Morality in Web Development – Your Thoughts?

I’ve been doing websites for as long as I can remember. Because of that, I’ve done at least one website for almost everything, from different kinds of religions, to goofy products, to websites in languages I couldn’t even understand.

However since I started freelancing, I’ve never had to do a website that really bothered me until recently. This potential client really got me thinking, how does our sense of morality effect the clients we work with?

This Isn’t About Tolerance

When I originally tweeted about this issue, some people misunderstood. I’m not talking about having tolerance for other peoples’s religions or beliefs. I’m talking about working on a website that really goes against your sense of right and wrong.

Morality seems to be little discussed in our field, but I think it deserves a bit more attention, especially considering the wide range of our clientele.

Morality In A Full Time Job

At my last full time job, my boss was at the very opposite spectrum than I was in the political sense. Normally, this wouldn’t really bother me and we really got along well together.

However, he started bringing in a lot of website projects from political candidates and groups from his side of politics. While this probably shouldn’t have bothered me as much as it did. I’m pretty outspoken about my political beliefs and felt wrong about “working for the other side“.

I mean, why would I want to help the other side get elected or their issues passed if I felt what they believed in was both morally and personally wrong?

Freedom Of Choice

Since I started freelancing, I’ve never had to deal with this again to recently. I was approached by a potential client that represented a lobbyist group who fought for “things” I believed to be immoral. They stand for things I’m very strongly against. So do I work with them or not?

Weighing Your Options

If you’re hurting for work, you may feel like you don’t have the option to pick and choose in this scenario just because it goes against your personal sense of morality. Hey, work is work right? But how will you feel once the project is over? Especially if your good work helps the cause?

It’s ok to sit back and think of what’s more important to you. I have no problems working on church sites for other religions. Religions (peaceful ones) don’t hurt anyone. But what about these kind of sites?

  • Pornographic
  • Pro or anti-abortion
  • Pro or anti-homosexual
  • Political
  • Violent subjects

For some developers who really don’t care either way, none of the above websites would bother then, and they’d be happy to work on them. But what if you really cared about these issues and were approached to do one the opposite of your beliefs? Would you still work on it for the money?

Would You Be Ashamed?

Another way to determine if you should work on the project or not is to gauge how ashamed you would be to put your name on it. If it was the best work you’d ever done, would you still put your name on it or in your portfolio regardless of the content or group?

Would It Hurt Potential Business?

What about your potential clients? Putting up a controversial site in your portfolio might turn off a large portion of your potential clients. Is the money from that one project worth losing all of that business?

What if It’s Illegal?

Thankfully, I’ve never had to deal with this, but what would you do if the website the client wanted was actually illegal? Would you do it anyways, pass on it, or turn it over to the proper authorities?

A Quiet Issue

I’m very surprised at how the issue of morality never seems to come up in web development. Especially since we all have our own strong beliefs. I’m sure deciding whether or not to take on a project based on your beliefs isn’t as uncommon as we think.

It’s ultimately up to you to decide if you can be comfortable working on something you disagree with. Most of the time, the stress is simply not worth the money, so it’s often best to pass on something you strongly disagree with.

As for me, I decided to go ahead and work with the client I mentioned above. The company does stand for some things I strongly disagree with, but they also stand for a lot of things I do agree with.

Your Thoughts

How do you approach these kinds of projects and issues? Do you let morality guide you in your business dealings?

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  1. says

    You’ve raised a sensitive issue! I agree with you – personally I draw a strict line at working on sites that promote pornography, abuse, violence, prejudice, political agendas, etc. From a business point of view, yes I think working on sites or projects that sit on the darker side of the moral divide can potentially hurt your reputation and your business in the long-term. If in doubt, just say “no”.

  2. says

    Amber, awesome subject for a post!

    That is the beauty of working for yourself. You get to choose your clients. Unless you are struggling and need to do anything to put food on the table, I believe choosing your clients is the right thing to do. I would never want to work on a project that I can’t put in my portfolio and feel good about it.

    What we design defines who we are as artists and professionals.

    Political, religious, and porn issues are always tough, so I think it comes down to your level of comfort as a professional.

    I also think that working on a project that you don’t believe in, or the message behind it, can really effect your quality of work. It’s hard to give our 110% on something that we are ashamed of, or disagree with.

