The Calculated Creative

Ethical Issues in Graphic Design

Graphic design is far more than just combining fonts, colors, and images in visually appealing ways.

Graphic design is far more than just combining fonts, colors, and images in visually appealing ways.

Graphic designers have an important responsibility to carefully consider the wider impacts of their work.

And how design choices may affect:
- Individuals
- Communities
- The Environment

Here are 5 fundamental ethical issues graphic design professionals should keep top of mind:


Passing off someone else's creative work and design elements as your own original creation is:
- Unethical
- Unprofessional
- Illegal

Graphic designers must fully respect copyright laws.

And properly credit any sources, references, or inspiration used in their work.

Extensive research should be conducted to verify that a design does not too closely mimic something that already exists.

Carefully check and double check your work to ensure you have not unintentionally copied.

Or referenced someone else's design.

Even if unintentional, plagiarism in graphic design remains a very serious ethical concern.

Cultural Sensitivity

Graphics, imagery, fonts, colors, and text used in designs can very easily:
- Stereotype
- Offend
- Isolate
- Exclude

Certain societal groups.

Graphic designers have an ethical obligation to learn and understand perspectives and cultures different from their own.

Take proactive steps to ensure design elements and aesthetic choices do not promote:
- Prejudice
- Racism
- Sexism
- Discrimination

Strive to create graphics that are respectful.


And promote unity across all people and cultures.


Given their strong influence over human opinion and behavior, graphic designers carry immense power.

Unethical designers can leverage this power to manipulate others.

Through tactics like:
- Fake imagery
- False statistics
- Subliminal messaging

Graphic designers should avoid manipulation at all costs.

And instead prioritize honesty, integrity, and accuracy in their work.

Educate rather than persuade.

Enlighten rather than influence.

Seek to empower audiences to think critically.

And form their own sound judgements.

Environmental Impact

From excessive paper usage to increased energy consumption for digital displays.

Graphic design inherently carries environmental effects.

Conscientious designers seek to minimize ecological harm by using sustainable, recycled materials.

Efficient resource-saving production methods.

And smart distribution practices.

Graphic designers should consider the full product life cycle.

And advocate for sustainable, eco-friendly standards and practices at every stage.

There remains much room for improvement in making graphic design a truly green profession.


Maintaining open, frequent communication with clients is essential for ethical design work.

Set proper expectations by clearly explaining your creative capabilities.

As well as technical and logistical limitations.

Do not promise design outcomes you cannot reasonably deliver on.

Manage client expectations.

Communicate risks.

Seek regular feedback.

And deliver finished work you fully stand behind.

Graphic designers should not mislead clients.

Or conceal any interests or activities that may constitute a conflict.

Full transparency with clients is always the most ethical path.

The Takeaway

With their unique skills and talents, graphic designers have an exciting opportunity to do tremendous good in the world.

By thoughtfully considering these 5 core ethical issues, graphic design professionals can create responsible, honest, inclusive work.

All while:
- Building community
- Driving progress
- Promoting positive change

For all of humanity.

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Suck Less

Pulling back the curtain on the creative process to help make your work a little less terrible. A 3-minute read delivered each week on Monday morning.

The Calculated Creative

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