I learnt freelance designing in graphic, media and web design with a lot of passion. In that case on completion of my undergraduate studies, I was so eager to work in the field. My ethical dilemma occurred in the first job I got which I came across it from an advert in the internet. I was so excited about the job that I applied for it immediately. The work conditions were that my pay would be first-rate and would be made promptly.
I got a call from my client one afternoon when I got home from ice skating. He explained that it was a fairly simple web design job that would require the incorporation of was graphic design to make a more attractive website. Considering my prowess in web development I felt confident in web design projects for I had experience in both corporate and creative projects.
It is important to note that in our careers, whether as graphic designers, web designers, fashion designers or any other career, ethics in the workplace are essential. Ethics do not only play a role in our normal day-to-day activities, such as attending a wedding, tipping our waiters and receiving guests in our home, ethics also are a part of our business life. Web design has been described as notorious in disregarding ethics as designers overlook that websites promote advertise or sell goods and services and that they are part of moral code.
My client introduced himself as Mark and gave me a brief of the project. The project would be about designing a website that would help advertise clothes for the Smart’s Fashion Mall. He explained that it was a website of around five pages and would be mostly graphics and advertising. This perfectly suited me as the web development would be fairly simple.
He inquired if we could come up with an appointment on when we could meet so we could talk over the details of the project. We agreed on a time the following week at Mark’s offices in Detroit. Though excited, I was as well scared of meeting a stranger who I was not well acquainted with anyway; I decided to give it a shot.
Early in the morning I walked into his office and he showed me in. The office was well varnished with metallic and wooden products. The walls were dark colored contrasted with light colored cabinets. The interior window from office to studio had sliding shutters to keep out light when needed and even had pin board on office side of the shutters. The two metallic grey chairs placed on either side of the well furnished wooden table gave the room a completely beautiful outlook. He offered me a seat and we both went down to business details about the project at hand.
I was required to create a website for the clothes fashion design mall. I was comfortable with creating such website and was so excited that I wanted to start immediately. I took a good look of the model photos taken to be included in the graphics of the website and this shocked me. I had sworn never to partake in anything that offended any religious group. The photos clearly mocked the dress code of a given religious group by comparing the Mall’s clothes with those of the religion. He went further to explain how much he was offering me to complete this project, it was a lot much more than I had ever heard of offered before for similar projects.
I enquired about the businesses code of ethics, as it was important to me for I wanted to make sure I was not getting myself involved in a project I was uncomfortable with. I had to make a decision on if I would take up the project or not. It was essential to put into consideration the stakeholders in order to make the appropriate decision. The stakeholders were Mark, the marketing director Smart’s Fashion Mall, Smart’s Fashion Mall, the religion and I. I had my reputation at stake owing to the fact that I did not want to appear inexperienced or even look irrational. I do not support the mall’s way of advertising their products personally and taking up the job would put me in a position of conflict with my beliefs and that is not ethical.
In addition getting involved with the project would be getting me to be associated with disrespect for the religion which is socially culturally and environmentally unacceptable. Bearing in mind that I consider disrespect a vice as a matter of fact this was unacceptable by me. No! It’s a crime, social disgrace, an abomination and a sin. I was now torn between the financial gain and the consequences of being associated with a group I did not accept its mode of advertising.
According to (Wallace, R 2007, p. 86) Aristotle explained that one should be self-aware to find a moral judgment of their actions and I argued my case based on this explanation. I am a virtuous designer there is no way as per Virtue ethics I would put financial gain ahead of my beliefs. It is as well a tough decision to make for I valued money almost as much as I placed value on my beliefs.
The decision I make would determine if I would put Mark and Smart Fashion Mall’s interests at risk or not. He insisted that the business’ sales had fallen drastically since 2009. He said that this website would be a key source of information to help increase the public’s knowledge of the available business’ products and hence increase their sales.
On the other hand, the religious group would expect that the business would respect their dress code and that I would not uphold that kind of mockery to their way of dressing. They would be completely furious with me if I did place such graphics in the website. Thus, my reputation is at stake too.
In the course of the meeting he showed the graphics he expected to have in the website. He was highly concerned with the ‘look’ and ‘feel’ the site would have and the general outlook of the site. From my own judgment he was less concerned with the impact of the site on the religion’s beliefs. As we perused through the photos one caught my attention. The photo of a kid sucking cigarette shaped candy posing as model almost made me blow up with rage which so far I had tried to contain successfully. I realized that he cared less about children as well and they seemed to be of no importance to him. I however, handled the situation professionally till the end of the meeting an hour later when I left to go home. I later learned that Mark also worked in a candy company that was manufacturing a new product of candy- the cigarette shaped candy so he wanted to use the opportunity to do a market survey.
Ethical principles
Ethics governing a contract type of work would apply in a project like this. (Bohme, G. 1997 p. 460) stated that when business is done between two or more parties it is vital that contracts are put in place to protect all the parties involved. This is more of a legal system than rules based situation, as the rules involved in this situation are complex because the project involves both personal and business interests.
According to (Luppicini, R. 2010 p. 14) concerning rule based principle I had an obligation to Mark and Smarts Fashion Mall, this would mean that I should take the job in order to maintain my reputation of being good at web designing. This being my first job I wanted to build my reputation so that it would open up to better opportunities in future. Contrary, I had an obligation to the religion involved which would mean I do not accept to do the project in order to respect their beliefs.
