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Would you work on a project that challenged your morals?

3 years ago from , Developer

In a recent interview I was asked how I would handle a situation in which a project challenged my morals. I admit, it was a difficult question to answer. While you may immediately think the answer would be that you would not work on it, there's a lot of variables to consider.

For example, passing on a project that was publishing racist propaganda would likely be the decision of most. However, what if it wasn't something so glaring? What if you were an atheist but were asked to design or develop a website for a Christian church?

Just curious, it was an interesting question to consider on the spot.

66 comments

  • Ethan UnzickerEthan Unzicker, 3 years ago (edited 3 years ago )

    To play devil's advocate: For those who said they would refuse to do work if it conflicted with their personal morals, is this is any way different from, say, the Christian bakers who refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding? Why or why not?

    10 points
    • Stuart McCoyStuart McCoy, 3 years ago

      There's a very fine line between infringing upon one's civil rights and simply denying a service. In this country, for now anyway, ALL individuals have the right to marry. Services who cater to this industry can't pick and choose who they think can and should marry and deny their services based on this notion. Websites don't share these protections.

      You do bring up a good point, however, and more people should be tolerant of others. I'm agnostic but I wouldn't immediately refuse a church website or identity project simply because they are a church but I would try to determine if they promote hatred and bigotry and refuse the project based on this.

      2 points
      • Ethan UnzickerEthan Unzicker, 3 years ago

        (Still playing devil's advocate) Do all religions have the right to a website?

        If someone caters to the industry of digital marketing, should they be able to refuse service for moral objections?

        I think it's clear and obvious that people have the right to refuse service, especially if the job just isn't a good fit. I'm just curious about why one industry would able to site a moral objection while another wouldn't.

        3 points
    • Nic TrentNic Trent, 3 years ago

      Sometimes one's morality can be interpreted as discrimination. Jesus probably would've baked the cake, but thats beside the point.

      7 points
      • Connor NorvellConnor Norvell, 3 years ago

        "Jesus probably would have baked the cake" is my favorite thing I have ever heard

        7 points
      • Ethan UnzickerEthan Unzicker, 3 years ago

        I think that's the distinction I'm hoping people would clarify. i.e. Is a moral objection to the perceived effects of religion on society different than a moral objection to the perceived effects of a homosexual relationship. Is one a legitimate objection and one discrimination? If so, what is the differentiating factor?

        0 points
      • Art VandelayArt Vandelay, 3 years ago (edited 3 years ago )

        Removed. Unsure if the opinion I was writing would be taken as facts I haven't checked.

        0 points
      • Seth RSeth R, 3 years ago

        I believe Jesus would have baked the cake because it is an opportunity to meet with people. No different than him meeting with anyone else.

        0 points
      • Stuart McCoyStuart McCoy, 3 years ago

        I came here to try and expand upon my argument above and clarify some points I felt were lacking but I think this says it best. Jesus would have indeed baked the cake.

        2 points
    • Mitch Malone, 3 years ago

      Morally, it is not different. Religious people who refuse to make cakes do so out of a moral imperative.

      But there's something called unlawful discrimination that protects people from that kind of stuff. You have to prove that someone discriminated against you because of your race, religion, or sexual orientation. A judge has to rule on it and the measures differ state to state. Sometimes the judge rules in favor of the plaintiff, sometimes not.

      In the case of a design shop, they get RFPs for work. So if an agency didn't respond to the RFP, a same-sex couple (or whoever) needs to prove that they didn't because of unlawful discrimination. That's...hard. Unless the agency tells them straight up, "I will not do this because you are homosexual."

      In the eyes of the law, that is discrimination but not responding to an RFP isn't.

      2 points
  • Ken Em, 3 years ago

    Using that example, I'd still accept the job. I don't believe in religion myself, but accept that others do.

    9 points
    • , 3 years ago

      The example wasn't from personal experience, just something to get the conversation going. Perhaps not the best example. Can you think of any others?

