Cody Pallo


The Predicament of Product Designers: Battling Exploitation and the Need for IP Protection

February 8, 2024
By: Cody Pallo

Product design jobs, for many, hold the allure of creativity, innovation, and professional fulfillment. However, beneath the surface lies a stark reality: a landscape rife with exploitation and vulnerability, particularly for individuals like myself who live with disabilities. With over two decades of experience in the design and coding realms, I have navigated through the tumultuous waters of the industry, only to find myself repeatedly grappling with the harsh truths of its inner workings.

My journey in the design field has been marked by perseverance, resilience, and a relentless pursuit of self-improvement. Despite facing the challenges posed by my disability, I delved into various projects, honed my skills, and pursued education, albeit over a prolonged period. Yet, the path to professional success was far from smooth. I oscillated between periods of self-care, independent work, and sporadic contract gigs, each phase contributing to my growth and expertise in the domain.

The pinnacle of my career saw me securing coveted roles in esteemed establishments, such as Dwell Magazine and Character, where I played integral roles in projects ranging from UX development to creative technologist endeavors. However, amidst the glimmers of success, lurked the shadows of exploitation and betrayal.

The narrative takes a disheartening turn when I recount instances of my ideas being appropriated without due acknowledgment or compensation. A significant portion of my professional tenure was spent interacting with industry bigwigs, exchanging ideas, and showcasing my portfolio, only to witness my concepts materialize in products I had no involvement in, let alone remuneration for.

The question arises: why did I willingly share my ideas without tangible benefits? The answer lies in a complex web of trust, naivety, and the hope for professional recognition. Moreover, belonging to a demographic vulnerable to exploitation exacerbated the predicament, leaving me grappling with feelings of injustice and disillusionment.

My story is not unique. Many product designers have fallen victim to the predatory practices prevalent in the industry, where the intellectual property of creatives is routinely exploited for corporate gain. The consequences extend beyond mere financial loss, inflicting psychological trauma and eroding trust in the system.

To combat this systemic issue, there is an urgent need for robust intellectual property laws that safeguard the rights of creators. Designers must be equipped with the means to protect their ideas and contributions from unauthorized use or appropriation. Additionally, fostering a culture of transparency, ethical collaboration, and fair compensation within the industry is paramount to prevent further exploitation.

As I reflect on my tumultuous journey, haunted by the specter of PTSD induced by past betrayals, I advocate for systemic reforms that uphold the dignity and rights of product designers. The onus lies not only on policymakers but also on industry stakeholders to cultivate an environment where creativity flourishes without fear of exploitation.

In conclusion, the narrative of product design jobs is a tale of both triumphs and tribulations. While it promises avenues for innovation and creativity, it also harbors pitfalls of exploitation and vulnerability. It is imperative that we unite in our quest for justice, advocating for stronger IP protection and ethical practices to safeguard the integrity of our profession and the well-being of its practitioners. Only then can we aspire to realize the true potential of design as a force for positive change in the world.