  3. says

    Interesting topic. I’m not a prude and have no problem with Pornography but I have met several people, on different occasions, who worked for porn sites. Each one told me how working for these sites had a negative impact on their lives. Mainly their personal lives. They also felt trapped careerwise because they had a family to feed and could not just jump ship to work somewhere else. Like it or not they had a steady paycheck but they felt stigmatized. It made me really think twice about working for an adult oriented site.

  4. says

    At one point at the company I work for, I was told to design an email creative, marketing a “get rich quick” offer we were promoting. It was so blatantly obvious that it was a scam that I felt really uncomfortable with the request and started questioning whether or not to continue my employment. In the end, I did the work, but if I had a choice, I would not have.

    Morality is definitely a subject I take seriously in design and I definitely appreciate you bringing this subject to light.

  5. says

    Porn and Politics wouldn’t bother. Even if the political view was the complete opposite as mine. The website you create is NOT going to sway a person’s view on what way they will vote, so I would have no problem doing it. Plus if you are voting the opposite way, you most likely wouldn’t be at that site.

    Pro or anti anything though, would bother me. I don’t think I would do a site that was for or against a certain thing such as abortion. No matter what way I leaned towards. Just seems like a bad idea to get involved if your name is involved. More about how heated it can become, and I wouldn’t want death threats because I did the site. Not worth the money (unless it was for a LOT of money…we can all be bought).

    As for the gambling comment….is that a moral issue? I have no feelings of right or wrong towards it. If you are talking about people that can become addicted to it, I still don’t see the moral issue. That would be like saying alchol, caffine, tobacco, or maybe taking pain killers for something is ‘morally’ right or wrong. Maybe I’m missing something and I just don’t understand the comment well. If so, I apologize.

  6. Rohan says

    Well, whatever one’s answer is to this question, they should know that there are hundreds of millions of victims of the wrong causes being promoted everyday.

    I live in Iran. As all of you know, we had an election last year. At least 75 percent of us voted for a candidate who wanted to show the world how peaceful this country’s people are, who wanted to turn our country into a friend of everybody. We did vote for him, and he never got elected. So we started protesting, We wanted to tell the world that we’re not who they think we are! We are not atomic bomb, we are not terrorism, we are not hijab, we are just people. We wanted to tell them that all that’s going wrong in this country is because of our government. A government that we never voted for. And all we got back was bullets, rapes, murders, prisons, …

    We knew what was happening to us, and we were decisive to put an end to it. But the one thing that stopped us from doing it, was our media. The people in the media, they knew what was happening. They knew about all the rapes and murders, but they didn’t really care. They don’t care whose side they are choosing, all they care about is their money. You give em money, and they’ll even promote Osama in their programs!!

    They had the power to put and end to all of this. With a move of their tongue, all the torture of their own people, all the terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan and Lebanon, and all the world’s fear about the country’s nuclear weapons would come to an end. But all they did was taking the side of the terrorist, taking the side of the one who ordered(orders) all these killings.

    The fate of more than a hundred million people was in their hands and all they thought about was who pays em more.

    That’s what happens when you don’t care which cause you are helping.

    I’m a web designer. And I had lots of offers for jobs from the government organizations. Lots of money was offered, I never took em, never will. Cause I have seen with my eyes how much blood is spilled just because a few hundred people don’t care what cause they are working for.

  7. says

    It’s how you take it upon yourself, as a job or moral issue. These kind of debate are everywhere and matter only to different person. I think the more important thing here is you don’t run those business yourself and those are not your personal projects.

    Just like if you don’t do it, others will…

  8. Helen says

    Good points!
    I have allways had to considered my own morals and ethics choosing work to sleep well. Researching some clients, researching some subjects and issues and taking a stand. I think it is important to be congruent even when it´s hard and tempting to go against yourself. Respectful towards other peoples beliefs and bussines of course. Aside from the obvious porn, violence, racism, homofobia etc I can not work with gambling, alcohol etc. I did a flashbanner once for a gamblingsite, against my own gutfeelings, felt so bad after that and donated the fee to a charity, decided not to again…

  9. says

    I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who struggles with these issues :) It’s very important to listen to the moral triggers in your head, or something you enjoy doing can turn into a nightmare :)

  10. says

    Amber you bring up really thought-provoking questions! I guess your moral stance depends on where you are in life. You hint at it in YOUR OPTIONS, “if you’re hurting for work”… Boy, that couldn’t be more appropriate than now, with the state of the economy!
    But looking beyond economies, even if you’re not “hurting” for work, you may take the job, even though it goes against your personal beliefs. What if you had kids and other mouths to feed? Maybe your moral obligation to your family outweighs, as it should, the moral ideals you have regarding politics, religion, etc.

