an ethical guide to inclusive design

[ incorporating representation without appropriating marginalized communities ]

This document contains general advice on adding diversity in our design practices. It has questions to ask before getting involved with projects in an ethical way. This is from my experience with inclusion as a freelance disabled graphic designer.

Being disabled myself, I understand there are intersectional aspects within marginalized groups. There are privileges that I have within my own community. It is important to note this guide is through the lens of a white woman’s perspective.

Accountability is a necessity within the ethical practice of representation. We must be able to learn and grow beyond our own experiences. If you find harmful or misguided information in this document, please click here to get in touch. I am more than happy to revise the content of this guide.

adding diversity to our daily work

At the base level we should add diversity to our work, photography, or illustrations. It is our job as designers to bring visual identities to businesses. We are responsible for the lens in which companies (large or small) provide the masses.

We need to ask: if clients are not open to include marginalized groups, should we accept the work? Some marginalized groups include:

BIPOC, Latinx, Asian, Jewish, Trans, Non Binary, and those discriminated based on their religion, class, gender, sexuality, body size, age, and disability.

The short answer is no. Even with “target audiences”, there is no reason why the work we create cannot be inclusive. This isn’t simply to “check the diversity box”, but to represent the society we live in… Which last time I checked, includes members of marginalized groups.

Within our own work we can show support. Art is expression. If we want to support diversity, we need to incorporate those values into our creations. But we must not overshadow the art and culture of a marginalized community.

This idealism brings up questions. How do we know the intent of a diversity project from our clients? Within our work, when does our expression begin to overshadow/harm the very group we are trying to ally for?

when to not work on projects involving marginalized groups

We all have privilege. Designing with diversity is good. But working on projects that bring awareness to a community we are not part of is wrong. True support lies in our ability to move aside and give the opportunity to a member of that community.

But how do we know when to decline work? We must question the intent of a diversity project, whether it be one of our own creation or requested by a client.

The following are a few internal questions to ask in each scenario. Please note I use these on my own practices throughout the years, and is only a suggested place to begin. Research every project proposal, and the community it intends to represent.

questions to ask before accepting a project

  • What is the business model/values of the company starting this project?

    What is their stance on diversity as a business, and what are they doing to support that claim?
  • What is the purpose/intent behind the project?

    Is this a “diversity box check”? Or is it going to provide a valuable resource to the community they intend to bring awareness to?
  • Do they have representatives of that community involved in the project?

    Do they plan to hire and compensate consultants who are members of that community? If the answer is no to either of these questions, it is unethical to take on the project.
  • Is this work better for member of the community the project represents?

    If no one from that community is working on the project, we must step down to give them the opportunity.
  • Where are the proceeds going?

    If it is for profit, there needs to be transparency in where the money is going. This includes finding out who will be profiting.

questions to ask before starting a personal project

  • What is the intent of the project?

    Are you a member of the group or  showing support as an ally? Does the message behind the project hurt another marginalized group or intersectional overlaps?
  • Have you done research/consulted with members of that group?

    It is easy to misrepresent a marginalized group you’re not part of, due to a lack of education on the subject. Misinformation is harmful to who you are advocating for (whether accidental or not). If you are a member of the community, have you considered intersectional aspects?
  • Would the work be better suited for someone in the community you’re supporting?

    Why take away the work from skillful members of marginalized groups? Instead of creating something, hire someone to work with in that community.
  • Will you be profiting off this project?

    Profiting includes financial and self-promotion (exposure/growth). If you are benefiting from this project in any way it is unethical. Especially if you are not benefiting or including members from that community.

Still have questions? Accountability in our involvement with inclusive work is imperative. It ensures a project is ethical. If a project promotes inclusivity, diversity, and awareness, we need to remember:

when in doubt


Reach out to marginalized groups before starting a project. Research and educate yourself.


Work with marginalized groups. Make sure a project is intersectional.


Credit and compensate the people who helped or inspired you. Pay people and promote their work.

Document written by Jessica Oddi — June 2020. Revised August 2020 for plain text. Thanks Jess Avolio, Karli Drew, Shantel Allen, and Walter Henry for helping me with this.

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