Who would you never work for?

Plenty of designers have rules about the types of companies they would never accept as clients. According to my (anecdotal) research, arms dealers, tobacco brands, gambling and online loans companies are most commonly on these “proscribed” lists. Maybe you have one yourself?

Obviously there are interesting debates to have around designers’ individual moral choices – would you work for an e-cigarette brand? And will spirits (which have been linked to a rise in mouth cancer) be the next taboo?

The fact that these “banned lists” exist at all also demonstrates not only that designers are (in the most part) pretty moral, but that they understand the importance of their work and the impact that it can have.

And, oddly, some of the most compelling arguments for design’s impact come from these taboo industries.

The debate around plain cigarette packaging – which has been raging this week after the Government announcement of a vote on the issue – is a clear example of this.

The fact that tobacco companies are so opposed to the matter shows the strong value they place in their brands – which they operate, remember, without any above-the-line advertising, sponsorship or other promotional activities.

It’s a similar story for online loans (most of whom, effectively are offering pretty much the same product – give or take a few numbers in the APR). For a sector like this, branding is often the only thing that differentiates one provider from the other.

Spirit brands meanwhile, are among the most prolific commissioners of design – particularly at the luxury and limited-edition end of the market. If the spirits sector will be the next to face branding restriction (as some are predicting), what will that mean for the many consultancies who create beautiful, award-winning and lucrative work for them?


And even the arms trade has an appreciation of design – just look at the investment Kalashnikov made in its branding at the end of last year. If you’re anything like me, your reaction would have been at first shock that a company like Kalashnikov could find designers willing to work for them, followed by surprise that the logo is actually quite nice…

By withholding their services from some of the industries that desire them most, designers are doing a important thing, and not just from a moral standpoint – they are reinforcing the power that they hold.

One of the key things that good design can do is build desire. This is a huge responsibility for designers. How do you exercise it? Who would you never work for?

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  • Barney Bryant November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Great article. I freelanced at many big London design companies that seemed happy to just accept whatever work they were asked to do, seemingly without considering whether it was morally right or not. Which is why I started my own company, Bright Green Brands, to be able to work for clients that fitted more with my beliefs & values.

    Also, as a packaging designer, I feel I have a responsibility both to the environment and the next generation not to create unnecessary trash that can’t be recycled or biodegrade.

    After spending years helping large global brands become even larger, I now feel much happier being able to help in the success of smaller niche brands who seem to have more consideration for the impact they might have by selling their products.

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