At first blush – exploring a new design challenge with Under Armour

Fitness apparel company, Under Armour, has been making headway into diversifying its portfolio to include software connected apparel, like the bluetooth connected HOVR Phantom and Sonic series. The running shoes connect to MapMyRun helping users track and analyze their metrics while making it easier to run out the door sans phone, watch or wallet. UA began a shift towards technology supported fitness with the 2013 purchase of fitness applications MapMyRun, Endomondo, and MyFitnessPal – a suite of offerings that round out Under Armour’s Connected Fitness platform.

The push into connected fitness has come at a cost though, with competitor brands enjoying stronger earnings through their expanded athleisure offerings. Connected fitness accounts for 2% of the company’s 2018 net revenue. The UA 2018 Annual Report also revealed increased earnings from the global market as the company expanded its presence in Asia and Latin America, however, US sales continue to decline. Current shares are valued at $20.37, down from a 2015 high of $104.10 per share.

What does this mean for my design challenge?

The Challenge: Develop a set of viable concepts for visualizing a user’s progress towards their goals. 

In addition to this brief foray into secondary research, we started the Communications in Design course with a reading on the growth mindset, based on the work of Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck. The article notes that “a growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”

With this in mind, one of the criteria that stands out to me is that the design ‘answers challenges inherent to the category.’ The design brief offered a related question on why people abandon their training. My initial curiosity is around how design solutions could include a fail forward mentality or how it might create features that support failure as a necessary condition for growth. As opposed to, say, building in the opportunity for cheat days.

Another factor that stands out are the brands core consumers – competitive athletes and fitness enthusiasts. How can Under Armour reach a broader market of moderate fitness enthusiasts without diluting its position as an elite performance brand? With their connected fitness platforms, the company seems well-positioned to develop a more meaningful relationship with those consumers as well. Under Armour has a leg up on its larger competitors – Nike, Adidas – to carve out a niche segment in tech-connected fitness. In addition, the company has been making a push into US manufacturing with the 2017 opening of a facility in its hometown, Baltimore.

All this to say – there’s something to be said about taking two steps back to take one step forward. Perhaps that’s the case for Under Armour right now; and perhaps design solutions, coupled with the company’s more deliberate growth strategy of the last couple years, can help bend the road toward improved profitability and meaningful innovation.

An Ethical Framework: Explained

I wanted to create a framework that would do three things:

  1. Respect my process as a person who needs time to internalize, think, evaluate, step back, process.
  2. Balance my predisposition for navel gazing by creating toggles between zoom in and zoom out – so I can better evaluate and understand the contexts and conditions for what else might be true.
  3. Create conditions for accountability.

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See here for full pdf of presentation slide deck.

Reflecting on my teams research project with Caritas of Austin, I thought of all the conversations we had around ethics. I’ll share several questions where we considered the ethical implications of our work, to illuminate how the framework aims to support future work process.

Could this process exploit people in vulnerable situations? 

We chose to focus our research around understanding how Caritas collaborates, internally, to deliver on client goals. This was a decision shaped, in part, by our unease around interviewing individuals experiencing homelessness. As designers green to the process, it didn’t feel right to approach people in such a vulnerable state with so little understanding behind why or how their input would be valuable.

Even though we were trying to do what was ‘ethically right,’ given our level of experience, it wasn’t until we received feedback from our peers and professors that we understood the blindspot we’d created. We needed to understand the experience of the people Caritas aims to serve to better understand the unique challenges they face, and how programs and personnel are designed to meet those. With this in mind, we returned to the research phase to conduct interviews with individuals experiencing homelessness.

What do we offer in exchange for their time?

Prior to this return ‘to the field’ we spoke with several professors and alum around how we might do this and asked for advice on whether to offer goods or money in exchange for their time. When people are in such a vulnerable position, are we really giving them the choice of opting out if we offer food or drink or money when they are in such a vulnerable position? We chose to not offer anything in exchange and instead carried some Gatorades in case there was an ask at the end – which was the case, more often than not.

