Are You An Ethical Designer?

Defining your own ethical code is difficult, but if you’re going to work with a variety of different clients, it’s necessary. What types of work would you refuse to accept? How far is too far over the line? Where is the line? Designers must ask themselves these questions to determine their personal ethical code.

To help you figure out your personal ethics in design, I’ve included The Road to Hell, a test developed by graphic designer Milton Glaser to help designers establish their own level of discomfort with bending the truth.

1. Designing a package to look bigger on the shelf.

2. Designing a package aimed at children for a cereal whose contents you know are low in nutritional value and high in sugar.

3. Designing a crest for a new vineyard to suggest that it has been in business for a long time.

4. Designing a jacket for a book whose sexual content you find personally repellent.

5. Designing a medal using steel from the World Trade Center to be sold as a profit-making souvenir of September 11.

6. Designing an advertising campaign for a company with a history of known discrimination in minority hiring.

7. Designing an ad for a slow, boring film to make it seem like a lighthearted comedy.

8. Designing a line of T-shirts for a manufacturer that employs child labor.

9. Designing a promotion for a diet product that you know doesn’t work.

10. Designing an ad for a political candidate whose policies you believe would be harmful to the general public.

11. Designing a brochure for an SUV that flips over frequently in emergency conditions and is known to have killed 150 people.

12. Designing an ad for a product whose frequent use could result in the user’s death.


What do you think? Which of these would you do and which would you not do? What are some other examples of projects or clients that you think would be unethical to work with?

What is Design Activism?

I recently purchased a copy of The Design Activist’s Handbook, a fantastic book written by Noah Scalin and Michelle Taute. Their book discusses how designers can use their powers for good, creating graphics that inspire others, educate people about new topics, or provide a platform to people whose voices are often not heard. As designer David Berman explains in the foreward, “Design is a very young profession. We’ve barely begun. Over 95% of all designers who have ever lived are alive today. Together it is up to us to decide what role our profession will play. Is it going to be about selling sugar water, and smoke and mirrors to the vulnerable child within each one of us? Or is it going to be about helping repair the world?”

“We have the opportunity to decide whether we will simply do good design or we will do good with design.” -David Berman

Design activism has grown into a movement of its own. Organizations such as Design for America and IDEO aim to create social impact through design. Elefint Designs uses design to “help good causes create a better world,” and Design Corps uses design to “create positive change in traditionally underserved communities.”

“Design has the power to give a voice to people and causes without access to multimillion-dollar advertising budgets and to offer people alternative visions of how the world might be.”
-The Design Activist’s Handbook

Design activism is about using your talents as a designer to create a positive impact in the world. It means using your talents to help non-profits establish their identity or offering to create a logo for an organization run entirely by volunteers. It’s about designers using what they know best, design, to help solve problems and build a better world.

You don’t have to be the CEO of a nonprofit to make a difference. Anyone can make a difference using the skills and talents they have combined with motivation and passion. For designers, that means using your skills in design to improve the lives of others.

The Design Activist’s Handbook, by Noah Scalin and Michelle Taute

A Graphic For Every Country in Africa

People often refer to Africa as if it is a single country, ignoring the fact that Africa is a continent with 55 distinct countries. I created this series to use my design skills to emphasize every country in Africa and help others understand the uniqueness of each country. Below you’ll find thumbnails of all the graphics. Click them to see larger versions!




I created this series both to educate myself and others. I learned a lot along the way and plan to create similar series for other continents. Special thanks to, Country Reports, and Afripedia, which were my main sources for information and photographs when researching the countries. Feel free to share these and familiarize others with these beautiful countries!

The Devastating Truth About White Tigers: Changing Design Direction Mid-Project

When I was babysmall enrolled in an Infographics class taught by Terence Oliver at the UNC School of Media and Journalism, I wanted to make my final illustration-based infographic about white tigers. They’re cute, stunningly beautiful, and very rare, making them even more interesting.

I eagerly looked at photos of white tiger cubs online, obsessed with their soft fur and bright blue eyes. They were the perfect combination of regal tigers and adorable kittens. I imagined the illustration I would make for this infographic: two cuddly white tiger clubs playing, their little paws up in the air, their mouths open in what would almost look like a smile… I couldn’t wait to get started.

Before starting research, I decided to do some preliminary research. I wanted information about what the tigers ate, where they were most common, why their fur was white, and how they were different from other tigers.

However, as I did more research, I noticed something troubling. All the sources I found about white tigers did not talk about how cute they were or what their favorite food was. Instead, I was finding quotes like this:

  • “The ONLY way to produce a tiger or lion with a white coat is through inbreeding brother to sister or father to daughter; generation after generation after generation.”

  • “The kind of severe inbreeding that is required to produce the mutation of a white coat also causes a number of other defects in these big cats.”

  • “Breeders of white tigers do not contribute to any species survival plan. They are breeding for money.”


I then tiger_downsynrealized that my dream of creating a cute, non-controversial infographic about white tiger cubs was not going to happen. Instead of reading about how tiger cubs like to play, I found myself reading about Kenny, the white tiger who was born with with Down Syndrome and physical deformities as a result of forced inbreeding.

