Ethics of Product Design: Design Code of Ethics

Should designers live by a code of ethics?

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Heather Ostertag
November 23, 2021

Should designers live by a code of ethics?

Let’s take a look at what ethics are and how they relate to designers in the first place.

What are ethics? Moral principles govern a person's behavior or the conduct of an activity. Ethics is concerned with what is good for individuals and society and is also described as moral philosophy.

Doctors follow a code of ethics, so why don’t designers? Sure, doctors are saving lives, but designers are shaping and forever changing the world we live in today. Other professions (doctors, lawyers, journalists, and so forth) have addressed this by integrating a code of conduct into their formal education and day-to-day process. So why doesn’t the world of tech? How would a designer’s code of ethics look?

The Foundry design team had a book club where we read Ruined by Design by Mike Monteiro. This book discusses the ethics of product design and why we need to be proactive. Mike Monteiro decided to create his own design code of ethics. So maybe that’s a good place to start. We as a design community need to work together to make a unified code of ethics to make sure we are putting good out into the world. Anyone can make their own code, or start one at their own company.

One common code of ethics familiar with designers is The Do Good Pledge:

The Do Good Pledge:

  • Immediacy: The time to commit is now.
  • Ethics: I will be faithful to my profession
  • Principles: I will be true to myself
  • Effort: I will spend at least 10% of my professional time helping repair the world.

One of the most significant problems with codes of ethics is as they are not legally enforceable. We designers and creatives have to keep each other accountable. If not, the world would fall into disarray. Not that the world is perfect right now, but it can always be better. Don’t you want to leave the world a better place than you found it?