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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  How To Draw A Line


How To Draw A Line

Posted on November 30, 2002 and read 10,489 times

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Some people say that the advertising industry is run by out-of-control, money-hungry monsters, willing to sell their own soul if the price is right.

Some say the fact that police cruisers in Springfield Florida will soon be sporting advertising; that five people in England will, for a small compensation, be legally changing their names to that of a video game character; and that a town in Colorado has recently been renamed after a commercial website is proof that advertisers have no morals.

Some may even shout, “Where will they draw the line!”

But not me.

As a graphic designer I have made my share of marketing materials knowing full well that they will end up in trash bins mere minutes after being received. I have thought about the teetering piles of trash and giant ads that will be the landscape of my children’s world every time I accept a new job. And I know there are many other people involved in the world of marketing and advertising who do the same. So the question I’ve asked myself every day since I started working in this sordid industry is not “Where do I draw the line?” but “How do I draw the line?”

Everyone has ethical beliefs. Everyone has some issues about which they are adamant, whether it’s as specific as being pissed off that people put dish soap in bunny rabbits eyes to see if, well…it’s a bad idea to get soap in your eyes, or as generalized as trying to understand people rather than just killing them. So why do we continually work for clients that do horrible things to our environment, our bodies, and our minds? Why do we create an environment where public space free of advertising is nearly extinct? The issue is not lack of morals, but rather lack of application.

We spend only a small fraction of our waking life playing badminton, collecting algae and whatever else it is we like to do on our evenings and weekends – the rest of it is spent at work. Yet most people don’t think twice about hanging their beliefs on the office coat rack and letting economics dictate their ethical choices. And ethics applied to only a small percentage of the day is evidence of a lack of conviction if you ask me.

Here’s the thing, folks…

I know you have to make a living. In fact I would like you to make a living doing what you enjoy. And I truly believe it is possible to do that while practicing what you preach. The key here is examining your beliefs and finding viable ways to apply them on a daily basis regardless of situation. It just takes a bit of problem solving and fortunately, that is something we creative folk have in abundance.

I work for myself so it is relatively easy to apply my ethics daily. Not only can I choose how I work, but I can also choose whom I work for. Does this mean I turn down work from time to time? Yes, but I can sleep knowing I haven’t contributed to the problem. Does it mean I have to reassess what it means to be successful? Yes, but a healthy conscience is worth a lot more than we realize. I absolutely recommend the route I have chosen, but if that’s not possible, all is not lost.

When I worked for an in-house corporate design department I often did my part below the radar: surreptitiously ordering recycled materials here, creating designs that produced less waste there. I told my bosses “Not only would sturdy paper gift bags be classier than plastic, but they would be reused and your logo would be seen more,” though I really just wanted to keep those bags out of the landfill as long as possible.

There’s nothing wrong with being up front with your boss or clients, either. Just discussing your concerns can make a difference. You may be surprised to discover they share some of your ethical beliefs, but didn’t know they could be applied to their work. Offering a solution that keeps economic interests in mind will, however, make your suggestions more appealing.

Just as important as applying your beliefs, though is giving yourself some slack. No one is asking you to be perfect, just do what you can. If you can’t print an annual report on recycled paper but can reduce it by 8 pages, you’ve still made a difference. I have a simple mantra, “Doing something is better than doing nothing at all.” We certainly can’t make things better if we are constantly beating ourselves up for lack of perfection.

By figuring out what you believe in and finding ways to apply those beliefs in your work as best you can, you will show the world that advertising folks do indeed have a heart. That’s not too hard is it? Now get back to work figuring out how to project ads onto the moon.


Noah Scalin in the founder of Another Limited Rebellion Design (ALRdesign.com) a socially conscious design firm based in Richmond, Virginia






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