Ethics Diagram: Rating Authors of Theory
Rating authors and thought leaders on a scale from least important to most important is a tough request. But reframing and asking which of their ethics is most important to me makes the exercise a little more approachable. I created a diagram that has two parts. On the bottom are player cards that label the authors based on their position in my rating, communicating their perspective on the role of the designer, why I value that perspective, and a quote from the reading that exemplifies my choice.
When I went to position the authors along a graph I wasn’t sure why I was leaning towards one or the other. It is very difficult to disregard my emotional responses to their writing styles, expository or persuasive. I did my best to avoid dwelling too much on the history of when these authors were actively publishing—for example Bernays wrote about ‘propaganda’ at a time when it didn’t have the same connotation that it does now. But then again some of the latter authors—Postman and Vitta—are writing about topics that didn’t exist in the discourse of early 20th century debate.
I decided to focus on my affinity for the ethics that emphasize the demand for design to be malleable, cyclical, user-empowering, inclusive, and humbling. Bernays—although deceptively inclusive—and Vitta do not give agency to users as integral and equal parts of the interactions that make a product or a service. When I read these authors users feel like a flock of sheep. Dewey and Postman vouch for a human-centered design that is interactive and non-discriminatory.
Design is a cycle, and Vitta does good to bring light to this despite his cynicism. When designers partake in the massification of consumer culture, the chain does not end with their invention in the hands of a user. If the designer is not considerate and responsible in their innovations, the uselessness of their products will come back to bite them in the behind. The product doesn’t end with the consumer. The consumers, along with their belongings, fuse a bridge back to the originator—the designer.
Ethically, it is the designers that must be held accountable to the power of design. When we were discussing the readings in class several people said the oft repeated quote, “with great power comes great responsibility.” I don’t disagree with that. But when the imagery in my mind went to Superman I felt hesitant. So I had to make an additive statement that clears up my frustration with that saying:
Design should be powerful.
Designers should be humble.
I believe designers have some of the tools to be the most influential cultural and societal influencers. But we owe it to design and to the active agency and participation of users to achieve great success in healing and developing.