Towards a Systemic Design Ethics

Format: Papers, RSD12, Topic: Methods & Methodology

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.

This papers is in production. RSD12 proceedings April 2024.

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Citation Data

Author(s): Rafail Andrianos Pappas
Year: 2023
Title: Towards a Systemic Design Ethics
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Washington DC, USA
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 10 November 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404

Copyright Information

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


Open Access article published under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License. This permits anyone to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form according to the licence terms.

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Author(s). (20##). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD##. Article ##.

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