Who do you really work for?

The subject of, ‘who do designers really work for’ is a topic I have gained an interest in during my recent endeavor to write my design degree dissertation.

My thesis explores the link between Design and Responsibility, and to see if it is possible to distinguish a common link between the two.

The argument around what is 'good and ‘bad’ design is constantly debated, emphasising the subjectivity of the profession but when it comes to personal issues and beliefs towards design are there such beings as ‘Design Philanthropists’ OR are we just all designers who’s central aim is to satisfy the client and let them worry about the social impact of their adopted design proposal. OR is it just down to society and their responsibility of adopting the various options proposed by designers.

The argument of context is ever present, but can it be unified with a common belief?

I’d love to hear everybody’s personal and honest thoughts on who they believe they work for, whether that be the client, themselves, their family or mankind?

My personal belief is that what ever I chose to design must have correct intentions linked to a pro-social attitude. I hope to cement my belief that I design for the improving humanity and take responsibility for the adverse effects of my work. ( But I’m a design student)


I work for my entertainment and to provide for my wife and son. At the core, that is all I work for.

I would have to say family as well. Baby formula is expensive right? I work for them, but I choose design because the projects are interesting enough to keep my attention, and because I like the research and learning about users part. I enjoy the empathy required, and feel personally offended by products that are not designed correctly for their intended markets.

It can also become a ‘potting shed’ activity: Somewhere where you can pursue your craft and retreat from the day to day distractions and interjections of family. A pink ticket to go off and indulge…

If a lot of designers I know were honest, they’d probably agree.

If you enjoy your work as a designer there comes a point when you can say to yourself, “…hey I can do my thing and put worms in mouths too!”. All the above probably applies to many other career passions as well.

It’s obviously tricky to balance being successful at both, but I think most people ultimately establish a stasis that keeps us on the rails.

I design for the cash. :laughing:

Cholden, I left university with the same thoughts as you then realized that it would be very difficult to maintain them consistently. Charity work aside - a designer has to make their client money, failure to do so means you don’t remain employed for very long, because you don’t win repeat business, it becomes harder to find new business, can’t pay staff etc. Sadly, whilst designing for the benefit of mankind is high on my list, its not always possible within every project, so a lot of the time I’ve just have to knuckle down and do the best I can whilst waiting for these projects to turn up.

Even though designing for the benefit of mankind is making things better for myself and my family it doesn’t have as big or immediate an effect as the cash.

In a strange I’m always working for myself, because I’m designing things that aesthetically I like, that I then present to the client and (subconsciously) steer them towards picking the design I want to see produced. I almost always want them to pick option two!

This is a great question.

I work for myself. If I designed something that was a huge sales success or was even a large benefit to the consumer, but I was not happy with it, it wouldn’t mean as much as designing something that was a flop that I still really believed in. I want to feel satisfied with the result.

That said, I have to think of the big picture, and sometimes I have to make compromises in a certain area to get the overall mission accomplished, or make an incremental step toward where I want things to be in 5-10 years… though I never like to.

I’ve always thought of a philanthropist as someone who makes charitable donations, expecting no reward in return. In my opinion, this differs from a non-profit organization, which earns money to sustain it’s existence, and it’s employees can make a living, but it’s main purpose is not profit-driven. So to me, a design philanthropist would be someone who envisions a product that can benefit humanity, then donates the design or the product without seeking any kind of repayment.

My definition could be wrong, but if it isn’t, there cannot be a true design philanthropist unless they can afford to support themselves through other means.

For the rest of us, Raymond Loewy had a principle called MAYA - meaning most advanced, yet acceptable. This means that if people in Ghana can only use coal furnaces, then make sure it is the most efficient coal furnace possible. That will allow you to have a clean conscience and feel good about your work knowing that while your design is an imperfect solution, it is the only solution possible.

We all want to be purists, but in an imperfect world, purity is impossible.

I agree 100%. Sometime the personal accomplishment or innovation is greater than the sales or business benefit. The most difficult thing as designer I think is balancing those two forces…not that we should design for ourselves, but most often the other factors involved (sales, marketing, consumers sometimes trump design and the “right thing”) which can be difficult.


Amen, any post that has MAYA in it is usually on the mark.

design with social responsibility is almost dead.

Design is now only a good marketing tool.