Creating images is something we do instinctively; give a one year old a crayon, and you’ll see unconfined joy as they clumisly rub it against paper, leaving delicate scribbles as they go – the happiness that spreads across their face when they realise that they are able to permanantly leave their mark on something is incredible.
Now go take your crayon off them before they get near the wallpaper and start leaving waxy marks everywhere. You heard. I’m not cleaning that up after you.
After a while, we grow up a bit, and start creating drawings that look a bit more like, well, whatever they’re meant to look like.
If you don’t grow out of it, you become an illustrator or designer and draw or create images in exchange for money. And that’s when you really start to think about what you can and can’t do as a designer. There’s a few different things to consider, but if you want to be an ethical designer – that is, one with a clean conscience – then you’d do well to follow the following rules:
- Don’t steal other people’s designs – This is particularly common in logo design. You may well see lots of stuff out there in the world and be tempted to copy it. But does that help you as a designer? Does it improve you at all? Or are you just cheating yourself. Instead, go and look for inspiration from an array of sources: Look at MC Escher, Look at Tesselations, Look at Fractal Images, Google Aran Draplin, Watch some Monty Python Animations. Go for a walk and check out shapes that you find in architecture or in nature. And when you’ve done that, you won’t even want to just steal someone elses’ designs.
- Don’t create images that make other people feel bad – So you’re editing a photo of a model for a magazine. Are you going to shrink the image’s width by 97% to make her look skinnier? After all, it’s just a quick little trick to make her look half a stone lighter. Who would even notice? Or what about removing those spots on her skin? What about making those arms look slimmer with the distort and warp tools. There’s no official line for what is ‘too much’ Photoshop – but ask yourself, is this image going to make young impressionable readers feel better about themselves or worse? And if the answer is the latter, then don’t do it.
- Don’t create an artwork that lies – Designing packaging for a chocolate chip cookie? Then don’t use clone tool to make it appear that it is more chocolate chip, than cookie. You’ll only get angry customers who won’t buy the product again because they think they’re being cheated.
- The end product shouldn’t compromise the source material – If you’re a photoshop whizz, it can be tempting to play around with lighting and white balance to brighten up dark images. But be careful – especially when working with images of people – skin colour and race are incredibly sensitive issues, and lightening skin colour can be very offensive.
- Don’t be a jerk – Yes, your client might be a pain. Yes, they might be moving deadlines or asking for constant revisions, but hiding rude messages or content in an image? Don’t.
Can I stop you from breaking these rules? No. I’m not your mum.
But I’ll fancy you’ll sleep better if you try your best to follow them.