      2 points
      • Julian DornJulian Dorn, 3 years ago

        One of the professors from my university once worked for the Swiss military. There he helped to design military jets. The goal was to make them more secure for the pilots.

        For me the decision would be really hard if someone would ask me to work on a job like this. On one side you can save the lives of the pilots, on the other hand, you design something that's built to kill people.

        How would you decide?

        0 points
  • Ale UrrutiaAle Urrutia, 3 years ago

    Very interesting question to the community Mike.

    For me is a no.

    Personal experience:

    A few years ago, I was asked by the account guy to pitch for a military equipment company focused in North Africa and Middle East countries.

    Personally I had a very clear position on this, to refuse to help that company to sell their products. I gathered my team and we all agreed into not work on this pitch despite the pressure from the account guy.

    6 points
    • , 3 years ago

      Thank you for sharing your experience. After you indicated your feelings to the account manager, how was it received?

      1 point
      • Ale UrrutiaAle Urrutia, 3 years ago

        His interest is to bring new clients to the studio at any price so of course he wasn't happy about it but both my team and I were not going to involve on this. At the end the founder also aligned with us so end of the story.

        ✌️

        1 point
        • Cory MalnarickCory Malnarick, 3 years ago

          Are you the lead? What would have happened if you were on board for a client, but a member of the team was not? Would you fire them?

          0 points
          • Ale UrrutiaAle Urrutia, 3 years ago

            I was the creative lead for a 10 people team.

            It actually happened, one of the two interns we had at that time said she will do it. I asked what was her position on the topic and why wanted to embarks into such a business. Her answer was she wanted an opportunity to show her value as graphic designer but she was not comfortable working for that client. After some more talks we both found a better project she could train her skills.

            I won't fire anyone for this, we all have the right to think and feel in different ways. Instead I will try to talk with them and do some reflection together on the topic.

            I've worked in several countries and have been part of very diverse teams and I assure that never met a designer who will be ok to go against his/her moral beliefs.

            0 points
            • Cory MalnarickCory Malnarick, 3 years ago

              good to hear you won't fire anyone for something like that, but I doubt that's the norm.

              0 points
    • Ricard Panadès NadalRicard Panadès Nadal, 3 years ago

      Well done sir, you have all my respect!

      1 point
      • Ale UrrutiaAle Urrutia, 3 years ago

        Thanks! I'd hate myself for directly contributing into such a bloody business.

        1 point
  • Joe BlauJoe Blau, 3 years ago

    Probably not, and I only say that because I know that for me - I do my best work when I'm passionate about solving a problem. In a case where I'm conflicted like that, I know that whatever I'm delivering would suffer in quality.

    2 points
    • , 3 years ago

      I really think that is the right way to look at it. I don't believe that you could ever do your best work on a project if you have any kind of moral qualms about it from the start.

      0 points
    • Art VandelayArt Vandelay, 3 years ago

      I do my best work when I'm passionate about solving a problem

      When should we see the design work that "solves" world hunger, war, racism, sexism, etc?

      Being sarcastic btw.

      0 points
      • Joe BlauJoe Blau, 3 years ago

        Even though you're being sarcastic, that's actually a very good question. I think a lot of people are taking steps towards addressing that in their own little way, but it seems like people en masse are more interested in Snapchat than any of those issues.

        0 points
        • Art VandelayArt Vandelay, 3 years ago

          Yea. My biggest issue I think with this general statement ("problem solving") is that its so overused it is meaningless now. It's a cute and easy way to say "I do stuff at work"

          0 points
  • Art VandelayArt Vandelay, 3 years ago

    A lot of the talk in this thread is awesome. But seems to only go as far as considering the OP's example of church.

    Here's a position I was in once that most wouldn't probably consider a morality issue:

    Worked with AMEX on a ton of campaigns. Most of which were pushing their rewards for their cards or promoting a new product for the "un-banked". This became problematic for me because most of their cards have high interest rate and AMEX (like every other bank) relies on two things: buyer beware and fine print. IMO - they were selling debt and happy to do so. Especially when they'd come out with reloadable cards for the un-banked (read usually broke) and still pushed the idea of self-image as why the card is good for them and mostly overlooking the fact that un-banked or folks with poor finances don't need credit cards, they need education on finances, something that is well within the reach of a "benefit" of a card they provide and something they could talk about as a perk.