    In the end it’s all relative to where you are. I know that sounds like a lack of integrity, and if faced with the dilemma, yes, I’d feel a little ashamed. However, if I did it for honorable reasons like the one mentioned, maybe not too ashamed!

    Would I add the piece to my portfolio? Yes and no. If it was a client that sought me out rather than the other way round, it’s probably more likely that I would add the piece. The good news is that online and physical portfolios are editable! If I’m courting a new customer, I’d have to weigh those business and political aspects you mention, at that time, and adjust accordingly.

    Regarding this being a “Quiet Issue” among web developers, I tend to disagree with singling out our group, especially when it comes to business. Let’s face it, business in general has never been a bastion of morality! It’s a “quiet issue” everywhere. Just watch the nightly news and there’s plenty evidence of that! :-)

  11. Gavin says

    I just started doing web design recently. I come from a background of architecture. One of the major things you have to do with that is learn to walk away from the design. Once a design is build you are most likely never to go into it or see it again. There is something said for being able to separate your feelings from a design.

    One of the things that bothers me if you would not work for a political party. But when they are in power you have no problem working for government offices. So, if you would not design for a parties website and they are in power don’t take any government funded jobs while they are in power.

    Also, if you have some extra time on your hands try and design something that you are morally against. Finding ways to express a message that you are against, you will learn a lot.

  12. says

    I’m really open minded about other peoples opinions so I don’t usually have a problem developing a website that I don’t feel very comfortable with, but if something in my gut tells me I shouldn’t do something because I will lose a lot of sleep at night, then I will not do it, no matter how desperate I am for work.

  13. says

    It’s a very personal thing. I think the underlying question here is ‘Do your morals and ethics have a price?’. Personally, I would never work on a site/project for something that went against my personal morals or ethics. I would rather starve then design a site for a group I was against. What happens if the site is a huge success within that group?

    If a persons morals have a price, that’s for them to determine, and they’re the ones that have to look themselves in the mirror every day afterward.

    In the same way those situations are smaller niche’s within the community, there are designers that will share the same beliefs, and let them have the work…

    Great article, and I hope it get’s people thinking, I made my decisions before I ever even put my name out there as a designer. If I’m against it, I will politely decline. Luckily (or unluckily, depends on your view) my full time job as a newspaper editor/graphic designer, leaves me in a position to be quite picky with any jobs that get offered to me.
    I know some people do not have that same luxury, and I’m thankful I do have that luxury.

  14. says

    I’d never take a job that I couldn’t support….I feel fortunate to be in a full-time position working for my county government. I wouldn’t want to be contributing to something that I thought was morally wrong.

  15. Anne says

    It would be most appropriate to contact authorities if the activity is illegal, especially in cases when children are involved or people are being physically hurt/stalked, etc. Also, I think by the term “Moral”, you mean Ethics. A person has moral judgments but a corporation/business would work in ethical or non-ethical ways.

  16. Dutch says

    “Would you still work on it for the money?”
    My answer is no. I would never do that. I have rejected many jobs. For example, I would never make a website for a church.

  17. says

    I am a Christian and there are many things on the internet that disagree with my moral beliefs. If I was approached with a job that went against my beliefs I would politely turn the job down due to a moral conflict. Most of the things that I believe are wrong, most of them mentioned in your list, can harm people. I do not want to be a part of hurting anyone. I know that I will probably receive bad comments for my “narrow mindedness” or whatever you want to call my beliefs, I have heard a lot, but it all comes down to how firm are you in what you believe? Are you willing to give up a job for what you believe is right?

  18. says

    I have lines that I will not cross, and I think most being have similar boundaries. No matter how much it may benefit me financially, or boost my client exposure, I could never bring myself to make websites for causes or beliefs with which I strong disagree. Worse comes to worse, if you need the money or networking, do the site and don’t put your name on it or put it in your portfolio. Consider it a black ops project, and once you’re done it’s like it never happened. And, obviously, I’d never make a site that does anything illegal. That’s just common sense.

  19. says

    I like to have peace of mind and I also like to feel proud of my work. I think is ok. to compromise -sometimes- but if you feel that the project may be something you’ll regret in the future better let it go and move on. I think working for politicians and religious groups is ok as long as you feel comfortable with that. Is a question of ethics and knowing where to draw the line I personally wouldn’t work for any hate group, period.

