Rafail Andrianos Pappas
The global, grand challenges of our time signify that design can have a strong impact on many aspects of life. Design ethics, both as theory and as methodology, offers some guidance on how to ensure that design has desirable outcomes and gives tools to discover which outcomes are desirable. At the same time, systems thinking and systems theory also offer an approach that can help designers grasp the grand scale of things and deal with the complexity of the world. Even though there’s rich work on the interrelationship between systems and design and between ethics and design, there seems to be a lack of work towards a direction where design ethics is informed by the concepts of systems thinking and systemic theory. In this work, four design ethics approaches are introduced (Morality of Things, Value Sensitive Design, Responsible Research and Innovation and Participatory Design), with their main theoretical points and criticisms summarized. For all four, I argue that there are no immediate or specific connections made between these ethical design approaches and systems thinking, even though there seems to be space for making such connections and in some cases, such connections already exist implicitly. In all four approaches, it appears that concepts of systems thinking could inform the design ethics approaches, offering both an alternative theoretical perspective through systems theory and enriching the practical methodologies by employing systems thinking tools. This opens the way for a new direction for thinking about design ethics, one where we move towards systems-oriented design thinking frameworks and mindsets. This new approach can reinforce existing methodologies, giving them both a theoretical grounding and an extra systemic tool-set, and clears the way towards systemic design ethics.