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Navigating Ethical Dilemmas: How to stay true to our values

Embarking on a design journey involves navigating a complex terrain of choices, none more intricate than the decision to collaborate with partners and organizations whose values diverge from our own. Picture this: you're presented with an opportunity to collaborate with an organization, yet their ideals seem to dance out of sync with your own. At Reframing Studio, we firmly believe in the power of design to drive positive change and shape the future. However, the question often arises: should we work with an organization whose ideals do not align with our own? What is the designer's responsibility in navigating such ethical dilemmas?

The dilemma of
misaligned ideals

At the heart of responsible design lies a recognition of the diverse and dynamic tapestry of societal values. Choosing clients involves more than just assessing their design needs; it requires a deep reflection on their values, principles, and impact on society. In the current political landscape, this impact assessment isn't a luxury; it's a necessity. Collaboration, after all, is a two-way street.

One of the most challenging scenarios is deciding whether to collaborate with a government that holds ideals incongruent with our own. It’s a moral crossroads. Working with a client whose ideals clash with our values may lead to a dilution of our ethical stance and compromise the integrity of our work. However, outright refusal may mean missing an opportunity to influence positive change from within. How do you treat this delicate balance?

Designer responsibility

Our unique position as agents of change demands a thoughtful approach to client selection. It's not just about ticking boxes on a project scope checklist; it's about ensuring that our designs contribute positively to societal well-being for everyone. We navigate those dilemmas by offering two explicit steps for value definition and future positioning in the Reframing methodology.

We also like to dedicate enough time to develop strong project briefs within shared ethical standards. We seek common ground with the client, taking the time to share our design philosophy, principles, and ethical considerations to discover where our values align. This means we don’t shy away from projects that take months or even years to finally start!

Key considerations

Here are some key considerations if you are facing this ethical dilemma in your design practice:

1.  Opportunity Space: assess if you have enough room to create a positive impact and how you can craft a significant opportunity space for you to work within. This is an essential step before committing to a client. Choose strategically who should be involved from the organization and in which step, building a project team that can help you achieve your desired impact.

2.  Open Dialogue: establish open communication with the client from the outset. Clearly express your ethical principles and concerns. You can start by Discuss the potential implications of the project and seek common ground where possible. A useful framework of reference for us is the ‘Guidance ethics approach’ by Peter-Paul Verbeek, who makes a distinction between setting boundaries (negative ethics) and identifying desired impact (positive ethics).

3.  Mitigation Strategies: if alignment is not perfect, explore ways to mitigate the ethical concerns proactively. This may involve incorporating safeguards, ethical guidelines, or even contractual clauses that ensure your work is used responsibly.

Also, discuss it with your team! Team input brings diverse perspectives, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of potential ethical challenges and of the broader impact of the work.

Balancing act

Striking a balance between professional success and ethical principles is a continuous challenge. It’s an evaluation of the long-term consequences and short-term gains. If alignment with a particular client is challenging, explore alternative organizations or projects that align more closely with your ethical framework. Sometimes, choosing not to engage with a particular client can open doors to collaborations that better reflect your values.


As agents of change, we embrace our distinct role in shaping the world around us. We employ various tools to navigate this responsibility, understanding that moral reflection is an ongoing balancing act. It's essential to continuously reflect on our own role, recognizing that this process is never truly finished but rather an ongoing journey of growth. We are now busy exploring a new frame for assessing our impact as Reframing Studio (soon more to come!). It's a journey without end, a continuous quest for improvement. Share with us how you navigate these dilemmas in your work, and join us in this ongoing reflection.

Costanza Milano

Want to know more about this project?

Reach out to designer and researcher Costanza Milano.

About Costanza
About Costanza
Reframing Studio

Reframing Studio is an independent innovation agency with over 25 years of experience.