After an afternoon spent walking along 7th and 6th Street, up and down Congress Avenue, we reflected on the people we’d spoken with – individuals we had approached for the fact they were alone, mostly. But, on reflection, who were also all white. We had unconsciously avoided people of color out of our own ‘right to comfort’, or comfort bias, limiting the valuable perspectives and experiences we had gathered. This has significant implications for our research. We spoke about what we could have done differently to help mitigate our unconscious bias and talked about how we might try tabling instead so we are also providing opt-in opportunity at the outset.

Reflecting on this experience and the conversations we had as a team, I went back to my framework to include, under Locate Self, that I articulate personal bias and assumptions. My belief is that honesty and transparency will help create the conditions for the culture of accountability I want around myself and within a workplace.

How do we manage opposing needs and whose needs do we privilege? 

Looking ahead to our next steps with Caritas, we’ve made some recommendations that, on their face, satisfy case manager and program managers goals to create more specialized roles for their case managers, to help alleviate their workload and distribute responsibility across several persons. We’ve recommended to Caritas that they create specialized roles to triage case management.

This is at odds with what we heard expressed by individuals experiencing homelessness. Many expressed a desire for one omniscient case manager who could help them with their primary goal. For most, but not all, that goal is housing stability. As we dig into what that triage of case management support might look like, it becomes important to also consider the experience of individuals on the receiving end whose lives are overwhelmed by the many decisions they are rendered powerless to make on their own. How can we create support systems that will meet the needs of both parties? How can we create opportunity for a more fluid exchange of power among all parties?


I’m grateful to have created something that is flexible and grounded. The function of the framework is that it will hold me accountable to the values I espouse and the principles I want to orient my actions around.

I’m still trying to work out why accountability feels so important and how to articulate it. Here’s a first try: If our design is principally concerned with social innovation, then we ought to proactively create accountability. Knowingly or not, we navigate ethics constantly. Perhaps allowing our frameworks to be in the world will help us create the conditions necessary for navigating ethics in conversation and navigating ethics in practice.

Final Ethical Framework

The First Phase Of An Ethical Framework

Being part of something new has always felt like a gift. As part of the first proper ethic’s class at AC4D I knew I would be able to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned through experience that have helped me through an ethically challenging place. Four values I want to remain in my ethical framework are empathy, openness, humility, and self-awareness. In no particular order…

I viewed this assignment as something that I wanted to carry with me well past the program. I hope to continue doing research into areas unfamiliar to me. I thought about things that have served me well in hindsight of experiencing hardship in job’s I’ve had.

I believe that ethics are something you carry with you, they’re inherent. They are based in values that were instilled in you as a child. Others come from experiences you have that forcibly change how you have to view your current situation. I think that they should be adapted and improved upon, at times forgotten, and then put into practice again. I shared four values I feel that are integral pieces of my framework. To be improved upon and practiced whenever possible. After discussion with one of the teachers of this class I was encouraged to have more questions than answers, I hope that you’ll read them and know that this is not prescriptive. Just things I want to carry forward in my life and work.

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I feel it can pave a path for emotive conversation. Through empathy we can gain informational results of higher quality. Through empathy grows trustworthiness and through trust is a better relationship. This is something I’ve learned through loss groups. I have lost close loved ones to suicide. In turn, I have been a part of many loss groups and conversations with other survivors of suicide. When meeting in these groups a primary rule is to listen. It’s through listening where I feel we can begin to put empathy the most.

It’s important to be cognizant of where you’re coming from in a project. What has your pathway provided to you in your current position? Are you aware of privilege? Are you familiar with bias? Are you aware of privilege to even consider these factors? I believe being able to recognize yourself as an individual separately from others you are working alongside is a benefit to the environment and others.

Remembering that you’re a part of something bigger is integral to a project. No matter what title you wear, pay-grade you possess, or school you went to, the ability to speak with everyone on the same plane is of utmost importance. Whatever you bring to a project is important, but it’s also important to recognize you’re trying to identify and bring to light is not for you. It’s for the user you’re designing for. No passing judgement for the persons you aim to benefit

Exposure to new things can benefit a human being. Experiencing a lifestyle different than your own, interacting in a language you’re not familiar with can force you to view a situation differently. Openness and attentiveness to your inner feelings, ability to adapt and curiosity into things outside your norm can all help you identify.

