Recently, I received a request for a quote from a party that promotes and teaches an ideology that diametrically opposes my own beliefs. The job involved designing promotion material for classes and lectures about the ideology.

How do I treat such a request? And, if I took it, how do I detach my personal feelings in order to still do good enough of a job? Is that even possible?

  • 9
    Its probably easier to say no.
    – joojaa
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 16:51
  • 12
    Obligatory, non-serious answer: You can charge them such a high price that you expect the financial damage to outweigh the gaing from your work.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 17:12
  • 2
    Contrary to what nike would say... Just don't do it. This is a psicological question, but many, many designers have trouble sayng no. They accept low fees, they let the client to get along with a bad design, they accept bad quality photos... Just say now.
    – Rafael
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 17:51
  • 3
    You may also want to word a similar question on the law SE, and include your particular country in that question. In some nations, the particular ideology being promoted by the other party may be legally protected, complicating matters further for you.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 18:08
  • 6
    Check the legality of denying requests. Laws are stupid but allow people to (at least try to) sue over being denied service for certain reasons. It was all over facebook a while back but there were a couple of privately owned bakeries that were sued/closed/threatened/vandalized because they refused to bake cakes for gay/LGBT weddings. Basically just be careful least you become a target on the basis of discrimination for denying this request. Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 18:47

9 Answers 9


I made a promise to myself to never use my powers for evil.

I've created many pieces which sell, what I would see as, ethically borderline in terms of the product itself. Meaning... snake oil. A product I know is being sold and marketed as the "be-all, end-all" which could not possibly be true.

My thoughts on these types of project has been, well, if someone's going to fall for it. That's their issue. I can't be responsible for how naive or gullible others may be. So, I complete these without really an issue. Kind of like.... I know the 2015 Fantastic Four movie is horrible... but you're free to spend your money on it if you want.

On the other hand, I've turned down many projects that are diametrically opposed to my personal beliefs. I see no harm in stating "Sorry, I'm not comfortable working on this/that."

Just as an example -- promotional material for Ozark baby tossing. I'd just never do that work. If approached, I'd politely explain that I'm really not interested in supporting that organization/cause. I wouldn't even entertain "taking it".

At the end of the day, I have to live with myself. I just can't feel good about promoting anything I feel does more to promote harm or ill feelings in others.

For me it boils down to what is being sold. Am I just creating or working on something that sells a product and readers can choose to buy on their own. Or, am I working to promote an overall change in someone's mindset toward a particular issue or set of issues. I tend to be okay with selling products, and I almost always turn down work which promotes a mindset which is opposed to my beliefs.

At the end of the day we're all just "call girls" working for whoever is paying us. But if you don't get a good feeling from a "John", it's okay to say "no".

If financial circumstances are making you question whether to accept something you're not comfortable with, there's really no way for anyone to make that decision for you. It's up to you to define where your "limit" is and how much hardship you're willing to endure to remain true to your own beliefs.

Remember the basic premise of business.. you reserve the right to refuse service to anyone (provided it's not illegal discrimination).

  • 3
    Scott using his 'powers' for 'evil' just conjures up images in my mind... That don't bear describing. I saw too many superhero movies. :P
    – Vincent
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 13:43
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    What's Ozark baby tossing? ...I feel like I might regret asking... Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 21:47
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    ...and feel glad to be freelance and have this freedom :-). The first pro designer I met after college worked for an ad agency whose latest client had been an arms company - her brief was along the lines of "Think status symbols for middle-eastern dictators. Make those helicopter gunships SHINE". When I met her, she was looking for a new job... Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 21:49
  • @user568458 Ozark baby tossing was just something I came up with to sound unsavory without being overly offensive :)
    – Scott
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 22:12
  • .. and yes.. as an employee there's really not a lot of room to turn anything away. In those situations "suck it up, do it, and and move on" has been my general method of dealing with things in that setting.
    – Scott
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 7:19

If you are a freelance designer, it's entirely up to you. You can tell them outright that you choose to not promote the ideology, or you can simply say that your current workload doesn't allow for you to accept the project. I'm an employee who does freelance work on the side. Any job that comes across my day job desk, I simply do the work to the best of my ability because that's what I was hired to do. My freelance work is different. I've even turned down lucrative work from close friends (tactfully), on more than one occasion, stating that I simply do not agree with what they are promoting, and I've never lost a friend over it.

I hope this helps. Best of luck!

