© Photo by David Pisnoy on Unsplash
25. May 2023

Preventing harm through ethical design

To raise ethical awareness, waiting for standards to be set by governments or management may not be the best answer. First, they may not be in best position to know about the technical details of setting good safeguarding principles. Second, most universally imposed rules have good intentions but come at the price of unintentionally creating new problems and discrimination. (To cite just one example, the GDPD, once intended to protect consumers, has in practice opened up a much wider avenue for the exploitation of our data, not to mention all the small businesses for whom the barrier to accessing a global market has become a question of having enough money to pay for extensive legal advice).

Instead, let's start right where we design products, services or digital features. I was delighted to read that this call actually comes from those who are best placed to make a difference in scaling ethics in business: User Experience Designers and Researchers (those who research and design our digital services, products and interfaces). Recognising themselves that the way products or services are designed has a huge impact on others - for better or worse - they have started a discussion among themselves about 'ethical design'.

A summary of 8 methods to raise ethical awareness when designing products They provide a list of 8 methods to raise ethical awareness during the design-process. Each of those 8 methods may be more or less helpful to really prevent harm from others. But whenever guidelines or standards are missing, I value it as a great first step to raise awareness, mindfulness and taking on responsibility where we might mostly unintentionally cause harm to others in indirect ways, such as through the design of our products, services or processes.

Supporting ethical awareness in daily activities. I could imagine that these kinds of awareness methods could also be used for management decisions in board meetings, such as strategic, business model or transformation decisions (especially tool #8 - ethical assessment). I particularly appreciate that the designer community has the courage to reduce the highly philosophical concept of "ethics" to a definition that can be used as a practical guideline on a daily basis: "preventing harm to others".

What does raising ethical awareness mean in your field? What if Marketing, Finance, HR or any other business function came up with equivalent initiatives to raise ethical awareness in the day-to-day practice of their areas? I imagine that following the example of product developers can become a promising spill-over effect and perhaps a more effective way of raising ethical cultural awareness than any imposed policy or training. And in doing so, inspiring diversity, sustainability, digitalization and employer attractiveness efforts as a whole.

Dr. Eva Bilhuber
Dr. Eva Bilhuber
Human Facts AG
Founder | Managing Partner
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