    Worked with Crown Royal on a campaign around prime-time sports (Super Bowl and then NBA Finals).

    They used the same creative, sold crown royal as a red-neck drink during the Super Bowl and a sleek, luxury drink for young black men during the NBA playoffs. And the whole time they touted "heritage" as their scope of the work. In reality, they were, as PC police today would say, "appropriating" cultures to sell their product. And even more so, selling an opportunity to become an alcoholic. Especially if they show that drinking makes life happier (there isn't an add in the world that shows drinking makes life bad). And similar to AMEX, they relied on fine print to protect them and their motives.

    Most people wouldn't consider these things as morally wrong. I do, and did. Would I take them as a client, honestly, depends on the check.

    But I'd say, if we're going to give porn sites or church sites an examination we should also be talking about those in positions of power to really fuck up people's lives, even if its only a side effect.

    2 points
    • , 3 years ago

      Thanks Art, I mentioned somewhere along this thread that my church example was perhaps not the best hypothetical. I also want to reiterate that this was not a personal experience of mine, I was only trying to find examples that would support the conversation.

      0 points
    • , 3 years ago

      "Would I take them as a client, honestly, depends on the check."

      I've seen similar logic used throughout this thread. To me, money shouldn't even enter the equation if you are morally opposed to doing the work. Basically what this statement says is that your morals only get in the way up to the point where money trumps how you personally feel about it.

      I don't buy into the argument either that one needs the work, or needs the money, because if you take on a project that you are morally opposed to doing it means that you wouldn't be free to take on another project that didn't have that problem attached to it if it were to come along. Wouldn't you rather pass and move on to finding a project that is a better fit?

      0 points
      • Art VandelayArt Vandelay, 3 years ago

        Wouldn't you rather pass and move on to finding a project that is a better fit?

        Not if rent check is due, if i'm feeding a family that needs food now, etc.

        Your points are valid but I think the reality of timing plays a big role here. Sometimes you can say no cause you have a client right around the corner, sometimes you can't cause you its the first potential projects you've had in four-months.

        I think its all based on context and perspective. IMO - I think the moral high-ground folks are b/s cause I can't imagine they'd rather go hungry or homeless with a family than take on a client they "morally object to". But that's just me.

        2 points
        • Tom WoodTom Wood, 3 years ago

          I agree with this — there's a fair bit of naivety on this thread.

          1 point
  • Seth RSeth R, 3 years ago

    I'm a believer.

    I will not work for any church that would hatefully speak out against the LGBTQ community.

    I would also not create designs for a pornography based organization for many reasons. Such as the treatment of the women and men, the images that I would be working with. The conversations surrounding the work and the effort I would have placed on research and the places that would take me.

    Gay couple wants a blog or online store? No big deal.

    Racist blogger? A huge pass.

    When I've been faced with a potentially problematic client I normally say I'm booked out two months on other projects. If they still need my services at the end of the two months they can email. They never do and that's the last of it!

    2 points
  • Timothy McKennaTimothy McKenna, 3 years ago

    I haven't had an experience where the work challenged my morals, but I have been in situations where the company I worked for has done things that were unethical and when I objected, I was threatened with termination. For example: one agency I worked at was working on filing the paperwork to be considered a minority business in the state of Pennsylvania and that would allow them to bid on government RFPs. It was legally very dubious and the paperwork filing was dependant upon the government agency to not be very diligent as to the CEO's proof of being considered part of a minority group (he claimed he was Latinx due to his last name, but he admitted openly to the staff that he wasn't and he tried to leverage his "ethnic last name" to get an in with the state). That same company CEO decided to buy Adwords so that anyone looking up a particular agency in our region would get top ad of his agency....just an example of the many little underhanded, petty things he did. The last straw was when an employee's personal health issue was made public to the office during a meeting. I left soon afterwards.

