So recently, or maybe not, but I just came across this topic of designers coming up with oaths to uphold certain ethical standards during the process of creation and problem solving. While I believe this to be a commendable step towards the realization of how profound design impacts our lives, I question the effectiveness of such an exercise.
While most medical practitioners take a form of the original Hippocratic Oath, it by no means suggest they are bound by it. This sentiment alone makes me question what use a designer would have with taking such an oath.
Yes, I agree that as design has a growing influence over the outcomes of societal problems, and with that a growing responsibility must be upheld. But having an oath means very little in the grand scheme of things, and effectively goes against the notion that many of those designers seem to take belief in.
“Above all, I must not play God.”
So maybe these designers when referencing this point don’t necessarily infer to the point I’m about to make, but you can’t argue the irony that by saying such a statement, they are effectively laying judgement along a God-like wavelength.
There are obvious cases where this statement would pretty much hold true whichever way you look at it, but if you look at the extreme ends of any argument, it’s easy to fall prey to what people are preaching. For me, the problem lies in the space between, where a majority of these user-centered problems ultimately live and breath.
This idea of a designers oath, whatever it may be, struck a chord with me when I was thinking one day of what might be an interesting area of problem solving where I personally haven’t seen much development. I sat there and thought, alright what about models? How do models and their respective agencies find the talent to do photoshoots and shows etc.?
Visiting the websites of top agencies from around the world, one can quickly grasp the fact that as forward thinking they are with fashion, the technology that supports it is still playing some catch up to the rest of the world. This for me suggests there’s room for improvement, and so I embarked upon sketching and wire-framing. Until I read about the designers oath…
According to many of the oaths, there are common points of doing social good, and again if you look at the extreme ends of this topic; “whether you would feel good about rebranding the AK-47 as a weapon of peace, or problem solving for a sports apparel company that directly/indirectly condones child slave labour” (via Web Designer Depot), it’s easy to make a judgement call because at every point within that conversation someone is suffering. What about models then?
If I adjust the frame of reference to help models better represent themselves, because they truly believe in modelling and that they hope to use their status for the betterment of society can I really make a judgement call through design?
I could look at it one way and say; models are absolutely not about societal justice/goodness. They’re just people who have been given special status for unrealistic beauty standards and perpetuate to destroy body image for hundreds and thousands of young minds. Or I could look at them and think that they might just help change these standards by putting themselves out there and representing themselves in the most honest way possible. Hopefully, one day they will gain the recognition they deserve, and they will use that status and opportunity to make the world a better place.
Am I being overly optimistic in the second scenario? Maybe. Should one discount that being a possibility though? Absolutely not. Which, brings me back to the point, how can a designers oath encompass a case such as this one if the basis of it is to serve society through positive social results.
Another situation I see problematic with this oath is how Tinder came about. So maybe the original assumptions of Tinder were to encourage easier interaction for people to find love through the digital jungle, but what do people use it for now? You got it…I don’t need to say more. Perhaps all the designers there should leave their jobs if their moral compass is being questioned…hmmm
While the oath isn’t a blanket one like that of the Hippocratic Oath, it’s a slippery slope from the point of suggesting that designers should have an oath to begin with.
The other point I’d like to make is the idea of stating this oath to begin with in writing, conceptually creates this idea of permanence and unwavering change. If the idea of design is ever-expanding, then these concepts will change indefinitely like water in a container.
Principles and moral compasses are foundations within a person that creates a direction to their decision making and beliefs, but aren’t necessarily ideals that go without being challenged or updated. They may be fundamental beliefs, but as time and circumstances change, people will find themselves challenging and possibly reviewing them. It’s a fact of life for most people living within a society.
The other issue is that, problems that designers solve are like looking through a microscope. We recognize the problem, and create solutions that solve ‘that’ problem, but what happens to it after we unleash it upon the world is something beyond the control of designers. Even after iteration, and you find out that the initial problem has changed to something beastly, do we as designers just call it quits because it no longer aligns with us? Just walking away wouldn’t do any good, it would go against the core of your beliefs because you allow the situation to perpetuate. So realistically, one must destroy all that is socially negative. Wiping it off the face of this earth. Isn’t that what they should do?
Creating such an oath, is in my mind with good intention. To recognize the responsibilities we have as a designer, but scribing it for the world to see and claiming that “The Designer’s Oath must become a tool that is applied to the process of design to ensure that the end result does good.” is a questionable statement that challenges the notion of what “good” means.
By challenging what “good” means is to provide it a narrow definition, and narrowly defining it makes way for the idea of “good” to be skewed to possibly unrealistic standards. That again itself is troublesome in my eyes.
To recognize the growing responsibility designers have is a positive step forward, but I believe the way forward isn’t to scribe it and pretend that our conceived notions of it now apply to the future of design. It is in my mind, important to stay dynamic, observant and reflective of the changing landscape of how design touches every part of our lives in the present and in the future.