Challenging My Framework
I gained and have challenged these values through some of my own experiences. In 2015 I worked for a now defunct English language school in Shanghai, China. It was a charade of sorts. Daily I was asked to sing and dance in front of random families who were pulled in off the street for the sale of english classes. The curriculum felt very sales oriented, and ultimately the most effort was put into the showcases for the parents of the students, not on actual learning. I felt humiliated at times, literally singing and dancing in front of 2 and 3 year olds and sometimes their parents. However, I had to do this job. My visa was attached to this, and I was in over my head with student debt. I found myself practicing humility. What made me think I was above this job? Why did I feel this type of way? I was forcibly challenging myself to readjust my personal view on what this organization was doing.

The second situation I found myself challenged in was the job I worked after Happy Goal Kids, as a contractor for the Department of Defense, in the Pentagon. I was working on contracts and papers to have military uniforms changed in Afghanistan. It felt strange to be contributing to the development of something that I couldn’t fully grasp. I felt I was exercising self-awareness. It took a moment (months) to realize how strange and out of place I felt. I learned through self assessment that I wanted to benefit people, not support divide.

Through our current research with JUST – our capstone partner I have had to exercise all of these values. My team-mate Ana and I have had to speak with quite a number of parents to understand their additional responsibilities that come along with having a child. I felt so scared, uncomfortable, and unsure as to what to ask this group of humans. I had bias, I had ideas of what the conversations would be like, and I had to check them at the door. Throughout some of our interviews Ana and I were referred to as “us” or equals to these parents. Realizing that my own distorted views of parents vs not parents brought me right back to assessing these values I shared with you here. Alongside a very, very simple graphic of my values on ‘pillars’.

Below I share a visual from one of our participants in the JUST capstone research project. We asked our participant to write down a paycheck timeline for us, and then write where their major bills were due. Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 4.07.46 PM

It was through this participants explanation of their timeline where they explained that despite their hardships, and overall feelings toward their grim financial situations that their family was the most important thing to them. They valued love, giving, and gratefulness over any monetary value they did or didn’t have. It was here where I remembered that these values or ethical nuggets are far more important than many other things.

Strong Opinions Loosely Held

For the past eight weeks, our class was challenged with building a personal ethical framework, a guidepost for responding to ethical dilemmas in our life and work. The goal of this framework is to offer direction when faced with decisions that feel at odds with our identities and the values that inform them.

As a design student, an ethics course feels relevant. I will have to make choices to about what kinds of products, services, and companies I want to create or be a part of. And as a person, I make ethical choices every day, whether consciously aware of them or not. For me, this class offers a tool for making intentional decisions and having meaningful ethics-driven conversations in both work and everyday life.

Loosely to the path.

Throughout this course, one idea particularly resonated with me: Hold tightly to your values, but loosely to your path – Hold strong opinions, loosely held.

How can my values withstand a change in opinion? A change in action?

My ethical framework must be grounded in the strength of my values, but flexible enough to realize many different paths to uphold them.

The value of flexibility.
I was reminded of a creative problem-solving study where 1,000 students, one at a time, were tasked with retrieving a ping pong ball from the bottom of a six-foot-long steel pipe. A number of miscellaneous objects were placed in the room. Students tried to saw the pipe. They dripped steel fillings on the ball and went fishing for it with a magnet. They even tied gum to a string. There were many failed attempts. Eventually, students found a mop and a bucket of water, poured the water into the pipe, and floated the ball to the top.

This example had me thinking. What do we do when current options compromise our values? How can we think creatively and flexibly enough to discover the bucket of water when faced with an ethical dilemma? These questions laid the foundation for my framework.

My framework.

My ethical framework moves me from uncertainty in the face of an ethical question, towards clarity around my values, and into flexibility, where I hold loosely to my path in search of a better way.