Ignoring the huge problems in the breeding industry would be unethical. White tigers do not exist naturally and are inbred for profit because of our fascination with their beauty. Creating an infographic celebrating their beauty would only further perpetuate this problem. I knew it was my duty to tell the truth about these tigers, so I decided to make that the focus of my infographic.
It was time to completely change my creative direction.

I created an illustration of Kenny, the white tiger with Down Syndrome, and used the text in the infographic to discuss the problems with the breeding industry. Based on the research I did, I found four main problems with the white tiger industry:

  • White tigers are bred solely for captivity.

  • They wouldn’t survive in the wild- their white coats provide a significant disadvantage, making camouflaging and hiding nearly impossible.

  • The inbreeding leads to severe health problems.

  • While breeders talk about conservation, the real reason to breed these animals is financial. Because of the high demand and low supply of white tigers, the breeding industry is extremely profitable, even though many tigers cannot be sold because of their physical deformities.


Based on those four points, I divided the infographic up into four section, using a large illustration of Kenny to draw the viewer in. I added a faded chain link fence over Kenny to reinforce that these animals are only bred for captivity as sources of revenue.

Check out my infographic below to see the final product. Despite the unexpected change in direction midway through the project, I am glad that I was able to advocate for such a troublesome issue and create a piece with more meaning than “look at how cute these cubs are!” Especially since the popularity of those cubs is the reason this horrible industry is staying in business.


View Full Size Infographic

5 Ways Your Design Is (Unintentionally) Excluding People

Designers have good intentions, but small overlooked details can subtly reinforce concepts that exclude certain people, even if your company preaches diversity and inclusivity. Sometimes we get so focused on making pixel-perfect designs, adhering to a particular color scheme, and making great UI that we forget to look at deeper implications of what we design and how it might affect specific groups of people. Listed below are a few examples of designs I’ve seen that may make people feel excluded from your brand and company.


1. Lack of diversity in stock photos.


Stock photos are a great way to show the culture of your company without hiring a photographer. However, be careful when selecting photos. Don’t just look for people who are happy-but-not-overly-happy-because-that-looks-fake— also remember to include diversity in your selection. Excluding people of color from stock photos implies that your company doesn’t value diversity. Implicit racist bias is still a problem in the workplace, and there’s a push for companies to do more to promote diversity in the workplace. If your company emphasizes diversity but that sentiment isn’t represented in the stock photos, it sends mixed messages. The stock photo you choose can even negate the content that you’re publishing, as Rob Humphrey, Senior Account Executive at LinkedIn, explained in this post.


2. Maleness as the norm in icons.


Caitlin Winner, design manager at Facebook, led the initiative to change the Facebook friends icon after discovering that it featured a male silhouette in the foreground and a smaller female silhouette in the background. She redesigned the icon to make the male and female icons the same size. By not making one particular gender seem like the most important one, Caitlin’s new icon promoted gender equality. As content consultant Lindsay Patton wrote here, simple imagery can have a big impact on people.

If you’re making a website and showing different icons for different resources, and all of them look like men, you’re subtly saying that your product is geared at men and not women. This might work if you’re selling a product just for men, but otherwise, you may be unknowingly pushing 50% of the population away from your company.


3. Making America the default.


When you’re choosing a globe icon, most designers automatically choose one displaying the Americas, or more specifically, the USA. Especially for US-based designers like myself, it’s automatic to only look at things from our perspective. One relatively simple way to fix this is to have a few different globe icons that change based on the user’s location. Facebook Software Engineer Brian Jew and Facebook Product Designer Julyanne Liang worked together to design new globe icons for users not in the American half of the world. If you’re in Asia, why would the globe icon on your profile have the Americas on it instead of the part of the world that you live in?


4. Not accounting for color-blindness.


If you’re a web developer/designer, make sure you test your website for color-blindness. The easiest way to do this, as explained here, is to make sure that colors are not your only method of conveying important information. In the above example, the map of the London Underground should use another way to get the information across to people who are color-blind. This could be in the form of alt text, different line types denoted in a key, or text in the web page that supplements the color-dependent method. There are many online resources you can use to easily test your website for color-blindness. This contributes to a much better UX for these users and allows you to clearly communicate your information.


5. Accidentally portraying hierarchy when there isn’t one.


I was looking at a company’s website the other day, and they had photos of their nine executive board members in a 3×3 layout. One was the president, and the other eight were VPs of various departments. The president was male, four VPs were female, and four VPs were male. However, the way they were arranged had all the women on the bottom. This was just a coincidence, as the VPs were alphabetical, and the men all had last names that started earlier in the alphabet than the women’s names did. But most people aren’t going to take the time to check the order of last names. Since the rank of the VPs is unknown to an outsider, it would have been easy to rearrange the VPs. Aesthetically, it looks better, but more importantly, it sends the message to women that they can be successful at this company. Otherwise, it looks like men run the company and that even the women in charge are still less powerful than the men. It implies that women at this company can be successful… but not *too* successful, as those roles are reserved for men. Little design tweaks like rearranging their photo order (still keeping the president first, of course) emphasizes your company’s diversity and opportunities for success.


