Design has never been more accessible than at this moment, and design is getting more and more accessible. Not only are design tools more user friendly, design thinking is a skill-set that is used from call agents to CEO’s. This is a very good thing, it makes that almost everything we see, hear, feel, taste or use is designed. As a designer this makes me happy.
What doesn’t make me happy, is a bad design. Which is exactly the downfall of the design age we live in, everything is designed, but only a few things are designed by actual designers. And you can tell when it’s not designed by a designer, even if it’s not that poor.
So what is this unique element that separates the designer from the marketeer, copywriter, programmer and the rest of the world? I believe that design ethics separate the designers from the rest of the world. In fact, the stronger the design(ers) ethics are, the better of a designer he is.
Designers naturally have the urge to do the right thing. Historically, this was to make things look pretty rather than ugly. Today, I think the right thing to do is to make things good, rather than bad.
Defining ‘good’ is simple. Something is good when it is made in such a fashion that the person who is using it will appreciate it. This still means we have to make it pretty, but it also means we have to make it useful, usable, safe, fast, reliable etcetera.
To achieve this, you rarely find yourself taking the easiest solution to a problem. In fact it rarely allows the designer to know the solution of a problem at an early stage. Hence, this is our design process.
Exactly at the design process we find the base for design ethics. Being able to follow your own process, or at least follow a process that allows you to design good is where a designer separates himself from a lot of other professionals. A good designer is able to persuade a reasonable client to follow a good design process in order to get the best design for its users. However, when forced into a process that doesn’t suit your design approach, it means as a freelance designer you sometimes are forced to turn down an assignment, or as a design professional to disobey the procedures within the company you work. Generally you can find the ethics for a good design process in design principles, a good example for such principles are Chad Vavra’s 10 Principles of Interaction Design.
Another important part of ethics, is the end product you design. The ubiquity of design allows everything to be designed. However, the designer is always somewhat personally responsible for what happens with the product he or she designed. As a human being you should know what part of the world you want to participate in, and what part you don’t want to be associated with. I found that many designers are very ‘ethical’ people in that sense. Personally; I will never work for gambling products or child marketing. Others might never work for the weapons industry or even banks.
In a world where design has become part of our society, the quality of design lies more in its ethics than the designers skills. The definition from good design has shifted from good looking to being good itself.
The way good design is created, and what exactly that is, is something every designer has to define him or herself.
There really isn’t a whole lot more that will help designers define good but mostly design good things more than design ethics. If you are a designer, you should already be aware of your design ethics. Stay faithful to them, and make both your world and my world a little better.
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