  20. says

    really interesting and very practical point – here I am with you, I believe if end of the day i can’t go and sleep properly then i shouldnt do that.

  21. says

    Well, this is a very frequent topic for workers in Venezuela.

    I myself have denied my services for a few organizations and government agencies that favour our president. In fact a huge part of my clients are in the Venezuelan opposition.

    I have left jobs from one day to another with no regrets where there has been discrimination to coworkers for their comments on their personal twitter.

    Somehow i feel degraded as a person if i must work for someone that I do not respect. As i say: “I will not spend any time promoting things i oppose as a person by upgrading their quality”.

    Of course there is the economic issue, where there are many forced to shut up and keep on workin because of the everyday stuff like tuition, lease, mortgage, name it what you want. It takes a huge pair to leave your job the same moment it turns against your principles. I have done it and i can tell you it gets hard when the household income suddently becomes 50% lower. However you can go to bed every night in peace of mind by knowing you did the right thing. Somehow, the times i have had to drop a customer or job because of principles, there had been always another that went allright waiting just around the corner.

    Like they say, money’s not everything. It helps a lot, but it definitely ain’t the most important thing.

  22. says

    This is a very great post! There are really a lot of things to consider in working especially when it can really hurt you personally when it comes to the moral side of things. You should always see to it that you’re enjoying what you’re doing so as not to hurt yourself as well as the one you’re working with.

  23. says

    This is a really good issue to talk about. I’ve had experience recently, where at work our MD turned down working with somebody because it went against our values as a company. I also think freelancing, that if I disagreed with a subject to much, or it morally went against what I stood for I may have to say no. I wouldn’t want my name to be anything to do with it – though if like yourself, they also had a lot of things they stood for that you agreed with I’d find it more difficult a decision.

    Really great article though. It brings up quiet a sensitive topic, but one that, in my opinion, needs to be thought about a little more seriously.

  24. says

    It’s the first time I read about this topic, but I think that everybody rejects projects that conflict with their personal principles.

    Religions and politics are okay if they are not radical, with the rest of the list, I’d rather not be involved because I don’t belong in any anti/pro group. Besides morality, a good reason for not working with porn and violent subjects is that I don’t want to see all day that kind of images.

  25. says

    One of the beauties of working for yourself is that you get to pick and choose your clients and projects. Personally, I would never work on any project (website or otherwise) that made me feel uncomfortable or went against my personal values. Its not worth it. It’s soul crushing when you are working on it. And as long as your end product exists it is tied to you like an anchor, pulling you down.

    I’d rather work at Walmart or McDonalds than take on a job that goes against my moral or ethical values.

    This is a very interesting and thought provoking post. Thank you for raising the issue. I’m interested in hearing what others have to say.

  26. says

    I’ll take this from a financial point of view. We all know money is a sensitive issue when finances are getting short.
    But I would never sacrifice my beliefs and morality for money. I have been in positions where I really needed a contract and was proposed an illegal website design.
    I turned it down. The prospect of earning good money for it sickened me for a while, but I felt so much “cleaner” and I think I am more of a respectable person for that.
    Best poor and respectable is my opinion.

  27. says

    Very good questions. I suppose there comes a point in life where a line is drawn. There are lots of grey areas and we may become more and more accustomed to accepting the less comfortable situations. But surely there comes a moment when you do take stock and declare (if only to yourself) that this is NOT what I’m about. I do not feel comfortable with this.
    The rejection of such a project can, of course, always be handled fairly and professionally and even diverted to others more willing, but the choice is always ours to make. It demonstrates what sort of people we are and whether we have the integrity and strength to carry through a difficult decision.

  28. says

    Interesting question. I think I’d apply the same rules I have for myself on my web site: if I’d be embarrassed to tell my grandmother about it, I won’t do it.

  29. Feras says

    If you, me and all others not just developers stop working and helping others who work on the dark side, Sure we will have a better world.

  30. Jacob Mattison says

    I’m not a freelancer, so I don’t have to deal with this from project to project, but I have repeatedly made decisions about where to apply for employment based on my ethical beliefs. The biggest single issue that affects this is that I prefer not to work for defense contractors, which eliminates a lot of potential employers, but I’ve also, for example, turned down a job working for a company that creates junk mail.

    In fact, what has ultimately ended up happening is that, although I’ve explored job opportunities in a variety of areas, my last three employers (covering almost ten years) have been universities.