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Uncertainty. Clarity. Flexibility.

These three phases are further broken down. I am motivated to action when core values are put into question. I identify my immediate response and assess if it should be accepted or challenged. I look to tools like the Courageous Conversation Compass to evaluate that reaction and reflect on the values that inform it. I isolate myself in this problem space and address the power and privilege I carry with me as an able-bodied white woman in the United States. These reflections are critical to maintaining self-awareness in the face of uncertainty.

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Moving from clarity towards flexibility, I rely on divergent thinking to explore the many facets of this ethical question. For this phase of my framework, I lean into the readings of Edward de Bono, Richard Buchanan and Viktor Papanek to support creative thinking. I suspend judgment in an attempt to hold space for different perspectives. I alternate ways of thinking by exploring the unknown effects of time and scale, the role of power and privilege, and the weight of benefits and risks. These exercises allow me to generate new approaches to this problem, ultimately letting me question what my blind spots are and if there is a better way.

Into flexibility, I begin to act by making something or taking a stance. In doing so, I seek the advice and counsel of diverse voices and experts. Feedback and iteration create space for improvement and new direction. Taking accountability and maintaining ownership is key. If this new way doesn’t support my values in practice, I must move back through uncertainty and start over.

In application.

As part of my research with JUST, I have spoken with sex workers in Austin to better understand their experiences surrounding financial inclusion. As a question to test against my framework in this blog post, I explore the FOSTA-SESTA bills. These controversial bills were intended to make it easier to cut down on sex trafficking online but have had immediate repercussions for sex workers, increasing the violence against them.

With mutual goals of preventing the online sex trafficking of children and protecting the safety and agency of sex workers, I used part of my framework (clarity > flexibility) in search of a different approach – one that does not compromise my values.

In examining the landscape of these bills, I first identify some of the people or entities invested in this space. Isolating the relationships law makers and sex workers, I articulate the values I perceive these parties might have when considering these bills. I include my own values when addressing decision-making around them. Leaning into shared values, I generate ideas that don’t force me to choose between protecting children who are sex-trafficked online and maintaining the safety and agency of sex workers who rely on digital tools. I examine some integration points and generate ideas informed by values I identified in the last exercise.


Together, these exercises form part of an ethical creative toolkit to help imagine something better.


Without creativity, we are less flexible in our approach to ethical dilemmas. By not exploring all facets of a problem space, we risk overlooking our blind-spots, we risk less ethical decisions, we risk our values.

As I move into quarter three of ac4d, I look forward to exploring the role of making and prototyping in this process. I wonder how stakes and urgency affect the rigor of creative and divergent thinking. When is it too much? When is it not enough? When will we know when to act and start making?

As both a person and designer, I will continue to break and adapt this framework in the search of this balance.

To talk ethics and challenge our frameworks, please reach me at

Ethical Decision Making

“Everybody has a plan until they punched in the face.” – Mike Tyson

This is a quote I think about often. I think it’s really important to have a plan, and I also think that plan is most likely going to fail.

In our conversations around ethics and building an ethical framework, this Mike Tyson quote has been echoing in the back of my mind. Particularly because his answer is in response to a question he received about his upcoming fight with Evander Holyfield–an opponent he ended up loosing his heavy weight title to.

I’ve been thinking about my framework really in the context of working for a company after my time at AC4D. It’s in three parts. First, how can I set myself up for a job, career, or situation where the decisions being made are starting from solid ethical ground.  After a lot of introspection around the companies I’ve worked with or consulted for, I’ve summarized that first step like this:

Ethical Framework 2

When a company has a clear mission (both internally and externally), when they are building products that actually align with that mission, and when the financial incentives are aligned for the customer and the company, I’ve seen that there is a much more stable scenario for ethical decision making.

That’s my plan, knowing that even if I follow that exactly, I’ll be punched in the mouth. So, the second layer of my ethical framework involves weight absolutes on a scale. For example, “this is only harming people-this is only helping people” or “I am designing for one-I am designing for all”.

