During the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, in November 2020 Cennydd Bowles led a talk at #mtpcon Digital about the ethical and social implications of designing products for a global audience. In this Sunday Rewind, we look back to his engaging session.
In his talk, he argues that as designers, we must take responsibility for our products’ impact on the world and consider how our design decisions may perpetuate or challenge existing power structures.
Bowles begins by highlighting the interconnectedness of our world, emphasizing that every action we take has a ripple effect that extends beyond our immediate surroundings. He notes that “as designers, we have the power to shape the future through the products and services we create.” Therefore, we must consider the broader social and cultural implications of our design decisions, he explains.
Bowles introduces the concept of “normative design,” which refers to the implicit assumptions and biases that are embedded within our design decisions. He argues that normative design can be harmful when it reinforces existing power structures and perpetuates systemic inequalities. As designers, we must actively work to identify and challenge these biases in our work. “We need to move away from normative design and towards a more inclusive, culturally sensitive approach,” he explains.
Additionally, he encourages us to take the time to understand the cultural contexts of the people we are designing products for and to avoid making assumptions about their needs and preferences. Listen to this podcast episode The Black Mirror Test.
Bowles suggests several strategies for designing products and services that are more inclusive and culturally sensitive:
- Engage with diverse communities early in the design process to understand their needs and perspectives.
- Build flexibility into our designs to allow for cultural variations.
Finally, Bowles emphasizes the importance of ethical considerations in design. He notes that as designers, we must be aware of the potential negative consequences of our products and services, such as the exacerbation of social inequalities or the erosion of privacy. “Designers should adopt a precautionary principle,” he says, “meaning that we should err on the side of caution when it comes to potential harm and take steps to mitigate any negative impacts.”
Designing products and services for a global audience requires a deep understanding of the social and cultural contexts in which they will be used, Bowles explains. “As designers, we must take responsibility for our work’s impact on the world and actively challenge existing power structures and promote more inclusive and equitable outcomes.”
Watch All These Worlds Are Yours by Cennydd Bowles to fully grasp the importance of product ethics in designing the products of today and tomorrow.