Take any bad thing you see across apps and websites. Maybe it’s a dark pattern in an e-commerce site, or a racially profiling algorithm behind a mortgage lender. Of course it’s easy to blame greedy corporations for these problems when they arise. But in nearly every case, a designer was involved, somewhere. Good people are involved in building bad products.
Over the past two years, designers have been coming to terms with their own role in that world. So on stage at this week’s Fast Company Innovation Festival, Fast Company senior staff editor Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan hosted a discussion with three design leaders on ethics in design. One question she asked: Should designers be treated more like doctors or lawyers, and take an oath before entering into the profession?
Here’s what they said:
Molly Heintz, Program Chair of the SVA MA Design Research program
“We could certainly take a cue from the hippocratic oath, and the sentiment of ‘do no harm,’ as a good code of ethics to abide by no matter what profession you’re in.
“And these things exist [in design]! The AIA has a code of ethics. The IDSA has a code of ethics. AIGA has a code of ethics. It’s a matter of shining a spotlight on them, being true to them, and having a program and platform to makes these part of conversations.
“With regard to professional practice, these things are out there and it’s a matter of re-engaging with them actively. In education…the question of design ethics as a course is a good one. It’s something that hasn’t formally existed in design programs and something we’re talking about putting in our program.”
Jenny Friedler, Senior Director, Digital Product Lab of Planned Parenthood
“I’m not a designer, I’m a product manager. I lean very heavily on designers to show me how to do things better….[That said] ‘Stop making crap’ seems like a good code ethics! There’s a lot of stuff out there in the world. Go into that context, and at the very least, stop making stuff we don’t need. I think designers have a unique opportunity to think about sustainability. If designers don’t create more stuff…I think that’s a unique opportunity.”
Albert Shum, CVP of Design, Experiences & Devices Group at Microsoft
“That resonates! Stop making crap!
“But actually, I love looking at design history. Victor Papanek’s book…that was 1971. He was focused on ecology. We use all these materials to make stuff we don’t need. In some ways, in the digital world, we’re vying for your attention. There’s more screens, literally. I feel like there’s a million new apps designed a year vying for the attention economy, or ecology of your mind. What’s that response? We do need to think more about not making crap for our brains…
“Along those lines, young designers, I get this line [a lot], ‘How do I get a seat at the table?’ I tend to shift it to, ‘Well, let’s design a table.’ We have this superpower as designers, we can show ‘what if?’ We can show, ‘Here’s the experience!’ Create the empathy, and apply your creativity, and that’s how you show the way. We have this amazing ability to change perspectives.”