    2 points
  • Jonathan ShariatJonathan Shariat, 3 years ago

    I've been writing a lot about this for my book Tragic Design.

    As designers, we have a responsibility to ask these questions and stand up for our moral code. You are right that it's not always black and white, but the more we consider our beliefs and what we might do, the better prepared we will be to make these choices.

    2 points
    • , 3 years ago

      Thank you for contributing, looking forward to reading your book, that sounds fascinating.

      0 points
  • James Young, 3 years ago

    Some of the clear cut stuff like working on a site publishing racist material is an easy no.

    I've had the exact experience you talk about regarding a religious client though.

    Couple of years back we took on a big job rebuilding the sites for a global church despite everyone in our company being non-religious and to be fair we had some issues morally as the project went on and we saw the sorts of content that we were ultimately helping to distribute.

    It's not that it was "bad" but as someone who's very much in the non-believer category I feel that the whole message of god is basically a work of fiction but of course when it's a church publishing it, they present it as their version of truth so it's a bit of conflict there.

    In terms of taking the job originally, yes, we had some reservations but ultimately took on the challenge (it was an interesting techincal rebuild too) and worked with them on an 18 month job.

    Ultimately we parted ways after launch and handed everything over on reasonable terms but it did cement our decision to do no further work for religious clients.

    Because of the job we did, we did get a lot of enquiries from other churches who'd seen it, all of which we've turned down (politely) and will continue to do so.

    2 points
  • Afnizar Nur Ghifari, 3 years ago

    Absolutely not

    2 points
  • Brandt Collins, 3 years ago

    I just signed up but I can relate to this question as it's something I've had to deal with recently.

    I draw my line when the client or employer is projecting their views onto me with intention of "converting or convincing" me. This is my way of determining wether it is a professional relationship in which I offer my skills in producing for them or if they are trying to gain another follower. If it is a true professional relationship, and only that then I do not mind working for or with them, as I feel like it is not my responsibility to make sure the world is a safe place for the intended consumer but instead wether or not I can help make my partners message more successful.

    Given this does not go for illegal activities what so ever and there's probably a few topics I outright refuse to work on that's not on moral grounds.

    2 points
  • Ricard Panadès NadalRicard Panadès Nadal, 3 years ago

    If it is completely opposite to my morals my answer will be always no.

    From my point of view, as a designer i don't want to help anybody that want's to make this world a worst place.

    1 point
  • Account deleted 3 years ago (edited 3 years ago )

    When I lived in London I was approached to work for companies like the Daily Mail and various gambling sites. I said no to them.

    Edit - Hypocritically, I did work for HSBC which at the time was taking money from Drug Cartels that were cutting people's heads off, so yeah, I'm not saying I'm perfect.

    1 point
  • Megan McNeice, 3 years ago (edited 3 years ago )

    I think it does depend on the severity of the transgression against my morals. I'm Christian, but I'm willing to sit down and learn and design with the Hindu or Muslim religions in mind (especially for concept art). I almost wouldn't quite count that as against my morals, however.

    Now, if it was for propaganda against alternate gender or alternate sexualities, I don't believe I would. I don't want my name on something like that, nor do I want to be a part of the hardships many of my friends face.

    Religion differences: Yes. Social issues that are derogatory or inflammatory in nature: No.

    1 point
  • Greg Warner, 3 years ago

    As a Christian, I'd seek to redirect projects elsewhere that went against morals or conscience. That means allowing me freedom of conscience on social issues where I disagree as well as issues that I think would be harmful to the audience—a lot of traditional advertising can fall into that trap though, which makes it tricky. Personally, alcohol and tobacco advertising, gambling, anything that employed sexual objectification for sales, etc. Working with and for someone of differing persuasions on religion or sexuality yes, but I'd prefer not to do work encouraging viewpoints I disagree with.

    1 point
  • Steve OrchoskySteve Orchosky, 3 years ago

    Thankfully I've never been in this position, but it's really hard to make a blanket statement as to whether I would or wouldn't take it. That being said, I think my best work would come from something I believe in and morally support.