  31. says

    Thanks for your thoughts; it is something that I have considered often. And I think it really comes down to having a strong knowledge of WHAT you believe in and WHY. Question yourself. Why do I believe that? Does it stand up to scrutiny? Is it a valuable belief – does it help me and others?

    Once you have that sorted; and believe me it can take a few years to sort this out; you are able to use these beliefs as a set of filters in the knowledge that if some work comes your way, that you can either accept or reject it on the basis that you will have to live with yourself for the rest of your life, so there is no compromise.

    Question everything, hold onto what is true and good. I particularly encourage you to do this, brother Luke.

  32. ReTox says

    When did the people became purists?

    “I’m not a prude and have no problem with Pornography but I have met several people, on different occasions, who worked for porn sites. Each one told me how working for these sites had a negative impact on their lives. ”

    What are they? Angels? Negative impact on their lives? What will happen when they see, for example, car accident? They will just die?

    What’s wrong with pornography site? Any religion is doing far more damage to the civilization than pornography. Watch Zeitgeist and get the big picture.

    “For example, I would never make a website for a church.”


    (sorry for my english, I’m not native)

  33. says

    I think it’s important as individuals to never allow ourselves to get so desparate that we would have to consider supporting causes we disagree with. Our work is part of our identity so we do need to be careful. As freelancers these moments will arise more frequently than for salaried workers. Although it can feel like we’re mercenaries ready to work for hire for the right price we should never have to compromise ourselves. We have options. The work we do is a choice. Opportunities will come and go. Great article topic.

  34. says

    Interesting things to think about, especially when it comes to sticking to one’s guns.

    Personal beliefs aren’t necessarily going to always be one driven by their moral tenets and there are times when a business decision can still be an ethical and well-made one even if we don’t necessarily support the client’s message. I don’t support the NDP government up here in Canada but I wouldn’t turn them away for work. (It must be Jack Layton’s mustache.) Same goes for, say, hunting clubs, the military, or even (*shudder*) a Lady GaGa fan site. But, when it comes to choices based on personal ethics or beliefs, I won’t do work for religious organizations, porn companies, the makers of Bazooka Joe bubble gum or stuffed animal abuse clubs – but if one approaches me, I’m pleased to refer them elsewhere.

    You hit the nail on the head, though, we are always driven by our own beliefs at least in a minor way when doing anything, including in choosing the work we do. I don’t think it comes up as a topic as much as more technical ones do because it doesn’t really have to. It’s a personal decision that doesn’t need refinement or growth like our technical or soft skills do. I think most of us know what we will and won’t do without pondering it too much…unless we’re in a real pickle and want to talk ourselves into crossing the line in an even harmless way. That and, while I think it’s good you wrote this article and I’m pleased to offer some input, these kinds of things are really no one else’s business.

  35. says

    Morality and ethics are difficult questions as is, if they are joined by monetary (financial) needs, they become quite explosive. But then again, morality and ethics very much depend on who you are and where you are, for one thing may be ethically or morally wrong for me, but would be quite normal for someone else. I don’t do porn, or gambling or anti/pro anything, but does that give me a right to judge those who do? No, it does not. But then, we web developers or designers or programmers or whatever we call ourselves, we work in the world arena – our work does not extend only to the client, but it is for everybody on the internet. That is something to keep in mind too.

  36. says

    a very interesting subject of web development. Personally, I wouldn’t mind working for a porn site or a political site, or a religious site, since I always try to keep an open mind. Of course, these decisions would influence my personal life and my business life but it’s better to have a range of industries to work with, to show your skills. An expection is of course, illegal subjects such as killing and assembling bombs. I would rather report these things than help them out.

  37. says

    Well, I see this only like a job. You do it, get your money and do the next job. It’s like beeing an lawyer. To be a good lawyer you have to do your job and don’t think if your defendant has murdered or not. When you start thinking over such things you get crazy :)

  38. says

    My first job I landed after working as a graphic designer for a manufacturing company was for a site that sold “adult toys.” It didn’t bother me it was very tactful and wanted to use advertising that was antique looking. But I did sit back and go hmmmm perhaps going out on my own is not what it’s all cracked up to be. That’s the only questionable one I had. But it’s one of my favorite logo designs I did.

    I know that I can be very political and set in my ways. So there is no way I could work for the other side and help them get votes or lobby for something I was against. I couldn’t help myself… I think subconsciously I’ld be picking bad color combinations. Pretty sure I would starve before I did that. But I have friends who aren’t so black and white and they could handle any job pro/anti.

