Why is there no ethics in design?

Ethics and design are considered in context. In spite of many lip service this happens far too seldom.

Let’s remember G20, Chemnitz, the Domplatte, we all have an opinion immediately. “They’re to blame.” “No, they are.” “You can not act that way.” “Yes, that’s the way it is.” Trump tweets nasty sentence fragments. The opinion is there and is vociferous, sometimes expressed almost militant.

But when we sit at our design work, where are all the ethical considerations? Who designs services like Tellonym or Uber? Who thinks about Facebook’s strange abilities? In the design everything is currently allowed, which is technically feasible, so one may have the impression.


Typical result of modern design creations.

At least you also present your customers on their website as a tip-top entrepreneur, who definitely deserves to acquire customers without end. You do that, even if you know that he works 80 per cent with mini jobbers and incidentally pays his employees badly and on time.

After all, the customer is indeed king and is always right. Here, as a designer, we have a big headache in mind. But so long that we no longer perceive them as such. Rather, everything is normal, but makes everyone so and no one else.

Maybe we should once again remember the good old ethics. She can certainly open our eyes. In relation to our profession, we must shed light on the following dimensions of ethics.

The formal aspect of design ethics

Similar to the Hippocratic Oath for Physicians, Designer Associations have also been busy providing an ethical guide to their affiliated professional groups. Unlike the Hippocratic Oath, which has a high status, the ethical codes of our associations are little known and hardly include anything more than a matter of course.

Take the “Code of Professional Conduct” of the Academy of Design Professionals, because it’s also nice to look at. There are quite a number of topics to be covered, but the focus is actually on more formal, relatively easily objectifiable aspects.


For example, designers are obliged to always strive for further education and further development. They should always push the standards further upwards, constantly improving not just the individual design, but the entire industry. It also means giving back your own knowledge and skills to the community. Of course, they should take care of the observance of human rights.

When it comes to the principles of dealing with the public, generalities come on the scene. In doing so, designers should always comply with applicable laws and behave in public in ways that reflect the potentially positive effects of design on civil society.

Above all, designers should show loyalty and honesty to their customers and clearly communicate any conflicts of interest. Contracts should be concluded in such a way that they correctly reflect the scope of the project and provide rules for all essential activities.

Designers should behave fairly and honestly towards their colleagues. Free work should not be delivered. Employees should be paid fairly and be supported in their further development.

In between there are regulations that designers should not engage in fraudulent projects, decorate themselves with foreign feathers or talk badly about colleagues.

Do not get us wrong. This Code of Conduct is definitely better than none at all. Ultimately, however, it only contains what could also be found in the code of conduct for service stations.

What is completely ignored is the massive impact that design has on the development of our information age.

The moral aspect of a design ethic

Would you create the new website of Donald Trump? Here you may find a clear position for yourself. However, I also know many, many who simply follow the motto “Pecunia non olet”.


And, how much does your morality cost?

Would you participate in the state trojan or in face recognition technologies? Why not, you may think, everything is not forbidden, therefore legal, therefore okay and accepted. If I do not, someone else does it.

Do you know what the customer is doing with the data you have collected from him? Do you know how many teenagers kill themselves because they can not cope with the anonymous comments, the tellonyms that you’ve helped shape in their tracks?

Do you know how many people have lost the job and will still lose because you have helped to create such great services as Uber, Fiverr or Clickworker?

As long as it does not concern itself, is not it bad, right? Design is in demand like never before. Maybe not much longer in the form of visual design, but the design of dialog-based systems will still be needed in twenty years’ time. The medium may change, but the skills remain in demand.

Surely you have a political attitude. Does that feed into your work ethic? Do not you design for CDU, AfD, Greens, SPD or Left? So basically not? I would almost bet. Because here the world is still pretty small and manageable and the outrage is easy.

But if a radical transformation of the social order takes place out of a purely commercial interest, then it is not so easy to find a counter-position. There is talk of progress and of the critic as a rejector of progress, as Ewiggestrigem.

I suspect that progress is so rapid at the moment that our moral sensors can not keep up. Besides, it’s also great, fascinating, what’s possible.

The political aspect of a design ethic

I have already mentioned Trump and the parties. Here it comes quickly to the camp formation. Even at the regulars’ table among friends, this is completely fix. Everyone has an orientation, but often does not know what is really behind this orientation. Does not matter, you gather as a group and that feels safe. You’re not alone.


Together you are less alone.

Politics and design are quite similar. Both create conditions for living together. The only question is, to whose advantage is this happening? The politician claims that the common good is his goal. Mostly it’s all about personal power.

Facebook was once created as an extended contact management and today is the largest data octopus of all time. Distribute five likes and Facebook can calculate the size of your pants. Again, it is about power, in the form of influence and in the form of money, especially in the form of money.

When it gets political in design, things get tight. We might as well talk about the religious implications of design. Is not there, do you believe? Is there for sure.

So what? It’s not different everywhere.

One could argue that everything might be like that, but as such it does not matter. After all, such influence can be found on all levels and in all job profiles. That’s what’s up again.

However, that would underestimate the importance of design for our lives. The design of a dialog-based system is at the core of modern society and the modern economy, just what is called digitization.

Just as there has long been discussion as to what kind of stem cell use should be allowed, how far research should generally go, so in our profession these discussions are needed.

And it takes designers who have the ass in their pants not always to follow the call of money. Maybe we start by actively demanding the discussion.