Designing for Good: A Designer's Hippocratic Oath
Designers are responsible for creating more than ever before--not only designing services, but also experiences, environments, products and systems for millions of people. With this increased influence, we must take a step back and recognize the responsibility we have to those we design for. We can learn from other professions like healthcare where those who practice medicine acknowledge their responsibility by swearing to uphold the Hippocratic Oath. This binds them to a clearly defined set of rules that guide the ethics of their interactions with patients. Likewise, designers now have the ability to impact human health, so we need a similar code of ethics to guide us.
As designers on Mad*Pow’s Behavior Change Team, we design experiences that affect people’s health and wellbeing every day. We follow our own internal ethical guidelines to ensure that the experiences we create do no harm, but we wanted to understand how the design community as a whole perceived its responsibility to the people for whom we design.
To answer this question, we reached out to fifteen well-known designers in the service, product, experience, graphic, and social design fields from across the US, and asked them to contribute to the creation of the Designer’s Oath. Each designer was responsible for reshaping one section of the original Hippocratic Oath to make it specifically applicable to design. They were asked to rewrite and create a visual interpretation of that section of the Oath to reflect the ethics they follow in their own practice.
We then collected and wove these written and visual sections together to create three Designer’s Oaths , which will be exhibited at HxRefactored in Boston on April 1-2, 2015. These Oaths not only reflect what designers perceive to be their responsibilities in the modern world, but will also open the channels of communication around ethics in design. Additionally, they provide a structure on which to build our understanding of our responsibilities to those we design for.
Just as design is not a static practice, the Designer’s Oath is a document that is ever changing. The Oaths that we created with those first fifteen designers are not the defining documents that guide the ethics of all design. We are continuing to work with designers, individuals who collaborate with designers, companies and organizations like HxR to create Designer’s Oaths that reflect different groups’ understanding of the role of ethics in design. The Designer’s Oath must become a tool that is applied to the process of design to ensure that the end result does good.
By Ciara Taylor, Mad*Pow
and Samantha Dempsey, Mad*Pow