At the bottom of my framework, and something powering the entire thing is my brain. To make the best decisions, and decisions I personally believe to be ethical, I think a grounding reality is that my brain needs to be operating at its highest possible level. Mental health, physical health, and a commitment to constantly learning feed my brain at its best.

An abstraction of my framework as it currently stands:

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A future mindset for design ethics

“Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.” – Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine

I consider myself a futurist. As an educator, I couldn’t help but become one when I began to understand the way that my work in the present shaped tomorrow as my students continued to change the world in big and small ways. Each small step–teaching someone to tie a knot, find the standard deviation of a set, or how to debug code, was an investment in our shared future. Knowledge I shared with a student might be practiced immediately, but it also built a foundation for a life of exploration, curiosity, kindness and confidence. Although I never taught a course called “How to Change the World,” I realized I was doing exactly that.

James, an outdoor education student who savored every opportunity to cook group meals with me over our tiny backpacking stoves, now owns a restaurant and butcher shop in Oklahoma City. Our course was his first chance to take care of other people by preparing delicious meals at the end of a long day. Alex, a software engineering student who struggled with concepts that her peers grasped easily, is now an engineer at Apple. I coached her extensively on cultivating a growth mindset and tackling impostor syndrome. Those tools must have been as important as her engineering skills when interviewing for her current role.

The futurist mindset that inspired my work as an educator has developed further as a design student. As I conceive of the work we are doing as students and imagine future design work creating the world that I want to live, I am both excited and a little afraid. Every single beautiful or awful aspect of our society that exists today is the byproduct of choices made by individuals. As such, I am mindful to wield my influence with not only a sense of responsibility, but also empathy and compassion.

While some of the biggest challenges of our time may seem beyond our ability to solve, I know that we are creating the future every minute. When developing an ethical framework to support my work as a designer, I wanted to balance a sense of caution with optimism. My framework is impact-oriented, but also acknowledges our inability to perfectly estimate the outcomes of our work. In building my framework I attempted to include aspects that acknowledge our place in history and the potential future impacts of our work. Ultimately, I decided that a futurist mindset was best addressed not by having specific elements of the framework speaking to timescale, but by embedding ethical review as a practice that needs to be repeated at intervals in order to combat the limits of our ability to see into the future.

I have tried out my framework at multiple inflection points of a single company. In the past 15 years they’ve been known by several names, Ploom, Pax or Juul, but the two founders have remained throughout. They were two product design students who met at the Stanford, learning many of the same things that I am learning now. And all that thoughtful and empathetic design practice and prototyping led them to design a product that has reversed decades of trends in nicotine addiction amongst teenagers. I wanted to explore their story through an ethical framework to better understand how well-meaning, intelligent designers could end up creating such a destructive product.

My primary conclusion is that the two founders, James Monsees and Adam Bowen, were like the proverbial boiled frog who slowly perished as the water got warmer cooking him without ever realizing his peril. The product vision at the outset, a harm reduction product for current smokers was benign, but not riskless. What eventually resulted was a product optimized for addiction and unleashed with sexy marketing targeted at young people that was ultimately acquired by the largest tobacco company in the world. I imagine that at the outset, James and Adam would not have predicted this outcome. When I consider what went wrong, I can’t overlook the limits of the two founders to anticipate the outcome of their choices in 2005 when they were students starting this company as a student project.

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While our ability to anticipate outcomes declines as we peer further into the future, the consequences of our actions can grow ever greater.

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Does that mean that those destined to be good ancestors are people capable of great foresight? Or are they just lucky that their high-impact decisions ended up having positive outcomes?

Although both of those are possibilities, the way that we best position ourselves to be good ancestors is by course-correcting throughout our journeys, to stop, reflect, reevaluate and change course when needed. Our imperfect ability to see the future can be augmented by planning times of reflection into our project timelines and into our personal and professional lives.

Arriving at My Ethical Framework

When we started this Ethics class, I was really thankful for the opportunity to explore not only existing ethical frameworks but also my own values. I’ve never taken space to really think about what I value as a person and how those values impact my decisions. I’m a logical reasoner and a gut-check verifier — so I definitely (over)think my decisions often, but those are mostly rooted in facts rather than values.  

