Value Sensitive Design, ethics and the education of the designer

Yesterday I visited a Singularity University Meetup in the headquarters of Decos. From the outside the building looks like a spaceship that has just landed on the red planet.


I think this was the first Singularity Meetup about ethics. Philip Brey, Professor of philosophy and technology at Twente University talked about the ethics of emerging technologies.

Value Sensitive Design
One of his arguments is that the designer of services and products has to pro-actively shape values in a design. He calls this Value Sensitive Design.

Design behavior
This view emphasizes the importance of design nowadays. For example, we design a car. Sure, we want it to be safe, but foremost we want it to be fast, aesthetic and practical.

Traditionally the designer isn’t involved how you actually want to use the car. Drive it fast, drive it for useless rides, burn rubber, over consume gasoline. It’s up to the consumer. We are in this shift where designers are trying to influence your driving behavior, by showing how ‘green’ your driving behavior is.

We like to think that design is objective. Not good or bad. Philip is saying that because technologies are emerging, converging and ahead of legislation we need to implement ethics in the core of a product or service. We need designers and technicians to think about ethics when designing a product.

This sounds trivial, but is it? Are we as designers responsible for what happens with what we design? Weapons are designed. They are deadly, but also keep the peace.

Converging technologies
When technologies and fields converge important values can be squeezed in the progress. Look at the current debate about anonymity vs security. Who is to blame? The designer or programmer of the filter technology? We, the users for being undereducated and unaware about privacy issues? The government?

And if we want to make designers the caretakers of ethics what does this mean for education? Should ethics be taught in design schools?