…does any of this actually matter?

Maybe you’re asking yourself if this is really matters, or if anyone is actually going to notice or care if an icon is male or female. But as a designer, you have the capability to make people feel included or excluded by the steps you take in your design. And especially if your company preaches diversity and inclusivity, you don’t want to send mixed signals about your values by contradicting them in your design. A little effort can go a long way.

Kids Change the World

If you’re a designer looking for non-profit work or you’re a non-profit seeking a graphic designer, check out Their goal is to connect charities and non-profits with tools, volunteers, and resources. Through, I’ve found a lot of great non-profits with important missions and designed for them. One of the first organizations I designed for is Kids Change the World. KCTW is a “global youth-led non-profit organization that envisions a world in which young people work to combat societal issues to ensure all are blessed with the opportunities that allow them to lead productive and fulfilling lives.”

About the Organization

KCTW01Kids Change the World was started by Christopher Yao. When he was 10 years old, Christopher was diagnosed with an physical impediment, an under jaw bite. He was told that he needed corrective surgery before he turned 18, but the surgery would be extremely expensive and painful. However, Christopher found a doctor who was able to solve his problem without using surgery; as a result, Christopher became passionate about helping children with severe oral problems. This led to him founding Kids Change the World. He has since been named one of the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America, and has been recognized many, many, many times for making such a difference at such a young age.

My Contribution

Initially, Christopher approached me and asked me to redesign their logo. He wanted the design to look professional and clean, but also colorful and kid-friendly. The final logo featured two small hands on splashes of red, green, and blue paint; those colors are used again in the logo’s words. After designing the logo, I’ve gone on to design many other materials for Christopher. In addition to promotional materials for Kids Change the World, I also designed a logo for Smiles for Lives, a group within KCTW which works to “fund surgeries through various nonprofits and partner hospitals to change the lives of children through life-changing cleft-lip or palate surgery and post-surgical therapy.” Featured at the bottom of this page is a flyer I designed for the Smiles for Lives Read-A-Thon 2015. I’ve also worked with Christopher to design a logo for Medical Marvels, an umbrella program over Smiles for Lives.

Why It Matters

Graphic design is very important for non-profits. When you’re just starting out as a non-profit, appearance is especially important when looking for partners and supporters. A professional logo establishes legitimacy and makes it look like you know what you’re doing (even if you don’t). When you go to a website and it’s poorly made, difficult to navigate, and looks like it was made in 5 minutes, you’re going to be a lot less likely to donate to that organization than if their website looks sleek, clean, and professional. You could start a non-profit with the best mission statement and plan that’s ever been created, but if you have no logo, a plain website, and no social media presence, the only people who are going to give you financial support are your parents (if you’re lucky). Whether you like it or not, your appearance and branding matters, and that’s why it’s so crucial for non-profits (and all organizations) to have an established identity and brand. Websites like are great, because they help non-profits find talented individuals to design for them and grow their brand. Design can also help you think about what you want to communicate and how—who is your audience? What appeals to them? What sort of presence are you trying to establish? How do you want people to view your organization? Graphic design is so much more than pretty colors. It forces you to define yourself, your values, and your goals, and then challenges you to communicate all of that visually. If you’re operating or thinking of starting a non-profit and need graphic design, check out or email me at


That Lucky Bracelet

That Lucky Bracelet is a global organization that sends “Smile Packages” (which include lucky bracelets) to children and teens throughout the country who are fighting a life threatening or severe life altering chronic medical condition. They’re “dedicated to spreading joy, one Smile Package at a time to pediatric patients.” They’ve got branches in Boston, New York, Pennsylvania, Seattle, Texas, Toronto, Italy, and New Zealand. I first heard about TLB when the founder, Sophie, approached me and asked me to publicize her organization. Once I read up on what TLB did and how much they have accomplished, I wanted to do more than just share a post about them. I noticed they had no logo and offered to design one for them based on Sophie’s direction. She immediately accepted and gave me some basic direction.


Sophie liked the idea of having the T and B in “TLB” in plain text and then emphasizing the L using a script font that was comprised of beads. I decided to use a serif font for the T and B, which would give them an ever sharper contrast to the cursive L. Because TLB has branches in many different cities, I decided to keep the logo black and white and use a colored background, which would allow for differentiation among the locations. Because the bracelets are made out of beads, I used a subtle shade on the beads that comprise the L to ensure that the audience understood the connection. The light gray used in the beads was also the color of “That Lucky Bracelet” at the bottom of the logo, which tied the colors together and made the logo feel complete. I played around with making the L behind certain parts of the T and B. However, because the bracelet is the most important part of the logo (both because of the physical bracelet and the emphasis on the L for luck), I kept it in front of the other two letters.

That Lucky Bracelet is growing quickly and expanding into even more cities. They’re always looking for more volunteers, so check out their Facebook page to find ways to get involved!