As a conflict-avoidant person, I also rarely debate issues and this class has challenged us to confront risks and challenges of ethical issues. It’s by recognizing this tension that I’ve been able to get more clarity on my stronger values and motivations. 

Below I’m going to walk through the process of arriving at my ethical framework along with tools and resources that I regularly referenced. 

The Process

Identifying My Values. Before we threw ourselves in the deep-end of ethics, we took the time to meditate on what matters most to us. Through a Personal Drivers exercise from Pivot (a delightful activity for an afternoon), I uncovered a few values that matter most to me: gratitude, growth, collaboration, courage, mindfulness, independence, and grit. These drivers served as a foundation for the rest of the course.

Understanding foundations. We also took the time to understand popular existing ethical frameworks and why those resonate. Understanding the basics of consequentialist, non-consequentialist, and agent-centered theories also primed us to understand both what a framework is and different modes of thinking about ethics. 

Applied ethics. Over the last 6 weeks, we’ve continued to apply these existing ethical frameworks to issues of today. As we read about issues like dark patterns, privacy and consent, and technology addiction, I took note of the ethical questions that arose. For example, when reading about technology addiction, this quote from B.J. Fogg, the father of behavioral design, really stuck with me:

“What I always wanted to do was un-enslave people from technology.” 

I asked myself: how can I work this into my framework? How can I ensure that as a designer I am fostering relationships, connection, and giving power to the user?


Synthesizing inspiration.  With dozens of questions in the margins of my readings and notes from class, I tried to make sense of what ideas have been resonating with me over the past quarter. 

I also referenced existing designer’s ethical frameworks to see if there were any blind spots in my thinking. Examples from Design Ethically, Artefact, and Kat Holmes provided inspiration and expanded my view to consider the system in which I operate as a designer, not just my personal values. 

I paired down my questions to key ideas, affinitized those, and ultimately came up with a framework that leans on usage, power, and equity as the main 3 pillars with history and ecosystem as a foundation. 


This graphic is a digestible abstraction of my ethical framework. Each of these themes has corresponding questions, and all of those questions are also considered through a lens of time and scale. 

Looking Forward

One of the core values reflected in my framework is the idea of promoting shared experiences. How can we create products and services that counteract filter bubbles, polarization, and disconnection? 

With this foundation of connection in mind, my most important task moving forward is to be able to weave these ethical questions throughout my every day to help create a shared language with my network. I don’t want to be in a high castle of ethics. I want to make artifacts that can be easily shared and consumed to promote more of these conversations.  I still feel like I’m at the peak of the complexity curve with my framework, so my challenge to my future self is to continue distilling these ideas into something I can quickly reference and share.

Creating an Ethical Framework

Throughout this quarter, we have been tasked with creating an ethics framework that will guide our decisions as designers. This has been no easy feat. There is no universal set of ethics, and almost every decision of importance requires trade-offs. Even when you think you are designing something that benefits everyone, there is the possibility that your design will have unintended effects or be co-opted and used for nefarious purposes by others. The field of design is strewn with such cases, whether it be Airbnb giving hosts the agency to choose their guests (resulting in discrimination) or Cambridge Analytica adopting algorithmic prediction software to sway political elections.

Ethics can be considered from various approaches, and two in particular inform this framework: the consequentialist Common Good Approach, which stipulates that good actions should consider and benefit the whole of society, with consideration for the most vulnerable; and the non-consequentialist Rights Approach, which determines good by evaluating the impact of an action on the rights of those affected by it, emphasizing that people never be treated as means to an end.

The framework I have created was influenced by earlier models I’ve created, the Star of Good Design and the Identity Rainbow. These ethical approaches and previous studies, culled from readings and discussions on design patterns, privacy and identity, and emerging technology, inform the basis of my logic and the nature of my questions.

An Ethical Framework

The dark red questions are of most importance. If you find yourself in the bottom right corner (For whom?) you should reflect, ask yourself if you’re okay with this, then proceed to the agency question. This is a work in progress.