  • Don't invent false reasons for not doing work. You don't have to give any reason at all. If you give a false reason, the client may attempt to accommodate it: "Oh, too bad. We'll have to use somebody else for this campaign but we'll be running another one in six months." Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 13:18
  • 1
    That's an excellent policy, and a great point. However, some people are uncomfortable with the confrontation of stating the reason they choose to reject the job. They may simply wish to avoid an ensuing debate, or creating waves when the job offer comes as a personal project from a regular professional account. There are many nuanced situations when it would be impolitic to tell the client that your ideals drastically diverge. At any rate, while honesty is often the best policy, there are legitimate times when tasteful discretion is beneficial to all involved.
    – 13ruce
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 19:51
  • Sure. But you can be tastefully discrete by just not giving a reason, or by giving the catch-all "That's not a project I feel I can do to the standards I hold myself to." Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 20:59
  • Offering no reason at all isn't much of a tactful withdraw in my opinion, and is (depending on the client) likely to invite a "why not?" I also think eschewing work based on what comes off as a lack of self-confidence is even less advisable. For one reason, future work offers may not ideologically conflict, and the excuse may leave a dull impressions on a potential client, as they are likely to take it as "I don't think I'll do a good job for you." Second, it's no less of a "false reason" than just saying you're too busy. At least the latter leaves the door open.
    – 13ruce
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 21:34
  • 1
    "I'm not a good fit for this project, I must decline. Best of luck completing the campaign!"
    – Preston
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 6:17

I'll offer some counter-arguments.

How would I feel if someone denied me service because of my background or heritage? Not good.

So why would I ever deny someone else service? That doesn't bridge any gaps, it widens it. It makes me prejudice against them.

I can't do that. And at the end of the day wouldn't it be nice to have your pockets lined with the money of your enemy? I know I'd sleep like a baby that night. Its a win-win really.

Someone is going to do this work. Isn't it better to be you getting their money?

As for how do you produce great work in such terms. Well, in a lot of ways you might find you produce some of your best work in these terms. You offer the client a whole new perspective and insight. You know exactly what works and doesn't work more than most. You have feelings. Don't supress them.

And to offer another point, lets say you create a product that could save millions of gallons of water. Something you greatly care about. So you sell it cheap because in your mind you just want it out there, in use. Except now you're financially struggling and heading towards bankruptcy. You can't make a difference if you go out of business.


Line your pockets with the money of your enemy and use it to fund things you do care about. Sleep like a baby.

  • 2
    "And at the end of the day wouldn't it be nice to have your pockets lined with the money of your enemy? I know I'd sleep like a baby that night. Its a win-win really." - If the "enemy" is willingly accepting the trade that means it is most likely going to be beneficial to them. The argument posed here doesn't make sense Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:38
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    @ZachSaucier what you just wrote makes no sense and is irrelevant. Where did I say anything about it being beneficial or not to them? Right, I didn't.
    – Ryan
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:45
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    Here's the thing.... I HATE, I mean hate cilantro. I'd be happy if it was never used ever again. So, I'm approached by the Cilantro Organization of America to design a piece which advocates the use of cilantro in everything as a "miracle herb" everyone loves. By taking their money, I'm directly making my personal life worse even though my financial standing may improve. At some point you must decide which is more important - money or living day to day. While there's some overlap, they are often different.
    – Scott
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:53
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    @Scott if they don't pay you they're just going to pay someone else. Isn't it better you get paid? I sure think so.
    – Ryan
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:55
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    True, but "clean hands" are often a pretty satisfying reward.
    – Scott
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:56

From a personal ethics point of view, something that works for me (after careful evaluation) is this simple principle: Would I use the product myself? If yes, I shouldn't have a problem working with it - at least not a huge one. If not, I would rather not.

Some vague examples:

I believe the oil industry is evil, but I understand cars are important for mobility and I will most likely get one at some point = Yes, I can work for the car industry.

I eat mostly organic but also normal veggies = Depends. I might work for a company that uses GMOs, but not for Monsanto.

I think guns should be destroyed = I will never work for the weapon industry.

Then you can add some extra rules for black-listing projects. I smoke occasionally but I wouldn't feel comfortable working for a cigarettes company, and I will never do work for groups that discriminate against others, or that do harm or have questionable ethics themselves. This "technique" will not give you all the answers for each case, but it serves as a general guideline.


I'm adding this because we did have a discussion about this and it might help others. Personally I would weigh the scales. If you do not think in any way you would be able to do a quality design like all your other clients then simply tell them, "Hey, I do not think I am the right person for the job for you". I know you're not discriminating but they could see or think you're doing that so I would take it a step further and see if you can help find an alternative solution or someone that can do the design. If you're needing the income then raise your rates and outsource. Hopefully you do have a clause in your contract that states you have the right to outsource work accordingly.

