Median Servant Persepolis Achaemenid Period 5th century BCE, photo by Mary Harrsch

Some graphic designers believe ethics for graphic designers should be based on the idea of servant-hood and that helping other people is a good thing to do. The problem is that even if graphic designers were to agree on the idea of servant-hood, they would meet controversy when trying to define what “helping” is. The Nazis believed they were “helping” the people of Germany. History has shown us that their behavior proved to be quite the opposite. Others believe that visual rhetoric is a graphic designer’s job. Like an attorney, it’s graphic designers’ responsibility to represent each client without being influenced by their own personal beliefs. They think that asking graphic designers not to persuade is like asking fishermen not to fish—it’s what they are trained to do.

Issues of morality crop up in almost all areas of ethics in graphic design. Copyright infringement is a violation of law, but it can also be viewed as not being a “good” thing to do. Downloading fonts illegally poses a similar problem. However there are some issues that point directly to issues of morality and the role that graphic design plays in influencing culture. Graphic designers regularly create visual communication that’s consumed by the masses. Issues like brand stretching, social responsibility, sustainabliity, and greenwashing all warrant examination through the lens of morality.