Design Methods in Design for Values

  • Pieter E. VermaasEmail author
  • Paul Hekkert
  • Noëmi Manders-Huits
  • Nynke Tromp
Living reference work entry


In this chapter we demonstrate that contemporary design methodology provides methods for design for moral values. Subsequently, we explore the methodological challenges and problems that this brings to the table. First, we show that contemporary design methods are aimed at realizing values of users and society. These values are in general not moral ones yet do include in specific cases moral values. Second, we introduce a division between user-driven methods in which it are the users who introduce the values to be designed for and designer-driven methods in which the clients and designers are introducing these values. Third, we discuss two designer-driven design methods in detail for, respectively, design in general and social design in particular: the Vision in Product design method and the Social Implication Design method. Finally, we explore the challenges and problems of design for moral values with these and other design methods. We focus specifically on the designer who, once design is recognized as design for moral values, becomes responsible for the moral values the resulting products have. We argue that in this case the designer should make the moral values of products transparent to clients and users.


Design methods Design for moral values Designer-driven design methods 


Analyzing and enabling design for values may be taken as a task that has been born out of the recognition that technical products are not only instrumental means for users to realize goals but also bearers of moral values. This moral ladenness of technology has been demonstrated in philosophy of technology by making explicit the moral values embodied by technical products as diverse as microwaves, tomato harvesters, and obstetric ultrasound scanners (Borgmann 1984; Winner 1980; Verbeek 2011). And once this point was accepted, the next task became analyzing how this morality emerges, to what extent it has its origin in the design processes of the products concerned, and whether these design processes can be adjusted to avoid or steer the moral values that are embodied in technical products.

In this handbook there are ample contributions in which the task of analyzing and enabling design for moral values is taken up within specific technical areas or for specific moral values. In this chapter we take a broader step in understanding this task by considering the possibility of having methods for design for moral values. We demonstrate that such methods are already available in design methodology since contemporary design methods include methods for design for user and social values, which in some cases are moral values. Such contemporary design methods can be divided into user-driven methods in which users introduce the values to be designed for and designer-driven methods in which clients and designers are introducing the values. In this chapter we focus on two designer-driven design methods in detail. Reviewing these design methods as methods for design for moral values, we explore the challenges and problems of design for moral values. By applying these design methods, the designers are introducing moral values in design and become involved into regulating moral dialogues between the clients who commission design projects and the future users who engage with the resulting products.

We start in section “Product Design and its Developments” by introducing current developments in design methodology to focus more on the values users have and on the social values that exist in society. We illustrate these developments by introducing in sections “Design for User Values” and “Design for Social Values” four design methods that support such design for values in different ways. Two of these methods require that designers reason explicitly about values, and we discuss them in detail: the Vision in Product design method (Hekkert and Van Dijk 2011) in section “The Vision in Product Method for Design for Values” and the Social Implication Design method (Tromp and Hekkert 2014) in section “The Social Implication Design Approach to Design for Values.” In section “Towards Methods for Design for Moral Values,” we give a general model of how moral values are introduced and emerging in design for values. And in sections “Methodological Issues,” “Moral Responsibility of Designers,” and “Moral Transparency of Designers,” we explore methodological and moral issues that arise in design for moral values. Conclusions are drawn in section “Conclusions.”

Product Design and its Developments

Outside their own discipline, product designers are often thought of as either technical engineers or skilled stylists. A designer is either the person who develops the newest tumble dryer at Philips or the one who designs limited-edition Christmas tableware for a department store. This idea that product design is about good functionality and beautiful appearance has shown to be a persistent image of design yet is by now a superseded view. Throughout the last decades, design has developed rapidly from its engineering and architectural roots to a multifaceted discipline. Next to product designers, the world now also knows service designers, co-designers, social designers, eco-designers, and transformation designers, to name a few.