  39. says

    The bottom line for me is that ultimately I have to live with myself and the potential impact on others.

  40. says

    Interesting topic Amber. I’m more to thinking how the project (the client’s product/organization) impact other people. Everyone has their own standard sense of morality though.

  41. says

    I enjoyed reading this article, it’s interesting how we have to make decisions and battle with projects that we feel uncomfortable with. I too had a project I refused to work because of the company represented. I believe we can all tolerate many things it’s just whether or not we want to do the work at the end of the day. Just never forget your values because no one can take that away.

  42. says

    I had landed a client through an agency and all the info I was given at first was that they wanted a site designed like apple’s. Ok thats cool, easy. Then as the client started talking about his product, it was an apple product that he basically alters and sells as his own. Well he wanted a site that looked like apples, and wanted to use their copy written product image as well. This got me very uncomfortable immediately. Thoughts swirled around my head, my god this guy is totally tromping all over copyright laws. Apple could come after me! Then other thoughts came into my head, oh but this is an agency job, if I back out they’ll think I’m a flake, or unprofessional. In the end my final gut decision was to call the agency and tell them why I couldn’t do the job. They were alarmed at the situation, but I have no idea what their final decision was. Thanks for posting this article!

  43. says

    These moral choices aren’t specific to Web Design so that’s why we “don’t hear about it” however clearly you shouldn’t work on anything you don’t want to see spread.

  44. says

    My career as a web designer is always going to be just a part of the larger whole that is my life. I’m not able to make an arbitrary separation between the things I promote on my own time, and what I promote professionally through my work.

    And this is the way I feel. By working for a client I am contributing to the spread of their ideas and messages. Some are able to put their heads down and ignore the content that surrounds their contribution, but this isn’t something I can or wish to do. If I am approached by a client hoping to promote opinions I find terrible, I will politely decline the job. In the greater scope of how I hope to live my life I can’t do it any other way.

  45. says

    My experience is the only thing that could or would bring us out of our respective corners is money, and as many have stated we are then left to deal with ourselves in the mirror.

    A responsible interview by both parties filters through what clients or creatives are the best fit. For example, within any intelligent interview Retox would never be asked to design a website for a church.

  46. says

    No matter your religion/faith, political views, race, gender, whatever – what you believe and how you perceive what is right and wrong determines everything about you – including how you will treat people, how you will view yourself, what you will do in your free time, and how you earn money.

    I hold what most would probably consider pretty strong spiritual beliefs. I would never take any work that i was contridictory to what i believe – specifically, if it promoted causing harm (physically or emotionally) to others or one’s self, if it was pornographic in nature, or if it involved anything illegal (those are just a few examples).

    Whether or not we want to admit it, when we do work for a person or organization, we are helping them advance their cause, whatever that cause might be. Especially in consideration of this, i think it’s important to not do anything that you could not fully do in good conscience.

  47. says

    @Greg The mercenary attitude of “I’m just doing this to get paid and not thinking about the consequences” is incredibly harmful to us as a species, its one of the things thats sending the world and our civilization down the toilet. Think about big tobacco, corporate lawyers, oil companies and the like. They all will do anything to make a buck now and who cares what it does to anyone else.

    If you have no problem with doing certain things, that’s fine if you have your reasons and can explain them. However if you decide not to even have the conversation of what is right and wrong its irresponsible and dangerous. The more people think like you, the worse life gets. Most damage done to people in this world is due to the selfishness of someone else, someone just like you.

    People need to take responsibility for their actions, otherwise we’re screwed. Sure, we all have different lenses of morality on a variety of subjects, but its our responsibility to try and make the world a better place by actually having dialogues and trying to make some sense of them. Its the only way the human race can improve.

    I have both turned down work and taken work for causes I don’t agree with. For me it depends on their intentions. I would never do religious work of any kind (@Amber please name me one religion that hasn’t been harmful to someone) or work that promotes hate or bigotry (that totally includes all porn and most politics). I run a relatively small business but I must be honest and say these issues have very rarely come up so I’m kind of thankful!

  48. says

    Excellent and thought provoking article. I for one, would turn down anything that i dont believe in. I feel, if you hearts not in it, I would bring about my best work. Thankfully I am busy enough to durn down that type of work. If I wasnt busy enough, it would be tough but i would stick to my morals. I wouldnt hold it against anyone who designs, for instance a porn site, but I dont think i could bring myself to do it.

