Being ethical. Being responsible.

I have been thinking about the issue of an ethical and responsible designer.

I used to have a very tough stand on this.

I don’t want to work for cigarette companies.
I don’t want to work for alcohol companies.
I don’t want to work for gambling companies such as 4D and Toto.
I don’t want to work for Direct Selling MLM companies.

I just don’t.

Lately I have been re-examining this.

How about these? A charity project needs a poster. Under the sponsor’s list, I spot Carlsberg. Or a financial report for a cigarette company, which doesn’t serve any marketing purposes and is not selling anyone cigarettes. Here’s another one — a fund-raising walkathon event identity and collaterals, in which the main sponsor is 4D, the gambling company.

Do, or don’t do?

Think further.

Is Caffeine a drug? John Hopkins Medicine classifies that Caffeine withdrawal as a disorder. So does it make working on Starbucks or San Francisco packaging, mugs, leaflets and brochures an irresponsible, unethical act? Promoting caffeine is harmful.

How about working on fashion, cosmetics and perfumes brands? Ramp up the impossible standards of beauty and send all those who don’t measure up to Moss and Kulm into low self-esteem, depression, and anorexic bulimic disorders. The psychology of “I am beautiful and you aren’t” is deadlier than alcohol.

Maybe we could market Secret Recipe or Prima Deli. But wait, won’t this promote unhealthy eating habits, leading to obesity and high cardio risks.

Let’s talk about the environment then. What about Tupperware? Harmless plastic containers. But wait, plastics are harmful to the environment. How about property projects? But property developments are the most harmful rapists to the natural landscape and environment.

Maybe I should do direct marketing for loan sharks. The only difference between loan sharks and legal financial institutions is probably in its legality. Try defaulting on loan — the financial institutions will not hesitate to engage you in lawyer summons and long battles in court or send intimidating bouncers to your house to repossess your car.

Alright, that loan shark example is on the extreme side.

I am no longer sure what it means to be an ethical designer. After all, it is a designer’s job to ensure clients’ communications objectives are met. It is merely a job — the designer’s role is to stay as an outsider and remain professional, impartial and objective. By our design skills, we may help move more beers, cigarettes, cakes, facial care packs, cheesecakes, coffee, Tupperware and all, but at the other end, the consumer is supposed to be making responsible purchasing decisions. Do we designers shoulder all the responsibilities or should the buying consumers be the ones to be blamed for not behaving wisely?

I am hence eligible to work on any accounts I wish, free of any moral obligations. As a professional, I am responsible for producing what I produce but am I also responsible for how consumers react? If an alcohol brand says the best thing in life is shared, and my job is to communicate that statement, then so be it. If the customer is dumb enough to really think that beer is to be shared with his family and his young sons and daughters, heck, that is really not my problem.

Somehow, I can picture the moral guardians fuming at my conclusions. This is my viewpoint and it’s your choice on how to react to it.