ethics/moral code of designers

If an ethics code was to be produced for designers, what would you include?

from the IDSA definition:

Industrial designers, as professionals, are guided by their awareness of obligations to fulfill contractual responsibilities to clients, to protect the public safety and well-being, to respect the environment and to observe ethical business practice.

Yeah but what does “ethical business practices” really mean?

Thou shall not knock-off or copy thy neighbor’s designs.

Thou shall not use fake wood grain or other insincere materials.

Thou shall not covet thy neighbors design research.

Thou shall not pirate Adobe or CAD programs.

Thou shall not be derivational of the classics.

Thou shall not wear white suites and pink glasses.

how about not designing to hurt people?

more efficient killing? not for me…

Then there’s the socio political side - will my design put people out of a job?

What about defense?

Then there’s the socio political side - will my design put people out of a job?

I’ve always found this crazy - tecnology/design that is supposed to aid us in being more efficient and effective actualy hinders our society, so therefore is avoided? Surely something’s wrong there. It’s a shame.

I’ve seen a lot more of the footwear industry this year - season and season of new shoe, new shoe, new shoe and in the back of my mind everytime is ‘Why?’. I know, i know, it’s business. But I’d love to see a footwear company that just released a new product when they feel 100% it’ll benifit the athlete, not because it’s a new season, and just told us the reason they’ve bought out a new product, it’s lighter, more cushioned, cheaper, without the b.s marketing technologies, I’m talking rubbish now and going off topic but that’s a company I’d love to be part of.

I’m sure it’s the same in a lot of industries, I just wish this wasn’t something I’m going to have to get used to.

I was thinking more along the lines of:

I have designed a great new tool for harvesting crops, it means that it will now take only ten people to reap this crop in a developing nation, as opposed to fifty. AND it will do it in half the time!


what are those other forty people going to do now? They are out of a job.

I guess what i’m getting at is the question of whether or not it is always best to make a labour-saving device. Or is it better to make things easier? Is there a time when it is better for things to be hard?

Where is the line drawn?

Same again…where do you draw the line? I don’t want to design unthinkable weapons of mass destruction.

How does the designer of the atomic bomb feel?

I want to design for the BENEFIT of mankind! (idealistic student speak perhaps)

‘Is there a time when it is better for things to be hard?’ Epic

Firstly, try selling that to the public. Hey I’ve designed a scrubbing brush that will clean plates but only if you scrub them twice as hard (you see the point I’m trying to make especially when you own a dishwasher!). It is almost impossible to make things harder and sell them. So the things we design make things easier and put people out of jobs – that’s life, our role is to make things better – and a by product of that is making them easier.

‘I have designed a great new tool for harvesting crops, it means that it will now take only ten people to reap this crop in a developing nation, as opposed to fifty. AND it will do it in half the time! what are those other forty people going to do now? They are out of a job?’ Epic

If you design a tool that harvests crops faster putting people out of work, but increases productivity so that you can feed more people, is not having the tool better for the ‘benefit of mankind’? You’re dammed if you do and if you don’t.

There are some harsh realities designers have to face, but we also have to be realistic –the main function of a designer, is to make the client (in house or consultancy) money. If you don’t do that, all the other feel good stuff you want to do won’t happen. That said, it should be possible to both, make the client money and benefit mankind. The Helen Hamlyn Centre is a good link. They set up projects designing for people with disabilities. The idea being that if you make something easier to use for someone who will find it the most difficult, you make it easier to use for all – its termed ‘inclusive design’ and is one of the few ways to really design for the ‘Benefit of Mankind’…

I won’t design products who’s only purpose is to cause injury to others (guns, bombs etc) and I try and balance environmental impact and functionality with everything else.

just came across this- a “designer interview” for a designer of landmines… great PR and campaign and very relevant to this discussion.


I’ve got my own code of ethics.

I won’t design anything that’s likely to cause injury.

I won’t design anything that encourages disposability.

I won’t work for a client whose ideas I don’t beleive in - I get contacted by alot of people who want patent drawings done/their crazy shoe invention manufactured. If I’m not convinced it will work, I don’t do it.

I like that list.

This doesn’t really fall into the “ethics” discussion, but more of an observation, I’ve seen a lot of designers (self included at times) freak out when small details need to be changed on something, but passively sit by while the project goals are neglected, perverted, and watered down. We need to prioritize what is truly important.

What about the guy doing the killing? If your client hires you to design a gun, you are obligated to design the most efficient killing apparatus possible, paying attention to ergonomics, durable yet light materials, and sustainable manufacturing and shipping while not raising the costs for the manufacturer to an unacceptable point.

If you don’t want to design guns it is up to you not to apply to that position, not up to the company not to ask you to design things that may harm people.

What about the AK47, a derivative of the StG44 were both designed practically at fascist/communist gunpoint so by taking a stand against designing weaponry is moot, you have a conscious choice to not participate today, what happens when your alternative is death, would you still refuse? As much of a patriot as Kalishnikov may have been, his only other alternative was death, or gulag (death). Statistically the AK is a more horrible weapon of mass destruction than any modern weaponry developed.

That aside, what about body armor, non/less-lethal weaponry, even propaganda?

Fascist dictatorships forcing designers to work are not exactly the norm these days, and so I’m going to make the call for extenuating circumstance. Normal business ethics generally don’t apply in cases of self preservation. From the design perspective, the AK is probably very successful, doesn’t jam, not many parts to break, cheap to produce, huge market segment.

Why do you suppose that is? Those dictatorships were not removed with sunshine and rainbows.

They weren’t?! well so much for my dissertation on the effects of sunshine and rainbows on foreign policy and fascist regimes…

the point was that ethical business practices seem to apply to situations in which the participants are free to adhere to them. For instance, it is unethical to use business resources to campaign for a political cause. If we were in China, and our livelyhood and freedom depended on us using our companies resources to promote the communist party, then these ethical business practices would at the least change, and at the most not apply.

Haha, absolutely carton, poor ethics choices arise from political motives and greed more than anything else, and these beget dangerous or harmful products. Example, a company cuts corners on their paint formula and uses one that contains lead, this is a greed motive. Maybe the production manager, who made that call, wanted to prove his abilities to cut costs to upper management in hopes of making cases for his promotion, to gain power, a political motive. Individually you can refuse to design anything because of your personal beliefs, but the issue of ethics does not stop with one individual making a choice, it has no effect, someone else will do it.

You example is a good one because ethics are determined by perspective and beliefs. This is why I brought up defense vs. offense, it depends on 2 sides.

Much recent design has satisfied only evanescent wants and desires, while the genuine needs of man have often been neglected by the designer.

I have tried to demonstrate that by freely giving 10 percent of his time, talents, and skills the designer can help. In other words, a willingness to volunteer.

Victor Papanek, > Design for the Real World

ethic n. set of moral principles
ethical adj. 1) relating to morals, esp. as concerning human conduct

The “Holiday Season” always brings out the worst in me. When I think of all the stuff that we design, when there is so much that needs to be designed … well, sometimes it really makes me ashamed of myself.