Post written by Samantha Dempsey
What does it mean to design for good? As designers, do we have an obligation to improve the world through the things that we make, or does our obligation lie with those who fund our work? What is the “right” thing to do when the interests of those two parties are at odds? How can we answer these questions with solidarity as a design community rather than as individual isolated designers?
Ethical questions like these hold more weight in healthcare than in any other discipline. In healthcare, designers are responsible for creating more than ever before: not only designing services, but also experiences, environments, products, and systems for millions of patients and providers.
This wide influence gives us the power to affect human health: a responsibility usually reserved for clinicians. Unlike clinicians, who acknowledge that responsibility by swearing to uphold the Hippocratic Oath, designers have no defined set of rules to guide the ethics of our practice.
We must take a step back and recognize the duty we have to those we design for.
The Designer’s Oath allows designers to recognize our responsibility and define our own code of ethics. My colleague, Ciara Taylor, and I curate the Designer’s Oath. We first established the Oath by bringing together fifteen designers from across the US working in the service, product, experience, graphic, and social design fields. We asked this group to collaboratively create their own ethical guidelines.
The CFI’s own Rose Anderson and CFI alumna Krisa Ryan represented the Mayo perspective in this group. Each designer reshaped one section of the original Hippocratic Oath to make it specifically applicable to design. This “reshaping” included a rewrite of the language as well as the creation of an image to reflect the ethics they each followed in their own practice.
We collected these pieces and wove them together to create the first three Designer’s Oaths, which can be viewed at http://www.designersoath.com. These Oaths not only illustrate designers’ perceptions of our responsibilities in the modern world, but also facilitate conversations around definitions of ethical design. We displayed these Oaths at the Health Experience Refactored conference in Boston and interviewed designers and clinicians as they reacted to the project. At the conference and beyond, these Oaths are sparking hearty and much-needed conversations.
Just as design is not a static practice, the Designer’s Oath is a document that is ever-changing. No single Oath can encompass all design scenarios, so we are facilitating the collaborative creation of multiple Oaths across design practices. We are continuing to work with designers, individuals who collaborate with designers, companies, and organizations like HxR to create Designer’s Oaths that reflect the different groups’ understanding of the role of ethical design within their organizations.
As designers in healthcare and beyond, we must do more than “do no harm.” We have a responsibility to do good. By using the Designer’s Oath as a tool in our own design processes, we can begin to fulfill that awesome responsibility.