Graphic design serves as a filter through which much of our communication is disseminated. Graphic designers find themselves in the unique position of being gatekeepers of information as well as providing a mirror that reflects contemporary culture.
The influence that graphic designers have on how communication is delivered may not always be apparent to them. Often they are embroiled in the details of a project and don’t even realize the impact their work has had or will have until some time has passed and the work is seen in retrospect.
Most of the online resources I can find that talk about ethics in graphic design talk about professionalism, responsibilities to client & other designers or legal issues. The AIGA article on Ethics and Social Responsibility mainly discusses these points and barely mentions any responsibility to the audience or society.
I would argue that a designers first responsibility is to the audience, not the client. Your responsibility to the client is often a responsibility to protect their profit, and that can often mean misleading the audience. This isn't only dishonest but can have a much bigger affect on larger society.
So my question is -
Do we have a responsibility, not only our clients but to the audience and society as a whole? Or is our responsibility only to our clients, and they in turn have a responsibility to the audience?
And if so - at what point do the needs of the audience outweigh the needs of the client?
I'm looking for constructive answers backed by research or experience please.