Ethical Design

By: Teresa Lee

When designers are so focused on just producing the final product, certain ethical values can be easily overlooked in the creating process. But that doesn’t mean we should automatically label these designers as “bad people.” In fact, these designers are probably diligent employees who take ownership in their work; they’re just simply complying with what their bosses instruct them to do so as any other employee would.

However, it’s just a matter of time when people start questioning, “Is it righteous of me to be working on a project that can offer harm or wrong-doings to people?” In other words, ethical design means considering the context of the product you create.

For instance, take the Facebook’s soap dispenser incident.

The sensor would dispense soap into the white employee’s hand with no problem whereas it stayed motionless once the black employee reached out his hand under the dispenser. Judging by the error in the system, one could presume the design team failed to test the product with black people or hire team members in a racially diverse background.

It would be unlikely that this occurrence would have happened if the designers were keen with ethical guidelines. And the soap dispenser is just one of the many examples of a product design failure due to ignorance. Over the course of years, designers were let too loose with the matter of ignorance.

John Maeda, the global head of computational design and inclusion at Automattic, focused on inclusion as the future of design at SXSW’s 2018 conference. Maeda emphasized the importance in inclusive design’s role in “designing products for a broader audience—whether that’s people with disabilities, people living outside of the U.S., people of color, or older people.”

Although there seems to be people who take these ethical guidelines as a “taboo” topic, innovation can only stem from continually addressing these conflicts and identifying touch-points to bridge these gaps for a better, and a more seamless experience for end-users.