It’s Time for a Code of Ethics for Designers
With so much influence over our lives and behavior, designers should be held to stricter standards
Lawyers, doctors, and even journalists have something in common: They all have studied ethics as part of their higher education, taking the time to construct, interpret, and follow written codes of conduct that guide them in making sound, ethical decisions. Is it a coincidence that these are also some of the world’s oldest professions?
The design profession has a long history too, but we’ve only recently started to discuss ethics in a design context. Design is all about the viewer: drawing the eye and changing the heart. It’s truly one of the most powerful tools (superpowers?) that companies have today, and that leaves us, the viewers, wanting — no, needing awareness and guidelines that ensure design is being practiced responsibly. With all the services and apps influencing our behavior and daily lives, is this too much to ask?
What are ethics?
Ethics can be a tricky subject to approach. Simply said, ethics are an agreed upon set of moral principles (rules) within a profession or community that ensure consistency in behavior and conduct. Looking at those older professions we talked about shows how complicated ethics can be, and also how necessary they are.
Lawyers are always required to act in their client’s best interest, regardless of their own interests or what they personally think is “right.” The right to legal representation and a fair trial are a keystone of our society.
Journalists, who we might think are just out to sell magazines or get clicks, are guided by a code of conduct for how to write news stories. For instance, a journalist must frame stories about crimes in a way that doesn’t allow the people involved to be judged before they’re convicted, and certain details are to be spared when children are involved.
Medical doctors have an ethical duty to protect the rights and dignity of their patients, some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Doctors are guided by a common framework of four principles:
- Respect for autonomy: The patient has the right to refuse or choose their…