In this development, the design discipline has gradually expanded its focus from the product as such to the human-product interaction, the user experience, and even the implications of this on larger environmental and social systems. Since Norman (1988) introduced the concept of affordance to the design community, the idea that products should be easy to understand and to use has become an important conception in design. Usability studies are executed to understand how people perceive product properties and how these can be designed to guide the actions of the user (e.g., Nielsen 1994). The notion that products should be developed with quite some understanding of the cognitive abilities of human beings therefore is now commonly acknowledged. But not only the user’s cognition is important to consider when designing. Emotions too receive increasing attention within product development (Desmet and Hekkert 2007; see also the chapter “Emotions in Design for Values” in this handbook). When being able to trigger specific emotions during user-product interaction, the designer is empowered to induce pleasurable or rich user experiences (Fokkinga and Desmet 2012) or to motivate subjective well-being (Ozkaramanli and Desmet 2012). The common approach in this type of projects is a user-centered one, i.e., an approach in which users are put central in product development processes. This often means that the designer aims to gain as much insight as possible into the needs, concerns, and values of users and develops a product in line with these.

This increased attention in design for the values of users and of society at large has found its way also to design methodology. In the older engineering design methods (e.g., Pahl et al. 2007), the focus was mostly on functionality. Problems set by clients were interpreted as requests for new functionalities and design processes aimed at developing products that have these functionalities see also the chapter “Design for Values in Engineering” of this handbook. In contemporary design methods the focus has shifted to also include the values of users. For instance, ethnographic research techniques are incorporated in design methods (e.g., Brown 2009; Plattner et al. 2009) for capturing what values are at play in the problems of users for which is designed and for identifying how those users respond to the products designed for them. And the Cradle to Cradle approach to product design (McDonough and Braungart 2002; see also the chapter “Design for the Value of Sustainability” in this handbook) is a clear attempt towards a design method for the social value of sustainability. Other typical values that are considered in contemporary design are the often-conflicting values of safety and privacy (Friedman et al. 2002). In the next sections we consider in more detail four methods for designing for user values and social values.

Design for User Values

The idea that design should be sensitive to the values of users has led to an increased emphasis in design methods to understand the concerns of users. One can discern two general approaches towards achieving this understanding and for subsequently addressing them in design. We illustrate these approaches by looking at two design methods: Participatory Design and Vision in Product Design.

In Participatory Design the common idea is that the user is an expert of his own experience and should therefore be incorporated within the design process as such (Sanders and Stappers 2008). The role of the designer then becomes one of facilitator of a process in which people, or expected future users, explain about their (often latent) needs and desires. Several tools and techniques have been developed to support this process (Sleeswijk-Visser 2009). The gathered insights are used as input for the development of product ideas, done by the designer or the design team or done by means of what is called a co-creation process, i.e., a design process in which future users also take part. This process is based on the idea that all people are creative and that it is up to the designers to induce this creativity process with the people for whom they design. This notion is driving the development labeled as “the democratization of design.” The designer is no longer the educated and skilled expert designer but acts as the facilitator and coordinator of the design process. The designer no longer develops products that people “consume,” but the designer is developing products with the people for whom he or she is designing.

The Vision in Product (ViP) design method (Hekkert and Van Dijk 2011) shows a different approach to design for user values. In this method, the designer is stimulated to understand the future context of the product to be designed. Per definition, people in this future context cannot be interviewed as such. However, the ViP design method does stress the importance of understanding people but, in doing so, emphasizes the importance of the social sciences. The idea is that scientific theories about human beings provide more solid insights of people in future contexts than can ever be gained through interviewing (a few) people in the current context. Another important aspect of the ViP design method is the fact that the designer is asked to explicitly state what he or she wants to offer people in this future context. This statement represents what value the design should have for future users according to the designer himself or herself. So although this statement is informed by profound context research, the responsibility for the design is fully placed with the designer. Products are distributed all over the world and can be used by multiple generations, and designers should feel and take the responsibility to foresee the meaning of their designs within those future contexts; designers should not, as is the case in the Participatory Design method, distribute this responsibility to a few people who consider this meaning in a present context.

