All of us interact with design in our daily lives, and we do so without realizing it. Even the most basic items in our lives, from our housewares to facets of the public transportation we ride to work, are the result of thoughtful design. And, the better the design, the better we feel.
How does design make us feel good? When an item meets our needs or makes our lives easier, we stress less. Think of your favorite household item. Perhaps it’s a coffee maker that brews the perfect cup every time or a couch that is endlessly comfortable. This is by design.
Good design is often ethical because it takes human need in mind, and in doing so, it becomes moral. Read on for a deeper dive into the question: why is ethical design important? Then, learn how to apply ethical design principles in your projects.
What is Ethical Design?
Ethical design is the practice of making responsible choices in the creative process. In a comprehensive ethical design process, moral principles guide every step of the way, from product design to how the finished piece affects user experience.
Being an ethical designer means being conscientious. Think of the people who will interact with your product design and what they might want or need from it.
Why is Ethical Design Thinking Important?
Every company, whether it offers physical or digital products, services, or even design itself, produces creative content. This may be in the form of a product you offer for sale or your marketing materials. And, the need to consider ethical design is the same no matter what you make.
Your designs are a key part of your interactions with your audience, and you want to build trust with them. A design that appears ethically- and well-made helps foster trust. It shows your viewers or customers that you care about their experience with your brand and that you work hard to make it a positive one. Whether ethical graphic design or product production, designing in this way will show your audience you care.
What are the Principles of Ethical Design?
There are entire university courses dedicated to debating ethics and morals, and everyone has their own views. So, instead of arguing the fine points of “right and wrong,” let’s delve into some established principles for ethical design that can guide you as you apply this thinking in your work.
Whether you’re an urban designer or a novice making DIY marketing materials for your company, your audience should have no problem interacting with your creation. This concept may be easier to grasp in terms of physical objects, so we’ll give you an ethical design example of how this works with an intangible product. If you’re making a social media post to advertise an event, a viewer should quickly be able to extract the date, time, and other essential information from it.
Your product or design should be inclusive, as exclusivity is one of the top ethical issues in graphic design. Try to consider people who have different capacities from your own. A practical example? Don’t design a business card with super tiny font that only people with 20/20 vision can read.
This concern is especially important if you work in the realm of tech or data management. People have a right to privacy, and it’s important that you protect any personal information you may have on hand.
Remember who you’re designing for throughout the whole process. While getting creative can be fun for the person making the project, if your end goal is to share the work with a consumer or audience, that consumer is ultimately the reason you’re making the design. Don’t let this fact limit your creativity. Just let it guide it.
Let your users know what they’re getting into. If you sell a product, don’t mismarket it or aggrandize its features. If you offer a service, be clear about what the user will be getting, the terms and conditions, and how they can opt out.
While your product or service is important, remember that it isn’t everything to the user. It’s just one of the many important similar items or services in their life. Don’t overwhelm your audience with marketing emails or app notifications. It’s okay if the user takes a break from your offering. If it’s good, they’ll come back.
While environmental sustainability touches all industries, this point is especially important if you make a product. Try to do the least harm possible to the planet in your packaging, products, and delivery strategy.
The ‘Ethical Hierarchy of Needs’ Pyramid
The ethical hierarchy of needs pyramid provides a jumping-off point for those who are new to moral design principles.
At the base of the pyramid, we see human rights. These are the basics that all designs should respect. These rights align well with the list of principles of ethical design given above.
In the middle of the pyramid, we have human effort. This designation is all about comfort and ease, and it’s on a higher plane than human rights because it’s not a necessity, it’s a perk.
Finally at the top of the pyramid, we find human experience. If your product or service brings joy, then, it reaches the pinnacle of ethical design.
How to Practice Ethical Design Work
Ready to get started? Here are some ways that you can practice ethical design in your everyday work.
- Remember your core values
- Think about your audience
- Stand to be proven wrong and learn
- Make a list of important design decisions (ethical musts)
- Stress test your design project and see how it might fail
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