In regards to one answer's comment of "If you are a freelance designer, it's entirely up to you. " that is true but comes at a cost. Some can still say and argue its a discriminative action and by those actions are you willing to pay the outcome? There are people out there that sue for the dumbest things and if you end the talks badly and simply say I do not agree with your views you could have a nightmare on your hands.

Another thing to consider is some people have a clause on their site in the contact form stating what they will and will not work on and they will not work on anything that would go against their beliefs.

  • 1
    While people certainly do sue for dumb reasons, you can't sue someone because they don't have the same beliefs as you. You can sue, however, if said beliefs are against the law. So it's not that fuzzy of an issue.
    – DA01
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 0:41
  • 1
    People can't sue you if you "don't have time for their projects" though :) And that's also why a project shouldn't be openly refused because of beliefs but because of technical business reasons; the client doesn't even need to know about your beliefs! Amazingly, it's none of their business what you think about them or their products/services.
    – go-junta
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 17:22
  • @go-meek people could sue you for that. The court would probably throw it out though
    – joojaa
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 3:29
  • @joojaa I should have said "They can sue you for this or even the color purple if they want to, but proving any discrimination or intend will be almost impossible!"
    – go-junta
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 7:12

That's hard to see what exactly is against your morality in this case.

How bad it is? The "evils" of some are the "gods" of others...

No one can say they'll never do any design that is helping a bad cause, otherwise that would imply they fully researched already every single topic and companies they've worked for. Which is usually not the case.

Same goes with industrial farming, religion, sugar, fast food, politic, alternative medicine, porn, new age, etc. All the negative/positive views on these things could be considered opinions; and for others, these views are based on rational thinking. That's where you need to decide if your views are opinion based OR based on facts. For my part, as an example, I think sugar is a poison yet I don't care doing candy ads; I'm not the mom feeding this to her kids. She's the one doing the moral choice there and not informing herself; my choice is to stay out of this only if I want to feel like I didn't gain any benefit from others' people lack of knowledge about nutrition but I also live with my time, and my time is full of sugar :) To me that's a "lesser evil" if I do design for that kind of thing that goes against my principles.

My take on this is: How bad is it and how much do you get to sleep better at night? Is it abusive towards innocent people like kids, victims or old people? Because no, you won't save the world by your choice; another great designer will simply do the work for you. If you enjoy the payment and if the product is based on a personal choice of someone else, then simply ask for a payment that will make your decision worth it at least (unless you can simply refuse the project because you really don't need that money.)

People who get into "bad stuff" don't do it because of a nice flyer's layout but because of the "prophet" who did intense neuro-programming on them. Your layout could be made in Microsoft Word, these people will still buy the product/ideology or believe the guy selling it to them. Some people just want to believe in miracles; if you want to save them, find another job, go study neuro-science or go at a law school!

As someone else said in the other answers, maybe what you'll get from this will in fact be used for a better cause. If the project you'll work on makes you sick and mad, and doesn't even pay well for that discomfort, then don't do it. The reason why money is part of this choice is because you need to keep your creativity up, and that's very hard if you don't feel good with yourself or get angry because you need to work on things you despise. If the projects makes you mad and slows down your other "good" projects than don't do it!

If it's really not ethical or is even illegal, you also need to report it to the authorities.

Already, if you wonder if you should do it or not and spend time questioning yourself about the ethic... you got a big clue of the decision you should take!

  • 1
    @Vincent If you need to refuse a job, you don't even have to justify yourself in any way... if you don't want to. never justify yourself as an entrepreneur. You simply tell your client your schedule is full or offer them to deliver the work in a timeframe they are likely to refuse themselves. Or you can simply say "sorry, I don't work on alternative medicine or XYZ for legal reasons" without any more explanations. Frankly, it's way easier and faster to say your schedule is full, not get 1000 words debating emails from clients and not hear about it ever again!
    – go-junta
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 17:19
  • @go-meek: If a "wanna-be client" belongs to a protected class, and can prove that the stated reason is false, the business owner might face severe legal headaches as a result. I would suggest "I'm not interested" as a simple, honest, and unassailable reason which would require no further justification. Simply say that some jobs interest you, some don't, and the proposed job at issue is one of the ones that doesn't.
    – supercat
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 16:03
  • @supercat What "protected class"? The Sentilenese people? There's no protected class in human specie. I know of endangered animals for the fauna though! It's very hard to prove that your schedule permitted their project and it also demands some money (eg. $150+/hr for a lawyer) to sue a freelance designer (and lose in court and waste time and have no flyer designed in the end.) Most clients simply prefer to find another designer who is available among the millions of skilled designers in the world. It's way worse to say you have no interest, it becomes personal & is a weird answer in busine$$!
    – go-junta
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 8:05
  • @go-meek: While conventions may differ regionally, it is very common at least in the US for a business or individual declining a solicitation to say "We're not interested" or "I'm not interested". A strong implication is that there is nothing further to discuss, and further solicitation will be regarded as harassment. In general, "we" would be preferred from a business unless nobody other than the individual speaking would plausibly be involved in the decision. Such language would not be good if, despite declining one solicitation, one might be interested in others. On the other hand...
    – supercat
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 20:50
  • ...merely saying "I'm too busy right now" might be interpreted as an invitation to receive future solicitations at a time when one might be less busy. If one doesn't want to receive further solicitations, one shouldn't invite them.
    – supercat
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 20:51

