Mark Lamster | Essays

What Makes a Moral Practice?

There is no more fundamental task, for design professionals, than choosing clients. Because design work is so often identified with the client (it's their headquarters, their letterhead, etc.), a job can define a practice, a career. So how do we choose who we work with, knowing that in this imperfect world there are no perfect clients? Is it acceptable to work with a government with a poor record on human rights? How about a corporation with a spotty environmental history? Is it reasonable to engage with these institutions? Is it okay to leave their work to others so we might carve out some ostensibly "moral" practice working for...whom I'm not sure? We all make personal choices as we build our practices. What are yours? I hope you'll join the interesting dialogue on this subject ongoing as part of the series hosted by Glass House Conversations

Comments [7]

I've listened to heartbroken rainmakers complain that after months of work courting a major soft drink company, their designers refused to help sell sugar water to children. The rainmakers were appalled, did no one appreciate all of the work done to keep the designers employed?

Shared moral values regarding which goodness are good or bad are hard to establish, but worthwhile. When everyone in the company does not understand the expectations for the type of client work considered acceptable, client and colleague relationships can collapse.

Interesting topic. However, if we were to honestly dissect every potential client for a morality issue we wouldn't have any work. If you are going to stand on the morality soapbox where do you stop? At the corporate image level? What about the executives? There are doctors who smoke, is that going to keep you from taking a hospital project?

I think it is important to take on a project for the challenges it presents and the integrity as a project one can derive from it. We all might be better served by living up to our own morality issues rather than worry about someone elses.
Decor Girl

Interesting post because many designers don't have the luxury of choice. They take what they can get.

Everyone has a moral and ethical framework. It is teasing out where that is. Everyones edge is somewhere a little different I've noticed.


Designers need to see themselves in a paradox. The conditions of their work is determined by economic and political dynamics and their work conditions this dynamic. The paradox is that within this structural determini(sing) they have the ability to think and to make choices. However to make the issue about individual and discrete decisions regarding clients blindsides the issue about what design should do, under what conditions it should be practiced, and what designers can do about this.
There needs to be a much more rigorous questioning of the conditioning of design and what design conditions before we return to the question of how to respond in an ethical (or rather, political) manner.

Do the plumbers choose their clients?

"There is no more fundamental task, for design professionals, than choosing clients." the key word there is choice. Although it may seem that choice for us who are just starting as designers is very limited, the truth is that patiently building a strong foundation proves its worth down the road. What I mean is that you do have a responsibility to make ethical choices by observing the moral practices that a company or client stands for. Allow 'doing the right thing' work its way in your heart by contemplating the direction you need to take with any client or opportunity that comes your way. My focus is that great opportunities can lead to success, but few lead to world change; this is where choice makes an impact.

What it comes down to is how well the designer knows his or her own values and if they have the courage to live them. It's not really about the clients. It's about the designer, who is first an individual and citizen. What does he or she really belive is moral, ethical and just?

Your decisions define you.


Jobs | May 22