Responsible Design: Recognising the Impact of How We Design
We live in a period during which human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Schoolchildren across the world take to the streets calling on all of us –individuals, businesses, and governments – to act responsibly for the future of humanity. University students demand education on doing well by doing good. Member states of the United Nations have committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Realising sustainable futures inclusive of a good information society certainly sounds attractive to students, business, and governments alike, and we certainly notice heightened awareness and a sense of urgency to tackle large-scale and interconnected challenges such as clean energy, global health, and well-being. Yet, the focus on complex, global challenges has perhaps made it more difficult for individual designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs to feel that their own actions can have a direct impact. Having said this, we also notice that many individuals, businesses, and governments are beginning to ask how might we foresee the impact of the physical and digital products, services, experiences and systems solutions we create. The term “responsible design” is now gaining traction.
Still, we can all think of examples of ‘successful design’ that is harmful to people, damaging to the environment, or bad for our society. We need to recognise our responsibility to change this trajectory, learn from examples of responsible design, and accept the responsibility to make the necessary changes in our own design practice, to achieve system-level change, creating solutions that are regenerative in nature. Many of us are familiar with the 3-point design challenge — desirability, feasibility, and viability. These terms conveniently map to three critical disciplines closely associated with successful design — market, technical, and business.
We believe that responsible design is now critical for successful design and thus needs to be part of our community’s discussion, curriculum, and practice. To achieve this goal, we must articulate what responsible design might mean and how we can act accordingly. We offer a definition of responsible design that focuses on responsible behaviour, environmental responsibility, and social responsibility. We illustrate these principles using examples drawn from energy, health care, food, automobile, consumer electronics, and other domains. We propose responsible design as a collective journey that requires the actions of individual designers and design teams. This transition will also affect the nature of innovation processes and the structure of organisations where they take place. The practice of responsible design offers the possibility to engage generations of designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, business, and policy makers to make a difference in our own society through our future products, services, and system solutions.
Finally, based on a survey conducted in the lead-up to the conference, in this keynote, we provide a glimpse into how members of the worldwide Design Society are working with the Sustainable Development Goals in research, teaching, and societal outreach.