The Ethics of Everyday Things
Does good design mean designing for good?
Conversations about ethics and design often fall victim to two problems.
The first is the hand-waving problem. People talk about ethics in such a vague and aspirational ways that us practitioners have no path to changing the way we work. What use is design ethics if I can’t use it to affect my everyday decision-making?
The second is the “save the world” problem. The only worthwhile problems are those that have obviously good outcomes, such as improving health or education, reducing poverty or gender inequality. But there just aren’t enough of these kind of jobs to go around. What use is ethics if I can’t access the work required to put it into practice?
Designers are well familiar with using toolkits (patterns, heuristics, and so on). These are clear, actionable and flexible tools that help inform decision-making as we do our work. Why can’t it be the same for ethics?
We need to create tools that help designers exercise moral judgement in their day-to-day work (especially for those who don’t particularly care about ethics).
I believe that it’s possible to frame design ethics in a way that’s both actionable AND accessible, and that will allow all kinds of designers to bring ethical conversations and judgements into the work of everyday design.
Gabriel is the founder and principal consultant at Small Surfaces, an international human-centred design consultancy focused on social impact projects in developing countries. Gabriel works on projects that seek to improve education, healthcare and access to financial services for low-income people across Africa, Asia and the Pacific. He also has a degree in Philosophy.