    To use your example, I grew up Christian, and if I had to choose between a website for a Christian church or a mosque/synagogue, I'd choose the church. I'm confident I could empathize with the other job, but I'd be doing a disservice by taking an opportunity away from a designer that may have a more informed background. I think stronger work will come if your personal thoughts are inline with the client messaging/brand.

    As for something as glaring as racist propoganda, if there was a demand for that kind of work, I'm sure people would be hiring for the other argument of it as well. :)

    1 point
    • , 3 years ago

      I like your comment about passing due to someone else being a better fit for the job. I think that is a great stance, and one I hadn't considered much. I have worked in the agency setting where it felt like anything that came through the door was fair game, I believe there is often a reluctance to admit that you may not be the best fit for something. It's certainly a mindset I have had to craft over many years but I have learned that being honest about that up front can save you a lot of headaches in the long run.

      0 points
    • Seth RSeth R, 3 years ago

      Great thoughts! I really like how you can show that you wouldn't do as good of a job as someone that understands the unique target market. Perfect way to say no without saying no!

      0 points
  • Alessandro Stigliani, 3 years ago

    Quite surprised with the other answers, i don't have any issue to work for anything at all, and as a professional i think no one should. Design is not different than any other jobs, the only questions i ask myself are: does it pay well ? does it looks interesting professionally speaking ? Will i learn something out of this experience ?

    1 point
    • Connor NorvellConnor Norvell, 3 years ago

      and last question: Would I put this on my portfolio? / Do I want to be associated with these clients?

      I agree with you, there aren't many projects I would turn down. But if the work I do could hurt another person, I turning it down. (e.g. a neo nazi website)

      1 point
    • , 3 years ago

      I think if you are looking at it purely from the perspective of whether or not it pays well then it would be hard to say no. But I'd challenge you by asking a similar personal question to what was asked above: how could you do your best work if the project was something that you were morally opposed to?

      1 point
  • Account deleted 3 years ago

    No. I would decline such offer. If I don't believe in the product I'm making then that will be a lousy product in the end. Also, I can't put it in my portfolio and I could get a bad rep because of a lousy product... Naaah. But most of all, I don't want to give my knowledge and talent to people who do things that could hurt my lifestyle.

    0 points
  • iterati designiterati design, 3 years ago (edited 3 years ago )

    In the past, when I had less experience and a "tighter" financial situation, I considered almost every opportunity.

    Right now I'm turning down most of the projects, mostly because of teams's and founder's skills and ability, but also those that interfere with my values. Last project like that was an app that tracked your sporting activities and built habits, all this based on the idea of selling herbalife-like pills via a selfhelp/life-coach.

    What struck me most was their openness when they said they're just selling dreams to people. I waved a bye-bye and wished them luck.

    0 points
  • David Clements, 3 years ago

    I have very few moral lines. I don't mean I am an immoral person, I just mean ... gambling, pornography etc. The one thing I wont partake in, is if the product is not real. You know, the fake sites that screw people.

    0 points
  • Karl WeberKarl Weber, 3 years ago

    No.

    0 points
  • Connor NorvellConnor Norvell, 3 years ago

    For me it depends on the project. I generally don't do church websites anymore, (am christian) because they tend to take advantage of you (the ones I worked with anyway), and their websites are really big generally speaking.

    As far as morals go, I would not develop a racist website, or sexist, etc. I would NOT turn down a homosexual client, or trans client, etc. unless I just have no interest in their project.

    Really, no bigotry/hate, and no porn. and obviously no satanist websites.

    0 points
  • Gokhun GuneyhanGokhun Guneyhan, 3 years ago (edited 3 years ago )

    Nope. I've been in that point before (a newspaper full of hate speech and lies). I told them to face and it was one of the best moments of my career.

    0 points
  • Andy LeverenzAndy Leverenz, 3 years ago

    I recently designed and developed a website for a Christian church. While my experience was great, there was some awkwardness for sure.

