Design + Ethics: On Being Inclusive and Transparent

The Design + Ethics series presented by UC Irvine and a small studio continued with a second talk this year around the important discussion of accessibility, diversity, and how the decisions we make not only as a team but as individuals, influence the ethics behind the design in our lives.

Design is gaining more authority and responsibility every day. Having these insightful conversations around Design + Ethics with respected industry experts are some of the first steps to making a real, lasting change in regards to ethical design. Inclusivity and design don't often get discussed together, but it is imperative to bring that discussion to the table to allow us to move forward—together.

Key Takeaways

Gillian Hayes, Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate Division at UC Irvine stated that customer joy sells a product, and that empathy makes for good design. The industry knows this, but we still have biased algorithms and hate speech within the products and services we interact with. Structural changes can start anywhere; we have to protect and promote community-driven innovation. Being in academia, Gillian touched on the topic of Inclusivity in Academia and how it is not enough to simply recruit and accept a diverse student population, but making the university a safe place for these individuals.

When it comes to making a safe space, Gillian believes that it is imperative for leaders in the university to actively work to change the culture on campus. This can start with changing the approach to how we teach faculty to teach and mentor those with different backgrounds and experiences, emphasizing that there is a strong need for people to care about ethics and morals in these spaces.

For Mona Sloane, Sociologist at New York University, Design and Inequality are intertwined. She believes that within that dynamic, design can sustain and empower privilege. This is a toxic cycle that causes harm to marginalized groups. For example, people with darker skin tones are less likely to be detected by AI technologies, so an autonomous vehicle, for example, is less likely to detect them. People assume tech can easily fix these problems, but they are often difficult to fix or get put on the back-burner. There is no such thing as neutral technology; politics is always baked in—but when people speak up about the injustices they see in the design and technology they interact with, we get one step closer to ethical changes.

Brandon Hyman, a Senior Designer at HULU, believes that having open, transparent conversations is the first step to inclusion, safer communities, and ethical design. A big part of this is having the right people in management, not only hiring managers but HR and other executives who actively work to reframe what it means to be a good, solid candidate.

Brandon's discussion opened the topic of growth and profit vs health and wellness. We need to work on identifying metrics that aren't only for profit, but that positively impact the health our products and services have on our consumers.

When talking about designing with wellness in mind, It's true that you can't have loyal consumers without trust. We spoke with Neveen Moghazy, Product Design Manager at MailChimp, about what a solution to building trust would look like. Neveen believes that the key thing is knowing that we as humans are coming together to have these conversations, being vulnerable, and hopes to get to a point where we develop the true meaning of trust and how to design for it.

"The way the system is set up, it makes making certain decisions hard and leaves less room to make ethical choices depending on the company you're with. And not everyone has the privilege to decline work based on ethics and morals alone."

— Neveen Moghazy.

Ending this discussion, we asked Daniela Busse, VP of Research at Wells Fargo, what her thoughts on trust and diversity, and how it relates to ethical design. She believes that it is the responsibility of the industry to seek diversity and to embrace it. When asked how large corporations like Wells Fargo can articulate and design for trust in an ethical way, she responded by saying "there is a need for trust in every organization. Large corporations need individuals with good ethics. It is not good vs evil, it's about working together to make a better world."

As Principle of a small studio, I am humbled and proud to be ahead of the curve when it comes to designing with ethics in mind. After talking to these wonderful, talented individuals, my mission to have us all use our gifts to bring peace to people's lives only grows stronger, more steadfast. The ways that we move forward are already happening, I see it in a small studio every time I come to work. Everything starts small, and these small actions lead to big changes.

The work starts now—bridging the gap between ethical design and academia is something we would love to aspire to at a small studio; to be the launch pad and nurturing environment for this union. The future is looking bright, and I'm grateful to UC Irvine for helping bring these conversations to light.