Stark / General

Do you think the design community should have an (ethics) board?

Do you think the design community should have an (ethics) board?

Stark/General · August 1, 2018 at 1:35pm

Do you think the design community should have an (ethics) board?

Stark / General · August 1, 2018 at 1:35pm
I'm continually thinking about the impact our work has on the world — especially on the product / company being built. Medical professionals who are continually practicing medicine have nothing but good intentions. But realistically, there are a few that do their job without much rigor or care for the patient. And in the event of wrong-doing, be it knowingly or unintentionally, doctors must report to a board.
Having said that, what are your thoughts on whether or not we as a design community should have an ethics board we have to report to in the event of wrong-doing of a person / people be it intentional or unintentional?

August 2, 2018 at 9:06am

I'd say this would need broader oversight than just the design profession. It's not just design that's responsible for the existence of products - this includes engineers, data analysts, product managers...on and on. Anyone building or influencing direction of a product could be subject to this ethics board.

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I'd say this would need broader oversight than just the design profession. It's not just design that's responsible for the existence of products - this includes engineers, data analysts, product managers...on and on. Anyone building or influencing direction of a product could be subject to this ethics board.

That's a great point. Ultimately the designers and engineers are the final "touchpoint" but whoever has the final say in what stays or goes is the stakeholder / leader. Which brings me to my next question: I wonder what the overall goal of it would be? Do the stakeholders who request or demand something held accountable too?

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I think the closest thing I can think of is W3C. I work in edtech and many of the guidelines proposed by W3C are enforced through the contracts we have with universities. It’s definitely not anywhere close to the medical profession. While the W3C moves pretty slow I do think their principles are well meaning. Their overall goal is:

An open and collectively empowering model that will help radically improve the way people around the world develop new technologies and innovate for humanity

(link: https://www.w3.org/Consortium/mission)

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I think the closest thing I can think of is W3C. I work in edtech and many of the guidelines proposed by W3C are enforced through the contracts we have with universities. It’s definitely not anywhere close to the medical profession. While the W3C moves pretty slow I do think their principles are well meaning. Their overall goal is:

An open and collectively empowering model that will help radically improve the way people around the world develop new technologies and innovate for humanity

(link: https://www.w3.org/Consortium/mission)

This is super interesting; I don't think many of us [me included] knew this exists.

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August 3, 2018 at 9:02pm

That's a great point. Ultimately the designers and engineers are the final "touchpoint" but whoever has the final say in what stays or goes is the stakeholder / leader. Which brings me to my next question: I wonder what the overall goal of it would be? Do the stakeholders who request or demand something held accountable too?

Everybody has a seat at the table when working on a digital product. I think it's very important to speak up if marketing or business decisions influence the intentions of a design in a negative way. And above all, the user is always right.

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Speaking about ethics, Mike Monteiro is very outspoken on this topic.

https://vimeo.com/68470326

https://abookapart.com/products/design-is-a-job

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August 5, 2018 at 5:30pm

Yes. Also—

1. The board issues licenses that are earned by designers.

2. Earning a license requires years of education and work and concludes with the designer swearing an oath (similar to the Hippocratic Oath) to never knowingly do harm to humanity or the planet.

3. There are regular board reviews of work created by designers (similar to Morbidity and Morality meetings for physicians) and if unethical practices are uncovered, the designer's license is revoked.

4. Legal proceedings can be brought to people who practice design without a license.

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August 5, 2018 at 11:33pm

Yes. Also—

1. The board issues licenses that are earned by designers.

2. Earning a license requires years of education and work and concludes with the designer swearing an oath (similar to the Hippocratic Oath) to never knowingly do harm to humanity or the planet.

3. There are regular board reviews of work created by designers (similar to Morbidity and Morality meetings for physicians) and if unethical practices are uncovered, the designer's license is revoked.

4. Legal proceedings can be brought to people who practice design without a license.

Ohhh interesting. I respectfully disagree on the education part. I'm a self-taught designer. I was a bio major in college and dropped out. I would not be anywhere without the help of Google search, peeling apart photoshop files, asking for help, etc. Would you say all of the rules apply to engineers as well?

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August 6, 2018 at 2:03pm

Not sure about the design community, but each company (or group of companies) should have one. For example, all companies working with health tech might have different ethics standards than those in social networking, for example— and should have its own governing "board", perhaps. I just gave a talk on this at Turing Festival this past week, about the need for ethics codes to protect us from ourselves.

an ethics board we have to report to in the event of wrong-doing of a person / people be it intentional or unintentional?

I think these boards would review things before the fact, if possible (particularly MVP/beta versions of new products), and then after the fact if harm was done.

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Another interesting aspect of this, though, is the topic of punishment. How would this work within the larger legal system in cases where some sort of restitution is warranted?

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Ohhh interesting. I respectfully disagree on the education part. I'm a self-taught designer. I was a bio major in college and dropped out. I would not be anywhere without the help of Google search, peeling apart photoshop files, asking for help, etc. Would you say all of the rules apply to engineers as well?

The intent behind the education point is to make sure designers are progressing in the core competencies of the practice. It's possible for many to do this on their own, but many also fail to do this. When you are first starting out with anything, your own incompetence is sometimes blind to you. Sometimes it takes a skilled observer to recognize the help you need and to provide it. Whatever form that takes is fine. Doesn't need to be formal university. But I think if you want to practice design professionally, you should at least reach the "Conscious Competence" stage. For more: https://articles.uie.com/four_stages_competence/

Still need to figure out how it applies to people in the building. Not everyone in a hospital needs a license but licensed physicians have the final say in patient care.

In a technology company, maybe the ethical responsibility is shared among everyone or one person (the licensed practitioner) is solely accountable. Great question! Lots of work to do on this front.

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August 7, 2018 at 4:26pm

I find it difficult to imagine how to implement an ethics board with certification/licensing and enforceable penalties in an industry that still has as much difficulty defining itself as ours. Personally I would rather the focus at the moment would be better placed on laws and regulation to curb the actual harm that's being caused by unethical software, rather than self-regulation to promote ethical conduct by designers upstream.

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I find it difficult to imagine how to implement an ethics board with certification/licensing and enforceable penalties in an industry that still has as much difficulty defining itself as ours. Personally I would rather the focus at the moment would be better placed on laws and regulation to curb the actual harm that's being caused by unethical software, rather than self-regulation to promote ethical conduct by designers upstream.

Love this so much!

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I find it difficult to imagine how to implement an ethics board with certification/licensing and enforceable penalties in an industry that still has as much difficulty defining itself as ours. Personally I would rather the focus at the moment would be better placed on laws and regulation to curb the actual harm that's being caused by unethical software, rather than self-regulation to promote ethical conduct by designers upstream.

@ed-macovaz How do you imagine laws and regulation would be implemented / executed?

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August 8, 2018 at 9:15am

Uff. I wouldn't know how to implement them as its not my domain. You can see people starting to try with things like the GDPR. Problem is a lot of these things come up against businesses that are highly motivated to avoid regulation (Uber, Amazon, Facebook, Airbnb) because in some cases it's hard to imagine their business models succeeding without doing harm.

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But this comes from my assumption that both voluntary codes and conscious consumption are paths of regulation that keep change within the bounds of what works for existing businesses. They also avoid there being an entity with more power than those being regulated.

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August 11, 2018 at 8:35pm

Uff. I wouldn't know how to implement them as its not my domain. You can see people starting to try with things like the GDPR. Problem is a lot of these things come up against businesses that are highly motivated to avoid regulation (Uber, Amazon, Facebook, Airbnb) because in some cases it's hard to imagine their business models succeeding without doing harm.

You're right about that.

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