    I was raised Catholic. It was pretty much required that I go to church, religion class every week, and so on until about 8th grade. From that point forward, I had more of a choice on whether or not to keep attending. Being as I was forced to most of the beginning of my life I decided to stop going.

    All that said I went into this recent project not being a believer in religion in general. This is especially true if you see what kind of buildings, equipment, and funding churches receive. It's kind of sick to be honest when there are other people suffering out there.

    Anyways, I went ahead with the project but there were several attempts from the churches team to get me to come to a service and become a part of their parish(not sure if this a Christian term or Catholic). They tried to guilt me into it and yes I almost did for the sake of research but I opted out.

    It was weird but the project was still positive and I don't think anyone judged me for it. I can tell I let a few people down but in the end, if both parties let "religion" get in the way nothing would ever get accomplished.

    TL;DR;

    1. I built a website for a church
    2. I'm not religious
    3. They wanted me to attend services
    4. I didn't want to and it was awkward.
    5. I still completed the project and the church was pleased.
    6. Morals certainly challenge your work but they don't have to if both parties can be adults.
    0 points
  • Nick Orland, 3 years ago

    No! Transparency, ethics & empathy primarily.

    0 points
  • Mitch Malone, 3 years ago

    Three things that come to mind that I would refuse to work on: weapons, surveillance, or censorship technology. There might be more.

    0 points
  • Scott Burns, 3 years ago

    I've worked on a site for a cathedral before, I myself have no religious beliefs, but I don't find the concept offensive in any way.

    At the same agency that project happened however, there was talk of pitching to do business for a chain of pay day loan / pawn shop type things. That was something I advised against and certainly wouldn't have been comfortable working on. In the end we decided not to go for it.

    0 points
  • Bilal KhettabBilal Khettab, 3 years ago

    I wouldn't do anything that would harm anyone on a short or a long term. As designer I'm responsible for what I put out there. As for morals, it depends on the person, either they wanted to go a way they don't believe in or not, that's their personal decision to make.

    0 points
  • Freckley FrecklesonFreckley Freckleson, 3 years ago

    I don't design for anything that I would be ashamed to tell my friends and family about. They matter more to me than a quick buck.

    0 points
  • Bevan StephensBevan Stephens, 3 years ago

    I have had to work on vaguely morally challenging projects (Ministry of Defence, Banks etc...) when I was freelance, as I had to family to feed. Well I didn't have to, I chose to. I'm not proud of it.

    Nothing too evil though, I have tried to steer my career in the direction of good, and have had lots of charity clients, so I hope that balances things out a but.

    0 points
  • Tom WoodTom Wood, 3 years ago

    Not all Morally Questionable jobs are equal. This is important.

    Designing a website in support for a Church is not the same as designing a website for a homophobic company, or a neo-nazi organisation.

    0 points
  • Tony Jones, 3 years ago (edited 3 years ago )

    Deciding what you believe in and where you will compromise will allow you to live with integrity. If the company/client doesn't respect your personal beliefs then that's not a good place to be working.

    0 points
  • Mo BaghdadiMo Baghdadi, 3 years ago

    When it comes to religious belief I'm not bothered, everyone is entitled to an opinion and their beliefs but when it comes to promoting bigotry that’s a big no-no for me or say the clients business is hurting the livelihoods of people in some way.

    0 points
  • Camri HinkieCamri Hinkie, 3 years ago

    This is a good question. I've dealt with exactly this, and in hindsight, I wish I would have done it differently.

    I once was assigned to a client who sold guns online. Personally, I'm a huge proponent of gun control, and don't really believe people should be allowed to buy guns so easily. MUCH less be able to buy them online.

    But I took on the project and created their website despite my discomfort. They were very nice, and were in every way a good design client. It was even one of the coolest looking sites I've ever done. But I would never put it in my portfolio, and I feel uncomfortable every time I think about it. Looking back now, I wish I would have politley declined and maybe allowed another designer on my team with different feelings work on it instead.

    0 points