Dear Designer

Dear Designer: Bad Work Is Always Your Fault

You’re bound by a responsibility to your users, not by your boss’s directives

Mike Monteiro
Modus
Published in
7 min readJun 26, 2019

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Illustration: Justyna Stasik

Dear Mike,

I work at a large company. Decisions are made way above my pay grade. I’m able to influence small things, but not the larger picture, even when I know decisions we’re making are unethical — such as using what I know to be a dark pattern to keep our users from unsubscribing. I certainly don’t want to get fired. If the decision is coming down from management, can I even be held responsible?

— A designer

Dear Designer,

I completely understand how hard it is to get a job. I don’t want you to get fired either. You probably worked hard to get where you are. You probably went through multiple interviews. You probably got asked a ton of questions by a ton of people. You might have even taken some sort of test to get the job. And I bet there were other people applying for it as well. So congratulations on making it through all of those hoops. You got a job as a designer.

Now you gotta do that job.

The job of a designer is complex. It’s a profession, and like most professions, it’s defined by the profession itself, not by the people who hire you. For example, if I’m an accountant and I get hired to be an accountant, the expectation is that I’ll be doing accounting — numbers and shit. Now, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do accounting. The right way is to do the math and let the numbers tell the story. The wrong way is to figure out the story you want to tell, and then make the numbers match the story. In other words, there’s an ethical component to it. Fudging the numbers also happens to be illegal, because it has tax implications, and most nations have a robust set of tax laws against that sort of thing.

Does this keep accountants from cooking the books? Not as much as you’d hope. But because accountants are licensed, and tax cops like to look over company books, there’s a price to pay for getting caught. That price can range from losing your license to going to jail. And trust me: Almost every accountant facing jail time told a judge the decision to cook the books came down from…

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Mike Monteiro
Modus
Writer for

English is my second language. You were my first.