Design a site like this with
Get started

Explainer: Deception In Graphic Design through the use of Photoshop

by Kirsty Alexander

Deception in the media shown through illusive content has the power to control the publics ideas and perceptions. Many graphic designers working for magazine companies have tricked readers by secretly editing models’ bodies through photoshop. This raises ethical concerns of misleading the public and closes opportunities of diversity in beauty community. It’s highly important that designers are aware of the code of ethics that apply to them, which magazine ‘Modeliste’ chose to ignore in 2015.

‘Modeliste’ Photoshop Scandal

It’s not hard to find past cases where celebrities are photoshopped for the front covers of highly successful magazines. It’s commonly done to make the said celebrity look thinner or have a brighter skin complexion. In 2015, actress Zendaya had done a photoshoot with ‘Modeliste’ magazine and before it was made public, she noticed some differences in her appearance. Zendaya took to Instagram to express to her fans that they’re being deceived by an altered image and used comparative photos to prove it. Her waist, hips, hair and skin tone were all altered. Shocked with what was done, she wanted to let her followers know that she didn’t condone this. The collaboration was posted after the confrontation, titled ‘Zendaya Glamour Game’ on the ‘Modeliste’ website which includes the untouched photo to respect Zendaya’s wishes. It is was correct of them to publish the original image but there were numerous codes breached from their initial mistake.

Codes of Ethics that were Breached

The MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics lists many rules to which apply to magazine editors. The Zendaya Photoshop scandal had ignored codes such as;
“Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts” and “Present pictures and sound which are true and accurate. Any manipulation likely to mislead should be disclosed” (MEAA 2016, pp. 3-4). This photoshop edit had not only ignored the responsibility to provide accurate content and directly distorted the facts through presenting a manipulated photo thus misleading readers. Although these codes are stated for journalists, designers are advised to be aware of these to remain authentic and mindful of the publics interests.

Researcher Paul Nini (2004, p. 2) is a designer himself who conducted a document which gathered and summarised ethical codes from multiple sources including the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design and the Code of Ethics for Professional Communicators created by the IABC. It states that “Any communication created by a designer that intentionally misleads or confuses must be viewed as a negative reflection on the profession as a whole” and that “Designers uphold the credibility and dignity of their profession by practising honest, candid, and timely communication and by fostering the free flow of essential information in accord with the public interest” (Nini 2004, p. 2). It is repeated that a designer must not provide misleading content and that honesty is key to effective visual communication, which ‘Modeliste’ didn’t do. They didn’t think of the public’s best interest but only of their reputation of maintaining a certain unrealistic beauty standard.

How it Offended and Misleads the Public

(Impacts readers, the victim & the graphic designer)

By being a magazine about fashion and beauty it may have deceived viewers think that the demographic for the post and the clothes that Zendaya was presenting was only for slim sized customers or that they had to look a certain way to wear the clothes. With Zendaya being 19 at the time she had a lot of younger fans. McAneny with Arnold (2011) discussed that having impressionable teenagers exposed to this fakery will deceive them to believe that they must obtain a beauty standard that was secretly achieved solely through digital editing. This inaccurate representation could risk an increase in eating disorders and other physical and mental illnesses within younger generations. It may have also offended Zendaya greatly to where she may have thought her body is not good enough to be celebrated on a magazine thus also affecting her wellbeing and health. Also, misrepresenting a well-loved celebrity can create havoc from devoted fans or activists against body shaming thus effecting the designers reputation.

It is very unlikely that the magazine will gain another collaboration with Zendaya. Due to confusing and upsetting readers, it risks losing loyal readers thus impacting the ratings and income of ‘Modeliste’. Providing inaccurate content makes the public perceive ‘Modeliste’ as untrustworthy and unprofessional.

Other Codes of Ethics to be Mindful of

The MEAA state more vital codes that are expected to be followed by graphic designers such as, “Do your utmost to achieve fair correction of errors” MEAA 2016, p. 4). Although ‘Modeliste’ caused controversy, they had later taken Zendaya’s and the public’s wishes into practice by not only apologising but also publishing the original image instead of the manipulated version.
Nini’s document also states that “Designers must advocate and thoughtfully consider the needs of all potential audiences and users, particularly those with limited abilities such as the elderly and physically challenged” and that “Designers must recognise that their work contributes to the wellbeing of the general public, particularly in regard to health and safety and must not consciously act in a manner contradictory to this wellbeing” (Nini 2004, p. 2). To acknowledge that what you produce is, in fact, impacting your chosen demographic you need to be aware of their needs to maintain a respected ethical practice. ‘Modeliste’ lacked respect for Zendaya’s and the public’s wellbeing and risked offending those with different body images.

Although Photoshop is an effective tool, it holds so much risk when being used with an unethical or unpractical mindset. Risking offending and deceiving members of the public through producing a fake representation of one’s exterior image creates confrontation and risks ruining a graphic designer’s career. It this therefore important that all designers have a mindful practice and produce realistic content to uphold a sense of trust to viewers, minimise risk of deception and remain authentic.

Works cited

Arnold, C 2011, ‘What’s Photoshop got to do with it?’, Psychology Today, weblog post, 29 June, viewed 26 May 2019, <;.

Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance 2016, FACT SHEET: The MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics, Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, viewed 23 April 2019, <;.

Nini, P 2004, ‘In Search of ethics in graphic design’, AIGA Journal of Design, vol. 16, pp. 1-2.

YOUTUBE-CHANNEL-ART-MAKER-NO-PHOTOSHOP-NEEDED.PNG, n.d., image, WSO, viewed 25 May 2019, <;.


Published by Kirstywordpress

University student - Graphic design

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: