Design Ethics: How Do They Work?

‘Ethics’ pertains to morality, or moral principles that control a human being’s behavior. Basically, those who are ethical are heavily burdened and follow things according to what their values, ideals, or standards dictate. You may not know it but there is ethics in design. How do they work? Are you an ethical designer? Are you ethical when it comes to taking on projects?


Design ethics can come in many forms and can cover how you choose projects, how you work and coordinate with your clients, and how you deal with legal and copyrighted information.


Written or not, principles should always be recognized and done. Design principles and best practices help shape how graphic design professionals communicate and interact with clients and colleagues, and how they do business. Ethics probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when working in design, but   there are situations where you will find yourself thinking whether or not you should do something, and this is where design ethics come into play.


When you ask your colleagues what they think design ethics entails, their answers could go along the lines of:

  • Design ethics establish actions accepted in the industry
  • Design ethics raise the standard

Academy of Design Professional states that a four-point ethical standard is the most ideal.


As a design professional:

  1. You should strive to improve your knowledge and skills.
  2. You should constantly seek to raise the standards in all aspects, including education, research, and practice.
  3. You should uphold human rights in all professional endeavors.
  4. You should promote the profession and contribute knowledge and capability to the industry.

Design ethics apply to everyone practicing design, whether you are a student or a professional.. You need to understand that there are a number of formal codes to follow other than ethical standards. Formal codes depend on the work you do, where you live, and the organizations you’re a member of. Other than the codes, design ethics at work function a little more personal in comparison. The baseline for design ethics includes billing fairly and working honestly. Not all scenarios you’ll be in will be clear-cut with one definite question and answer. More than what you feel, how you handle conflict says a lot about the business you do and the type of person you are and how you deal with your clients.


Ethics in general has a lot of gray areas that cannot be foreseen. Learn to do the work you believe in. Work becomes less of a chore and you do better when you like what you’re doing. When working with a client, establish mutual trust. Create an open and honest dialog with the clients you can rely on when in need to talk about an issue reasonably while thinking of a better solution (together, if possible).


If while working you find that somehow the one too many moral obligations you’ve got are now impacting your ability to take on certain projects, then maybe there are better career options for you to lean more towards, like being a freelancer or an in-house designer for a company you want to work for, or maybe even settle for a middle ground that takes advantages from both to create a more flexible working environment.


For more information on design ethics, go through these resources:

Do you make sure you stay true to what you believe in and work ethically? Comment your thoughts below or talk to our design team at MicroCreatives!