professional responsibility to society

We define 'professional responsibility to society' as the moral and professional obligations designers have  to the greater community, humanity and the planet.

Designers play a critical role in the now universally adopted growth-based economic model. This model is founded on continual growth through increased production and consumption. The limits of this model are apparent, and we are witnessing the results: ecological degradation, widening social inequities and cultural homogenisation.

Designers do not only create products and messaging. They are central in stimulating the desire to consume through their creation of stereotypes, guidance of behaviour and cultural projections of success. These same professional capacities that have been so valuable to successfully grow consumption, can be employed to find alternatives.

Designers have the responsibility to seek a more rational production and consumption model, using their skills and position to utilise technology and innovation for the long-term good and for the well- being of all living things. In so doing, they become more valuable not only to their users and humanity, but also to their clients.

Designers are responsible for implementing a rational utilisation of materials, manufacturing processes, energy usage, recyclability and re-usability by maintaining a critical contemporary understanding of the science and technologies necessary to create designs that minimise environmental impact. Designers should be aware of the ‘whole life cycle’ of their designs.

The most important contribution designers can make to sustainability is to use their capacities to influence the reduction of both production (e.g., replacement of new material goods by services) and consumption (e.g., by making designs more durable and reducing the need to replace them as often, or by reducing the desire to consume new products by offering an alternative).

Designers should not knowingly develop designs that ‘greenwash,’ that is, designs that appear—through marketing or other stated claims—to be more environmentally sound than they are. To misrepresent or overrepresent the environmental qualifications of a design to a client, distributor or end user either by providing partial or misleading information, glossing over or covering up known shortfalls, or providing false information or analysis is unethical.

Because their work directly controls access and can perpetuate or address systemic inequalities, designers have a professional obligation to address inequity. They should be aware and consider the possible ways their work can create inequality and aim to reduce the impacts of existing systemic inequities on their users.

Diversity is a source of variety and value and is to be respected and celebrated. As arbiters of taste and creators of artefacts and messaging associated with success and desire, designers have enormous power to define culture. It is essential that this responsibility be applied with sensitivity and appreciation for the wealth and variety of the world’s cultural heritages. The designer should be careful when interacting with cultures that are not their own as this may result in ‘Cultural Appropriation’ or ‘Cultural Misappropriation’ (see Lexicon).

Inclusivity should be vigorously defended. A lack of understanding and attention can result in designs that become unsafe for certain user types (e.g. car accidents are more fatal to women), designs that unintentionally create or propagate stereotypes or other unintended consequences.

Designs (e.g., dress, spaces, objects, media) have meaning, whether intentional or not, and as such, the values that the designs embody should not negatively affect any sector of society. Designers should uphold basic human dignity by considering the respectful portrayal of all people (e.g., gender identities, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, awareness of body image issues, etc.)

Diversity of design teams
One way of addressing issues of lack of inclusivity in designs is through diversity among designers. Design teams that are diverse in composition produce better—and more inclusive—outcomes because they consider multiple perspectives and approaches.

Designers are responsible for the safety of not only the end user of their products, but also of all those impacted by their designs. Designers have multiple direct and indirect impacts through their designs through all stages of production, transportation, use and afterlife. Considerations include the toxicity of materials, incitement to addictive or compulsive behaviour, rights to privacy and personal safety.

Humans come in all shapes and sizes. Different genders have different attributes and physiologies. People have different needs and capacities as they grow and age. People have different physical and cognitive limitations and some have mobility challenges and needs. Certain groups have distinct needs (e.g., new immigrants, people with language barriers) and these needs should be considered in any design that is targeted to groups including them. One design cannot fit all. It is the responsibility of designers to consider how designs are carefully aligned to the demands of the users of each project.

Designers use their knowledge to create and guide user experience. Design can sometimes manipulate the user into behaviours they are unaware of. If this tactic is used to further the objectives of the client (i.e., to sell something or receive a desired response) rather than serve the benefit of the user, in a way that is covert or non-explicit, it is considered unduly manipulative.

Advances in technology drive innovation but can often result in unforeseen and unintended consequences. It is the responsibility of designers to consider these possible outcomes to the best of their abilities, inform clients of the implications and attempt to protect users. Examples could be the ethical implications considered
when creating Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications, privacy issues relating to data mining or manipulations in the digital sphere. By becoming gatekeepers of new technologies, designers enhance their value to users and clients alike.

The responsibility of the designer extends up and down the supply- chain from cradle-to-grave of their designs.

Designers have a responsibility to research the materials they specify and the manufacturing technologies they prescribe to counter potential negative impacts. They should also consider the logistical and resource utilisation implications relating to long supply-chains and infrastructure resiliency issues.

Extraction Impacts
Designers should consider extraction impacts for materials they use and their components including toxicity to workers, environmental damage, impact on flora and fauna, energy expended, etc.

Fair Working Conditions
Manufacturing facilities, whether for the production and assembly of products or clothes and apparel, should be considered in respect to the conditions of workers.

Hidden costs
If information is known and available, the designer must consider the hidden systemic impacts of their designs. For example, taking into consideration the environmental impact of data being stored on servers.

As a professional, a designer’s responsibility to humanity is paramount. They should strive to design for a future that is economically viable, socially equitable, culturally diverse and environmentally sustainable.