Mark Rolston of argodesign Weighs in on the Designers’ Ethical Dilemma
With emerging technologies like AI and IoT, designers are having to take into consideration the possibilities of dark outcomes linked to surveillance and overall privacy invasions. While some designers can refuse work that goes against their moral compass, others do not have that luxury. While most technologies are designed for good applications, many carry the potential to be used in harmful ways, which Rolston argued that a design code of ethics would help guide designers through these unique situations. If adopted industry-wide, it would work similar to that of other professions.
The priest, the doctor, and the lawyer are three roles that use clear models for resolving moral dilemmas, which designers can learn from. The priest gives guidance as an ideal to strive toward; similarly, designers may be able to provide a set of ideals but cannot do so with any rule of force. Doctors take the Hippocratic oath at the start of their careers to treat everyone regardless of their beliefs and background, and to do no harm to patients. When clients come to designers it is their responsibility to not make a problem worse, and suggest a different approach if they don’t see a clear path forward. As with the evolution of ethical models in medicine, designers must be mindful that the solutions of today might not meet the moral standards in the future. Mark argued that lawyers are the most similar when it comes to how designers operate today. People who are innocent and guilty are afforded a lawyer regardless, and similarly Mark believes that it’s not up to designers to attach innocence or guilt to a product or outcome of the work. Mark wrote, “It’s not a question of being for or against designing for good…It may be our highest calling to interact with things that are questionable in order to drive a better outcome, rather than simply accepting or rejecting work based on our personal feelings.”
Moving forward the industry needs a clear understanding of the business purposes of design and a discussion about designer’s roles. Mark believes that design for technology cannot be placed solely in good or bad buckets.