When facing the benefits and drawbacks of an ambiguous situation (or in all scenarios, really), consider the following questions:

Framework Questions

I’ve used this model on a few different scenarios. For example, imagine a health organization operates an app that provides reminders to take medicine and menus of daily meal options that meet nutritional value goals. The organization would now like to encourage people to exercise more. 

You have been asked to design a request asking users to create an exercise regimen every time they receive their medication reminder or set up a meal plan. This notification cannot be turned off, and must be declined each time. The organization thinks that, with enough prodding, users will eventually create a plan, and that they will ultimately be thankful once they set it up. 

If I follow my framework, I will eventually get to the question of whether this causes unintended harm. It very well could: annoying reminders could persuade users to stop using the app altogether, and they would no longer have access to the medication reminders and meal plans. So I would have to ask myself additional questions and determine the severity of the situation and what options I have to influence it.

I would proceed in the following way:

  1. I would make an argument as to why I think this is a bad idea and pitch alternatives.
  2. If unsuccessful in my efforts, I would ask if I could be reassigned from the project.
  3. If I had to, I would work on the project. There would be drawbacks to implementation, but also benefits. The drawbacks are not significant enough to quit the position.

I believe that this sort of reasoning must be employed when making ambiguous decisions. For example, if I were asked to craft a deceptive terms and conditions acceptance protocol, I would protest, but ultimately acquiesce if necessary, assuming that the terms are not more dangerous than industry standards. Since people are already used to sharing private information online, it would not be worth losing my job to try to change one company’s protocol. 

But let’s return to the hypothetical health organization above. Imagine that its next initiative was to obtain users’ medical records, so that the app could make tailored meal plan recommendations based on their health conditions. I would not work on this project. Combining medical records with shopping behaviors could result in discriminatory action by health insurers and government agencies, if they were to obtain this information. By storing this data together, I would be creating existential risk for our users.

In the end, my takeaway is as follows:

Consider the ramifications of your work. Consider your responsibilities to yourself and to others. Seek outside input. Stand up for your values. Do no deliberate harm.

Again, this framework is a work in progress. If you have thoughts and would like to provide feedback or engage in conversation about the limits of this model, please email me at I would love to hear from you.

Branded by an Ethical Framework

Throughout the quarter in Ethics, we have been building out an ethical framework as a means to test and check problem scenarios to, now and in the future. Getting to this point has been pretty challenging, it’s often felt like a dump of ideas, starred notes, and ethereal situations that are hard to ground in real life. I needed a way to bring these ideas together and build the rough draft of what should be my ethical framework as a designer for the future, and to do that I revisited a concept that I was familiar with.

I have always enjoyed branding and logo design, and thought the idea of attaching an ethical framework to a brand could be a powerful message. What if all of the brands we know shared the sub-structure of decision making that went into new product launches and deployments? I think some companies already wear a lot on their sleeve, but a mission statement is not the same as the thought process behind development. This is probably because a lot of the decisions that we throw at the framework may run counter to the idea of capitalism.

This is not to sound anti-capitalistic, but I do believe there is a level of greed and a myopic view towards investor earnings reports that has pushed ethics to the side. So what if a company was built around ethics in the first place? Would that change our expectations as consumers, and what about as investors? It’s an idea I want to continue to tease out throughout the remainder of my time at AC4D, but this seemed like a prime opportunity to think about it at a deeper level.

To explain the brand quickly, it is an idea that I have carried in my head for some time as a way to represent myself. The letters KNGSN are pronounced king-son or king-sun. This derives from two things, the idea that we are all beholden to the sun to survive. It makes the grass grow and the world go round, literally. The other half is that my father’s name is Kingsley and he goes by King, so I am King’s son. I couldn’t decide which spelling so I did the cool hipster thing and took out all the vowels. The icon represents a king’s crown and also a rising sun. I didn’t think of this solely for this presentation, it’s something I have worked on in the past, but this seemed like a great opportunity to put it to use.