  49. David McDermit says


    Yes, this is a very interesting topic. And there were a few additional items of the morality question that I was wondering about.

    I noticed gambling was brought up. Would not some consider a financial or stock company site gambling?

    What about the client who at face value looks like someone you would not be opposed to be working for. What would you do if you found out about a subsidiary company or personal philosophy you originally did not know about. Would you stop working for that client?

    Pornography is mentioned throughout. Some okay with and some not for doing a pornography site. However, I did not see what anyone really stated what they consider as pornography. I did notice someone mention Lady Gaga. How many artist sites might be considered pornographic? What one person might consider porn another would consider art. This then would have to fall under personal philosophy.

    If there are Moral questions about what sites one would create are there any moral issues about using some of the techniques and tools developed or perfected by these opposed sites/clients.

    Pornography (Adult Entertainment Industry) jumped into the web and pushed the envelop on what a website can and can not do. I do need someone to let me know if I am wrong about this, but was not the use of SSL, tables as a formatting tool, video and more first put to practical use by the Adult Industry?

    I do not know the history of the web and if what I just mentioned above is true or not. It does lead me to the query I do want to put forward.

    If you are unwilling to work for an industry or client are you still willing to use any techniques, tools, or tricks of the trade that was created or perfected by them?

  50. Mark says

    Personally morality doesn’t come into the equation. As long as the site is legal and not likely to cause me any aggro down the road (So things like vivisection sites would be out). I will do it. At the end of the day it is a job not a stance. I can still be strongly anti something and still do a site for them as the site is a job that pays the bills rather than a reflection of me.

  51. says

    I appreciate your article Amber and understand your inner tension over such projects. Our web development company is based on the Tibetan Plateau in China, and so our employees are local Chinese and Tibetans who tend to be much more conservative regarding modesty and women’s bodies in particular. We received a project from The Netherlands in which the client, who sells lingerie, was asking us to set up an online magazine that showcased each piece of lingerie on a woman. Knowing our local employees’ traditions regarding women and modesty, we did not feel comfortable asking them to make the website. Instead of just ditching the client, though, we politely explained the situation and asked them if we could somehow come to a compromise. Fortunately the client was very understanding (the boss happened to be of Asian descent), and actually agreed in the end that it wasn’t wise to put such images on their website. They agreed for our us to simply put links to their manufacturer’s websites instead, as they were just an outlet for others’ products.

    Depending on the situation, it doesn’t always have to be so black-and-white, take the client or leave them, sacrifice your morals or don’t. Perhaps there are times like in the above scenario when we can work with the client to come to a compromise that doesn’t require us web developers to do things we don’t feel comfortable doing, and yet also meets the clients’ needs for their website.

  52. says

    Great post.

    I quit my first full time design job (I was getting double my previous pay too) because I could not promote their products without feeling sick.

    They were in the seminar industry selling $50,000 workshops to people who would never make their money back.

    Was the best decision and I end up finding a great company to work with.

  53. says

    Fantastic topic and one I’ve been challenged with on a couple of occasions. Once was a business card design for a person I found out was promoting his illegal business and the other was a pornography site. As for the business card design, unfortunately, I didn’t find out about the illegal activity until after I designed the card. However once I knew about it, I made my boss aware of the fact that I was morally opposed to working on any more materials promoting this client’s business. As for the pornography site, I helped with the project, but kept my distance. In that I mean, I assisted the client in his project by teaching him out to create the website he wanted. (i.e. Taught him how to use Photoshop and Dreamweaver to accomplish his goals, but never got involved with creating or altering content.) My opinion is that you should never compromise your moral views. At the end of the day, you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror.

  54. says

    What a great topic to discuss.

    I’ve been thinking about this recently because I’ve been involved with a project that is tangentially related to the online gambling industry. It really doesn’t bother me, but I can see how some people might not want to be connected to that industry. While it’s never come up, I think I would take on a porn client, but it would depend on the project. I also think I’d work on political websites, whether I support the candidate/party or not. I support the adoption of better web presences for politicians on an ideological level, so it wouldn’t matter which party I was working for because on some level I would be benefiting.

    But I don’t think I would work with anti-abortion or anti-gay clients (and writing this down right now will help ensure that it never comes up). But mainly because I just don’t think I could interact with that type of client.

    I think the rule that if you wouldn’t want it on your portfolio, you shouldn’t work on it applies really well here. If you would never show others that you’ve worked on a porn site, maybe you shouldn’t work on it.

