A quick primer for ethics in design

The following list of questions and subjects helps a designer to orient herself to the problem of ethics in design. The list is by no means exhaustive, but illustrates what kinds of problems may be embedded in design process and propositions from a point of view of ethics. If a designer wants to act in an ethically responsible manner, it is imperative to put forth personal effort in understanding ethical conflicts rather than trying to follow any predefined safe rules. Ethics is a process of learning – not a process of obedience.

What are ethics?

Ethics is a (rational) study of moral dilemmas in (human) action. Morals are shortly defined as codes or guides of conduct (implicit or explicit) that are based on personal long-lasting beliefs and values or those of surrounding society. A personal act can be considered moral, immoral or amoral from the point of view of ethical studies:

It is very easy to understand that almost any act or thought can be considered both moral and immoral at the same time, if one considers proper points of view. However, this does not make the study of ethics (i.e. The study of moral dilemmas) any less significant: just like in design there are no single right solutions – only choices that have pros and cons attached to them.

To prepare yourself for the multitude of ethical considerations you can start by examining your own stance as a designer, your own values, who you are designing for and what kind of values are you trying to embed in your design solutions and why?

Ethics in goals

Designers as shapers of users

Needs and wants

Ecology and environment


Ethics in practise

Means and ends

Methods and tools

Ethics in design propositions

Design for all

Individual and collective

Form and function

Innovation and tradition


Ethics of aesthetics and design in housing

Victor Papanek: The Green Imperative
, Ecology and Ethics in Design and Architecture

Gorman, M. E. (1998). Transforming nature: Ethics, invention and design.

Putting Environmental Ethics at the Center of Design

Teaching Ethics to Scientists and Engineers: Moral Agents and Moral Problems

Online Ethics Search

Design Ecology Ethics and The Making of Things