Designing for the ethics of the future

Designers don’t have all the answers

If we don’t consider ethical and normative standards, our designs will soon be ineffective, backwards and even offensive. But how do you design for norms that don’t even exist yet? How do you design for the ethics of the future?

A rapidly changing social landscape

While society is developing and changing at high speed, we constantly update our set of ethics and normative standards to fit our time. And that's, of course, something positive.

However, the changes at high speed also mean that services and products quickly become outdated. The project you're working on today should not be designed for today – it should be designed for tomorrow to stand a chance at succeeding.

“Products and services will be judged by future ethical standards, but are designed with the knowledge we have today“

Designers need to step out of their bubble

But how can we predict the future? This is where it gets a bit sticky – designers don’t have all the answers, and we can’t predict the future. We are not magicians that can wave our magic marker to solve the mystery. However, when we step out of our bubble and bring in other professions and people from outside our social bubbles, we can together create a fairly good idea of what the future will look like.

Designers have not reserved the right to be creative. With the help of people like anthropologists, futurists, behavioral economists, ethnologists, psychologists, technologists, and - not to forget one of the most important sources of information – the general public – we can get insights and inspiration that can transport us into the expectations, ethics, and morals of the future.

Designers can play an important role as facilitators, catalysts and creators of services and products for the future. But they need help and input from many other professionals and, of course, the users and consumers themselves.

Social innovation, the digital shift, and regulatory systems

As society gets increasingly dependent on technology and digital solutions, social innovation also needs to happen in the digital space. Our solutions are, and need to be, digital, but still with people in the centre. Digitalization has the potential to increase the level of democracy on several levels in society. However, when we – again - step out of our own social bubble, we can see that digitalization and access to technology are far from equal in all parts in the world, or even between people from different groups in our own country.

Social innovation and the digital shift are intertwined. But they don't only depend on eachother. They also depend on regulations and the infrastructure of societies. For example, digital services can accelerate social innovation, but only if everyone has acess to the digital infrastructure.

For digitalization and social innovation to work together, as they should, we don't only depend on insights, knowledge, and cooperation from different professions. We need infrastructure and governmental regulations to be on the same track.

If they’re not – for example, if the implementation of 5G will only be available to parts of the world or select groups in society – we need to be aware of this and design to compensate for this equality deficiency.

It’s all about a humble approach

To design for the future, we need to be humble. We need to be aware of our blind spots, what we know, what we don't know, and what we can predict. By bringing in help, talking to people from other professions, other social groups, and people with different backgrounds, we can together paint a picture of what the future, its expectations, and ethics will look like.

We will be judged by future generations, and all we can do is give it our best today.

What are your thoughts, tips and tricks for designing for ethical standards of the future?

Sounds interesting?

Ulla Sommerfelt

Get in touch with Co-founder
Ulla Sommerfelt
+47 922 97 440

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