Ethical Design Requires a New Definition of Business Value

"Good" design—in the sense of ethical design—is constrained by the context in which it is produced. Design work being performed in a corporate or profit-motivated environment, then, is limited by the outcomes that it's intended to produce. The role of design in a business is to deliver results that are also good for the business.

This creates a tension with the ethical imperatives of "user-centric" design. After all, many business-friendly outcomes may not be in the best interest of the user. Typically, the business's primary goal is always profit; design may play a role in encouraging or even forcing the user to behave in ways that maximize profit at the cost of social goods.

Reconciling this tension means reconsidering how value is measured. A more expansive definition, that considers factors like people and the environment, may be needed. Erika Hall points to John Elkington's "triple bottom line" as an attempt to square this circle, but with acknowledged that it has met limited success.

Ultimately, Hall argues, designers must find ways to ensure that what is good for the business is good for the customer, too. Otherwise, they will end up with unsustainable profits, or profit on human misery.



Hall, Erika. “Thinking in Triplicate.” Medium, April 30, 2020.