Over the course of two weeks, I have been exploring the topic of ethics and responsibility in the world of service and system design. During this time I’ve read six articles. The Articles included:
- “The Meaning of Design” by Maurizio Vitta
- “Design For the Real World” by Victor Papanek
- “Rebel with a Cause” by Victor Papanek
- “Experience & Education” by John Dewey
- “Informing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman
- ” Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and The How” by Edward L. Bernays
The topics of technology, experiences, manipulation, and consumption all play a role in the world of systems and service design. The results of our actions endure long after we are gone, we have only a squishy sense of the notion of ethics and responsibility to help guide those actions in the hope that that the results will be virtuous and not insidious.
Each author presents an insightful perspective on the results of design creations and their interaction with mass consumption, mass production, technological advances, and humankind’s natural defenselessness to manipulation, information surpluses, and the resulting experiences that change people from this complex interaction over time. The thing created, and the influence it has, often survives it’s creator, taking on new purpose and impacting those that use it. Despite one’s intentions and efforts, the reality stands that we are limited by time, while the things we make endure. With time being the critical factor limiting one’s abilities, the positions and ideas that each author takes can and have been ranked in the face of this question “What do we do with the time we have, which ideas are more or less critical?”
In, Figure 1. Author Positions, I have ranked the ideas that I view as most important to be cognizant of when designing software, services, and systems for humans. The ranking is not a reflection of the value of the idea. Instead, it is my opinion of what should be top of mind when designing. Each position was ranked based on the elements of consumption, experiences, technology, and manipulation.
Figure 1. Author Positions
A design’s worth can be measured by how it is consumed. In the world of continuous mass consumption and mass production design, an idea can be deemed as not valuable and quickly replaced by a replica. While this effect does have esoteric implications on the value of a designer, and quality of the human experience it is less impactful an idea to the question of “What do we do with our time?” It is an idea that designers must be cognizant of when trying to create something with a purpose, which in turn adds to the value and purpose of the designer. Thus, Vitta is ranked on the less important side. In Papanek’s “Design For the Real World,” he summarizes quite boldly that we must avoid making things and technology which only serves to clutter, and usurp people and resources. These harmful things have a negative impact on the human experience in the long run. As it is in a similar spirit to Vitta, this piece also lands on the less critical side.
Dewey’s argument is ranked in the center of this line because he brings to the conversation the importance drawing from past experiences and knowledge when one works to be progressive. The Nature of experience is a dynamic one. It can serve to motivate and discourage, as well as change the individual or a group of individuals. The thing to be aware of here is the degree of impact. Because change impacts the whole, we must invite history into the design process to help guide our choices.
Papanek’s “Rebel with a Cause” earns a higher ranking because it speaks to those that are ready to act. It offers a solution for how to avoid purposeless designs and calls for design with a cause. The ideas from this piece should be at the forefront of designer’s minds.
Postman ranks higher still thanks to the nature of technology. Technology, unlike most human inventions, has a global quality about it. Since technology can have such far reaching and instantaneous influence, we must take extra caution when designing such things.
Finally, Bernay. I have ranked his position as the most important because manipulation is an element of which we have poor understanding, little defense against and the an inability to see clearly. This element can act alongside technology and consumption habits to have detrimental and far-reaching impact on people and the world around us, if the idea or thing made has the intent or potential to be insidious. We must be cognizant of this element at all times.
- Vitta, Maurizio. “The Meaning of Design”. Design Issues, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 3-8.
- Papanek, Victor (1971). Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, New York, Pantheon Books.
- Papanek, Victor (2005). “Rebel with a Cause”. pp.60-69.
- Dewey, J. (1938), Experience and Education, Toronto: Collier-MacMillan Canada Ltd.
- Postman, Neil. “Informing Ourselves To Death”. Speech was given at a meeting of the German Informatics Society (Gesellschaft fuer Informatik) in Stuttgart, sponsored by IBM-Germany October 11, 1990.
- Edward L. Bernays. “Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and The How”. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 33, No. 6 (May, 1928), pp. 958-971