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. This data compliments a 2019 survey conducted by the Center for Data Innovation that found that 58% of Americans are willing to allow third parties to collect at least some of their personal data, including biometrics and medical data. Moreover, 85% of those consumers also say that cybersecurity and privacy are among the biggest risks facing society.

Customers continue to believe that companies and the brands they give their data to are primarily responsible for keeping their data safe. If they don’t trust that a company is handling their data responsibly, 87% of those surveyed say they’ll take their business elsewhere. This result makes the business case for ethical design with data led by design leaders across the globe.

During the course of my research among influential designers, I observed both a generational and technographic divide between those who were demanding a professional code of conduct for all practicing designers to those who believed topics of design with data ethics we're outside of their control. Even more concerning was the level of either apathetic or conspiratorial views about how designers and their contributions actually contribute and cause systemic economic, social and ecological problems.

Like Mike Monteiro, I hold the deep belief that Design is the intentional solution to a problem within a set of constraints. To know whether you are properly solving those problems you need to meet and know the people who are having them. If you are part of a team, your team should strive to reflect those people. The more a team can reflect the audience or customer's it is solving for, the more thoroughly it can solve those problems. That team can come at a problem from different points-of-view, from different backgrounds, from different sets of needs and experiences. A healthy design team with a single point of view will never understand the constraints they need to design for as well as a team with multiple points of view and a passion for their customers needs.

A designer uses their expertise in the service of others without being a servant. Saying no is a design skill. Asking why is a design skill. Rolling your eyes is not. Asking ourselves why we are making something is an infinitely better question than asking ourselves whether we can make it.

Mike Monteiro

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.

Design At Davos

In the past Design leaders has been absent from the meetings with their CEOs at Davos. Now that there is cacophony of voices in design leadership and an unmet need for a trusted space on earth where leading designers, policy-makers, international organizations, regulators, business organizations, academia and civil society can collaborate to develop the agile policy norms and partnerships, the World Economic forum has opened it's doors to design community in 2019 with a partnership with Cooper Hewitt.

The partnership and exhibit demonstrates how design is providing unprecedented access to a world that now includes over one billion people with disabilities, the exhibition emphasized the rising participation of people with disabilities in the design process—and how giving voice to a diversity of people results in solutions that work better for all.  In 2020, there are calls to expand the foot print of design leaders to act as policy catalysts and owners of problem areas outside of accessibility and inclusion. This approach is what is needed to stimulate the enormous potential of S.T.E.A.M.D. (Science Tech Engineering Arts Mathematics and Design) 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

Featured Image Designed by Jon Yablonski

Design Ethics with Data via @jpenabickley