't done a porn site, but I've traded web devoping time in exchange for a full back tattoo (is there anyone who still considers body art taboo?) and created a beauty pageant site and brochures for a friend. Perhaps the latter is the most sinister use of my skills.

On Apr.14.2003 at 10:30 AM