Design ethics is not about the inherent value of your work, but whether the work you do choose to do aligns with your values and a broader set of human economic, social and ecological values.

- Joanna Peña-Bickley

The path to personalization at scale is riddled jagged ethical questions. Design Ethics require design leaders to honestly consider the impact their work has on the world. The May 2018 enactment of GDPR in the EUThe US Senate Intelligence Committee's report on Information Warfare on the electorate and the televised hearings of tech CEOs spotlighting luddite lawmakers in the United States, It is no wonder that the topic of Ethical Design with Data continues to grow with a whopping 33,430,000 active conversations in social media and on top of mind for every design influencer who I’ve spoke with in the last year.

In my research, I observed a generational and technographic divide between those who were demanding a professional code of conduct for all practicing designers to traditional creative leaders taking an apathetic and often conspiratorial view or stance to their contributions to the systemic economic, social and ecological problems of our time.

Emerging technologies, like IoT, Ai, Blockchain and quantum computing inevitably have both merits and risks. Design executives are deeply weighing the extent to which the benefits are maximized and the risks mitigated with quality of principles and tenants in addition to governance mechanisms – policies, norms, standards and incentives that shape the development and deployment of technologies.

There is a need for a trusted space on earth where leading design thinkers, doers, technology companies, dynamic start-ups, policy-makers, international organizations, regulators, business organizations, academia and civil society can collaborate to develop the agile policy norms and partnerships. This is what is needed to stimulate the enormous potential of S.T.E.A.M.D. inventions that deliver rapid growth and generate sustainable, positive impact for all.

The reality is if you are a design leader whose sitting on the side lines waiting for something to happen, the opportunities in the fourth industrial revolution will pass you by. The time to think, act and impact is now. There is no time like the present to rethink your organizations mission, vision and tenants. For most design leaders the message is crystal clear: The time for cynicism has past and "the move fast and break things" era is over. It’s time to ask the right questions and dare to design the future today.

Design does not exist in a vacuum. Society is the biggest system we can impact and everything you do is a part of that system, good and bad. A designer owes the people who hire them not just their labor, but their counsel. We must remember the work you bring into the world is your legacy. It will outlive you. It will speak for you. We need to fear the consequences of our work more than we love the cleverness of our ideas.

The Design leaders ground game will include:

  1. Public discussion and policy debate about Ethical Design with Data from the corridors of power at Davos to the keynotes of SxSWCESiXDA and Cannes Lions all the way to in the jury rooms of awards shows.
  2. An updated Code of Conduct with design certifications that outline Design professionals fundamental obligations to society, to clients, customers, to the profession, and to peers and colleagues.
  3. Open source models and tools that facilitate sound ethical reasoning like Jet Gispen’s Ethics for’s Ethical Design Manifestoor Jan Chipchase’s The Field Study Handbook.  
  4. The rise of Public Service Design initiatives that court designers to serve the common good of their respective countries, communities and planet with a 21st century citizen experience bill of rights that suggests privacy and security principles and regulations for businesses in a globally connected world. See NYC Design, The U.S.’s 18F,  Design for Europe or Nesta.

The maestros to monitor:

Sources, Related Articles & Papers

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