The first part of the question ("Should I?") is purely opinion based.

However, I can take a stab at the second part:

And, if I took it, how do I detach my personal feelings in order to still do good enough of a job? Is that even possible?

We provide a service. And we can take pride in that service independent of the service of the client we are servicing. At the end of the day, a big part of the graphic design industry is about 'selling shit'. For the most part, graphic design is very much a huge component of the consumer driven economies around the world. Our job is to sell something, and we can take pride in selling something, even if we don't necessarily agree with that something.

Again, should you have that attitude is purely dependent on your opinion. But it's certainly a valid attitude.


Your work is for you to do and feel good about. If the cause bugs you enough, and I suppose it does, then you aren't going to enjoy, or even tolerate the work. As soon as you rationalize or squirm about to get into the job you will have made a bad deal you will know it as soon as the check clears.

There are several excuses you can use without sharing an opinion. My favorite being, "I'm afraid it will not be convenient." Those that do give an opinion may also be included via the left hand. "I'm afraid I've done all I can for the Josef Mengele Foundation this year."

And while I have no opinions on cilantro itself we do know what those cilantro haters get up to in their spare time if you know what I mean. [Supreme Court Reference Needed]

  • I prefer "I'm not interested". If one says "I'm not convenient', that leaves one open to accusations that since one accepts other jobs that are less convenient when they're not from [protected group], one is really refusing the job because the person seeking it is a [protected group]. On the other hand, if someone says "I'm not interested", I don't see any way they could be accused of lying, and a demand that they accept the job anyway would be an overt claim that people have no right to decide what things do or do not interest them.
    – supercat
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 16:08

Just politely explain to them that the nature of their ask isn't something you take on as a freelance designer.

IE: "Thank you (client), but my own personal design philosophy is to never use sex appeal, alcohol, or anything questionable in my design solutions...I mean that in no disrespect, but at this time, for this ask, I don't think I'm the best fit for your project. Thank you for understanding."

Most clients or potential clients will completely respect this and ask if you know anyone else they could talk with who might be willing. If they react in any other fashion, they were never worth your time to begin with. You probably just dodged a train wreck.

  • 5
    I wouldn't add specific reasoning to the reply. I'd just stick with "I'm not the best fit for this project" and leave it at that.
    – DA01
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 18:21
  • Sure, definitely depends on context of the ask. It's finding the right balance between helping them understand your reasons, and not pointing fingers that make them feel bad. Whatever politely conveys that this ask, just isn't for you.
    – user50929
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 18:23
  • 1
    No, you never justify why you refuse a project. That's a bonus if the client gets to know why but you don't owe it to him/her. Anyway it often takes more time writing a politically correct answer why you don't want to do the job than simply saying "no" or ignoring the request; you're not paid for the pc email and the time you spent writing it!
    – go-junta
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 17:25
  • Sorry, I disagree @go-meek. Perspective on knowing when to go the extra mile easily helps a freelancer stand out for the next project. Actually, you should always do your best to inform the contact of your reasons in my opinion. Be brief, but never just say no or ignore a request; take two minutes. Is this paid time? No, and honestly, some of the best jobs / clients I've worked with came from placing a potential / maintained relationship wayyyy before an hourly rate. Like I said, it's a balance, but a freelancer has to know when to do things free of charge too. This is the "service" industry.
    – user50929
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 21:35
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    @user50929 It's good to question what truly makes you think a client really wants to know you disagree with what he does to earn his money and what is in the end an opinion on his business. That kind of honesty is not always welcomed. Maybe the reason for giving explanations is not to make the client feels better but yourself! Sometimes, what's fair is to keep some things unsaid & keep it business. Saying you disagree with the ethic of a client is like saying to a woman you don't want to date her because she's fat. That's asking for pages of replies and it's not a very useful honesty.
    – go-junta
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 7:10

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