For the rest of this blog post, I’m going to talk through the steps that I took to arrive at this framework, and hit on a few areas I feel are important to me.

Framework Presentation

Like I said earlier, trying to pull my cavalcade of ideas seemed a bit daunting. I had dug through my notes and found points of interest and quotes that spoke to me and tried to find a way to position them that made sense. I did a lot of digging around for existing architectures that inspired me, and found many good examples along with a few not so much.

Framework Presentation (1)

I experimented with different diagrams, thinking about how to work what was essentially a series of gut check questions, into an order that made sense. One idea that stood out was thinking about it through the phases of design. I tried categorizing the questions into areas like concept development, prototyping, and launch. It seemed decent, but it was not resonating with me, as some of it felt forced into a bucket that maybe wasn’t right.


So instead, I fell back on the branding, and put that at the center. The mantra “keep your island beautiful” lives below it,, which is a personal saying I like to reference to think about problems from a micro to a macro level. Your island can be your mind or your body, something you need to take care of to be in the right head space for design. Your island can also expand, being maybe your office desk, or  your house, something you care about and want to maintain. Further than that, your island becomes  your community, your state, your country. Moving outwards, we should start to share this compassion we gave to ourselves and spread it to others. Ultimately, our world is an island that we are all inhabitants of, and thinking globally through design is necessary when we view things through time and scale.


After that, I took the highlights of the quarter and re-wrote them onto post-it notes and found themes between them or general sentiments they were conveying. This allowed me to think of aspects as self-reflecting, as well as projecting ideas outwards. I created the groups Present-Past-Future for myself, and Create-Grow-Plan-Reflect to project. It helped me to ground myself with a statement, to understand the location in the framework before asking questions. All of this came together in what is my current framework, but surely not the last edit of it.

Framework v2_v4-04

Looking ahead, I want to run more scenarios of what a startup company might look like if it followed a framework form the beginning, and especially if it put that framework out open to the public. I believe it would make for more accountability, more transparency, and a deeper connection to the products we buy and use. It would build trust and alignment, and in theory a more loyal customer base.

One thing I have taken away from this quarter of ethics is that having these conversations is important, and good to share with others outside of the design community. It is something we need to keep front of mind, and not let it slip away or just be lazy about. I believe, lack of attention is equal to bad intention.

My personal ethical decision-making process

Thinking of our personal ethical decision-making is hard, although we make ethical decisions every day, like for example, do I creep up over the speed limit because it is to my convenience? Or should I buy somewhere I know their employees are poorly payed? We go each day without thinking about these ethical decisions we make, because they are small and hurt people in an insignificant or small way. But what when we think of big, wicked problems, then the ethical decisions are almost impossible to decipher.

I felt lost at the beginning of this assignment and to be honest I am still pretty lost, ethics is much more than just doing your readings and your homework, it’s also diving deep into your feelings and what the gut tells you, which apparently, I am not so good at, but it’s just a muscle we have to start training.

With all of this confession I will start by saying that my process was eternal and things just didn’t make sense. But at the end what helped me the most, was thinking about problems that I have thought about in my design project with our partner Caritas of Austin, we worked with them for about four months. Our main focus was to understand how caritas was delivering clients goals (if you want to know more about this project, click here). Without going into any details, we learned about ECHO, Coordinated Entry provides a single doorway for people to walk through to access many different community resources.  The Coordinated Entry team develops, implements, and oversees a system that connects individuals experiencing homelessness to housing supports and other services like healthcare. They use a vulnerability index tool to prioritize individuals and families most in need of housing services. To me, the biggest issue when interviewing individuals experiencing homelessness is that the ones that can advocate by themselves are not being helped, however the most vulnerable need help the most, I always felt uncomfortable with this idea because we are leaving people with desire to grow professional and personal behind.

My ethical framework has 9 different steps that in any occasion where I feel uncomfortable like in that case, I can do the steps to figure out what is bothering me and have a call to action.

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With this ECHO problem and my super incredible ethical decision-making framework, I can now figure out other alternatives that could work to have a more just support system.