(Wallace, R. 2007 p. 89) explains that utilitarianism involves putting in consideration the greater party. From the utilitarianism point of view, I should take up the project so as to make the larger stakeholder (Smart’s Fashion Mall) happy. By having the web-site done well they will be able to better promote their clothes to the public and, therefore if the web-site was not made then there would be increased chances of continuous reduction of losses. This is a rather skewed way to analyze the situation as, the most direct way of applying utilitarianism would be that I believe that the greater good would be to benefit the religion and they should not be subject such selfish business motives.
(Hickman & Larry 2004 p.498) explained the ethical principle pragmatism and by pragmatically dealing with this project, I would base my argument on my need for money as a primary motivation for pursuing this project, and letting my moral rule that the firm is unfair to the religion become a secondary issue.
According to (Luppicini, 2010 p. 16), my initial approach would be an end based approach, which would involve figuring out consequences and deciding which was right or wrong. I was to put aside my moral beliefs to take part in a project purely for financial gain even after feeling overly uncomfortable with the way the entity regarded children and treated the religion. This end based approach also involved what would happen if I had completed the project successfully. I would be helping manipulate people minds as a way of promoting the mall’s products in a way I strongly detest. This would be quite unethical and hence led me on to my next possible approach of the situation.
(Luppicini, 2010 p. 15) states that the rule based approach involves establishing a rule and following it. The rules based approach came into place because my conscience was getting the better part of me. The approach which can also be called duty ethics insists on establishing a rule and following it. The initial excitement of money had sunk in; I began to think about how my own actions would cause consequences to others. If I carry out the project, I would be better off financially, but to whose expense? I would be giving up on my own morals and allow the religion to be treated unfairly and that would cause more harm than good to my future career options. If I continued then I would also be a hypocrite and my intentions could be questioned in the future. I had an obligation of upholding the morals and beliefs of the given religion.
That night I sat with myself and thought about the task ahead over and over again looking at it from all angles and weighing both advantages and disadvantages. I viewed the issue critically, the financial gain would be such a boost to my economy, and it would help me settle some financial deficits I had then in terms of debts. The project paid better than any other heard of before, it was worth going for.
On the other hand conflicting thoughts kept crossing my mind that I had the duty to stand for what I believe in but not fight against it. I was putting my reputation at stake by taking up the project. How would the public view me after reading the site? This went on the whole night! After a lot of thinking I ended up deciding that it would not be in my own interests to carry on with the projects, I would be going against everything I stand against. I called Mark later the next day after plucking up the courage and I explained I would not work any further on the project. He was completely callous and interrupted as I was talking to him, he said, “Thank you!” and hanged up on me.
I reflected on the choice I had made, I had a lot of mixed feelings. I was wrestling with my own morals and beliefs. However, if I had to apply the test criteria as per (Wilson, 2001 p.23), for this situation I would have still come to the same conclusion:
Harm Test: creating the website would do no physical harm, however it might cause emotional harm as the religion would feel offended by the site itself.
Colleagues test: My colleagues would agree with me, that I ended up choosing the right path morally by not fighting against what I stand for and not being hypocritical.
Publicity Test: This website would be public meaning my decision on taking up the job would be made public and I would not be comfortable with creating an impression that I support disrespect for religion.
Mother test: My mother would have supported my decision either way although she may have been disappointed if I choose money over morals.
Reversibility test: I would appreciate if all professionals would stand against vices and hope that they would do the same for me if they were in my shoes and me in the religion’s shoes.
Defensibility test: If I was asked about my views on the religion dress code in future, would I be able to defend my reasons for taking the project? Probably not, it would be clear that I chose money over my own personal beliefs
I did well by standing my ground about the ethical principles I believe in. I did not put my reputation in jeopardy nor bring information to the public about vices that were offensive to the religion. Mark and his colleagues had no respect for children and religion therefore; making a website for them would mean I support their point of view which I don’t.
My moral rule to this dilemma is:
“Do not get involved with anything that goes against socially, environmentally and culturally accepted morals.”
My moral judgment would then be:
“I would rather not get involved with a project that supports immoral actions and ideologies. It may harm your career and also make you do things you would not agree with for money. So I decided not to pursue the project even though I would not receive the money I was initially intrigued by.”
Bohme, G. 1997. The Structures and Prospects of Knowledge Society. Symposium: “Revisiting the theory of finalization in science” Oxford. Oxford University Press pp. 447-468
Hickman, Larry .2004. “On Hugh T. Miller on ‘Why old Pragmatism Needs an Upgrade.” Administration & Society. Cambridge. Cambridge University press: pp.496-499.
Luppicini, R. 2010. Techno Ethics and the Evolving Knowledge Society. Hershey: Idea Group Publishing. pp. 11- 23
Wallace, R. Jay. 2007. “Moral Psychology” Texas Jackson & Smith. pp. 86–113
Wilson, Timothy L. 2001. “Pragmatism and Performance Measurement: An Exploration of Practices in Texas State Government”. Applied Research Projects. Texas. Texas State University. pp. 20-24.

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