  55. says

    @Thom – yeah I agree with what you said. We all have choices and if we feel the job is not moral, then it’s up to you to continue with the job.

    Very interesting article. First time I encountered such topic. Kudos!!

  56. says

    Very well said. This just reminds us that in every industry we belong whenever online or not we should really consider morality in our decisions. We can’t just do all things our way because we still have to consider our viewers.

  57. says

    I had a similar experience where a client wanted a website. I had to forfeit the project because i suspected it to be a con website

  58. Mia says

    Hey Amber,

    Good on you for bringing this up, the web can be a very murky place to work in in terms of morality but I definitely beleive in having a beleive or at least not morally objecting to products/services you help to promote (whatever industry you are in).

    The only perceivable reason people might do this is if they are hard up for money or being offered large amounts of money, NOT WORTH it either way, for every dodgy job, there 50 good ones out there. Stick to your guns if you have reservations becuase those feeling are only likely to get worse if you proceed.

  59. says

    Thanks for breaching this topic. I had a huge crisis yesterday. Normally, if a potential client of a group with whom I disagree inquired for work, I would have no problem politely turning them down – and it would be easy to make an excuse to avoid the work (“Oh, I’m completely swamped right now…,” etc.).

    But, this time, one of our major clients (who is a web developer who uses our firms skills) with whom makes up 90% of our work, came to us with a project for a group which I completely disagree with. I did not want to seem like not a “team player” if I declined, and I was scared that this client would not bring more design work. I love the fact that this client brings the design work while he handles the clients (sometimes my not-favorite part of what we do). After much debate with myself, I had to listen to my conscience and decline the work since I knew that my mental block would leave me unable to do the work justice (ironic-huh?) and I did not want to produce work that my client would be embarrassed of, and ultimately did not want him to be disappointed in my work and question my abilities! (Can you imagine making the logo for a group you absolutely detest, knowing they will be using it on all their branding, bumper stickers, signs, promo materials…ugh!!!) Talk about a Catch-22! Either I take the work and suffer through the mental anguish, shame and guilt and produce a product that could only come out crappy (sorry – I am emotional and I design from my head and heart) and let the project suffer and fail, or, I turn down the work and potentially put off a good client. Seems the first scenario is worse. I can always find more work, right? (>_<)

    Finally, I had to face it that I couldn't do it, and the problem became how to let this guy down. Asking for advice from my sister, a writer, gave me some good ideas. She said to just keep your excuse as general as possible and let him know that I have certain boundaries that I cannot cross, and give a list of the types of sites I wold not, in all conscience, do. Political, religious, weapons-related, etc., so as to not reveal, necessarily, that I was in direct opposition to the project's group. I feared that my client may have even been a member of this group and did not want to reveal my opposition – and leave him with contrary feelings about me, too..

    So, by biting the bullet and saying no, I felt I was saving the project, my client's reputation (by not producing work not completely at top notch), and my conscience. The only thing, I haven't heard back from my client and now I'm fearing losing his business. (He is generally non-communicative – so I hope he's just busy finding another designer.) Hopefully, he will understand and if he does come back with future work, at least he'll know which kinds of projects to avoid giving me. *Fingers crossed*

    Will update if I get a response.

  60. Uh oh says

    However, what if you work for an employer (firm, agency) who brings in a new client project, and its content directly opposes your beliefs? And you’re the designer that would work on it. Uh oh. What then? You very well could lose your job.

  61. KimGreenAtlanta says

    Great post and fascinating comments. I was especially touched by the one from Iran.

    I don’t see how anyone can separate your actions from your morals. I will never accept the concept that when it comes to business, morals don’t count.

    That said, there are some complexities to this issue.

    1) The choices are much more difficult if you work for someone else. But even then you have to draw the line somewhere.

    2) Obviously, everyone has their own concept of what is right and what is moral. So the decisions will be different. Someone commented that he or she would never create a website for a church. That would not be my decision, but it may be the right decision for that person. We have to respect other people’s values.

    3) A bigger issue for me, as a blogger, is that most issues are not black and white. I enjoy following politics and would like to express my opinions, but I never agree totally with either side. Right now, I would really like to tell people in my own party what they are doing wrong. I am afraid that if I started a lot of political posts, I would get responses (or responses to other people’s responses) from people who are rabid and full of hate. Of course, I can moderate posts, but that even that arises moral issues. I am not sure what I will decide about this.


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