Design for Social Values

In addition to design for user values, an interest to also design for social aims has rapidly increased in the last decade. Designers seem to have a growing motivation to not solely develop consumer products but to employ their talents and skills to “do good.” One of the ideas is that design can improve the lives of many who are living in developing countries. This is, for instance, done by developing products that empower people in developing countries (e.g., by designing for the Base of the Pyramid (BoP), Whitney and Kelkar 2004; or by applying a so-called capability approach, Sen 1999; Nussbaum 2011; see also the chapters “Design for the Value of Sustainability” and “Human Capabilities in Design for Values” in this handbook). But also in Western societies, design has received attention for its potential to induce social change. For instance, the London-based agency Participle involves users in the development of products to address social issues.1 CEO and president of design consultancy IDEO Tim Brown (2009), for instance, advocates the process of design as a tool that can help organizations and societies change. This development towards design for social aims can be seen as one towards design for social values, being values that groups of individuals or societies have and that express what they hold as good for society. Examples of such social values in design are cohesion, equality, safety, sustainability, and participation or inclusion. Two approaches to what can be called “social design” are Transformation Design and Social Implication Design, and they can be seen as extensions of, respectively, the Participatory and Vision in Product design methods.

Transformation Design (Burns et al. 2006), or what some explain as service design applied to social systems (Saco and Goncalves 2008), is driven by the notion that design skills and techniques can be extremely valuable in changing social and public services (Sangiorgi 2011). Because public services are usually developed through a top-down approach and driven by political considerations, these services often fail to answer users’ needs and concerns. The user-centered focus of designers and the skill to translate user concerns to concrete solutions therefore logically open up new opportunities to improve services in health care, education, and politics. In order to realize insights in user needs and desires, the approach of Transformation Design shows similarities with the Participatory Design method. Transformation Design also emphasizes the role of the users in the design process in order to better answer their needs and desires. Moreover, when applied to induce social change (e.g., Manzini and Rizzo 2011), the idea is that by distributing the power to users within the decision-making processes, the capabilities of these users grow, and the process of change and development will proceed as an ongoing process.

Social Implication Design considers each design as a means to change and shape behavior and thereby induce social change (Tromp et al. 2011; Tromp and Hekkert 2014). Social issues are often mentioned and discussed in terms of problematic behavior that needs to be changed, e.g., health issues refer to people eating unhealthily or not exercising, crime issues point at criminal activities that need to be stopped, and immigration issues refer to lacks in integration efforts by immigrants. The Social Implication Design approach supports designers to analyze these relations between social issues and human behavior and use these relations in their designs. Based on what is desired from a social perspective, the designer is asked to shift to a user perspective in considering how this social change can be best achieved by stimulating different behaviors and how this stimulation can be best achieved by means of a design. Social Implication Design is based on the ViP design method and therefore stresses the responsibility of the designer in questioning, discussing, and finally defining what is a desired social change and in questioning and analyzing the generally assumed relations between social issues and behavior of people. By taking this responsibility and evoking their creativity, designers are to create both well thought-through and effective designs in realizing change. Social Implication Design rather stimulates designers to create the optimal conditions to induce sustainable social changes in the longer term, instead of focusing on inducing change with people in the current context (Tromp and Hekkert 2010).

The four described approaches to design can be ordered using two divisions (see Fig. 1). First, Participatory Design and Vision in Product Design are concerned with creating products and services for users and thereby take a user perspective, whereas Transformation Design and Social Implication Design are focused on realizing societal aims and therefore take a social perspective to design. Second, these approaches define the role of users differently. Participatory Design and Transformation Design both are user driven by taking users as the experts of their needs and goals and of their experiences with designs. In contrast, Vision in Product design and Social Implication Design both are designer driven by considering designers as having the final responsibility for determining the values designed products have and the experiences these products will induce with users. In these designer-driven approaches, it is the designer’s task to convince future users of the meaning or values embedded in their design; the importance that designers understand human beings is emphasized, and for this understanding these approaches rely more on the social sciences than the user-driven approaches. Especially when designers are concerned with the long-term consequences for society, like in the Social Implication Design approach, the designer cannot afford to rely on user responses to a current context. In the following two sections we continue with describing how designers bring in values in their designs in the two designer-driven approaches; further descriptions of the user-driven approaches can be found in the chapter “Participatory Design and Design for Values” of this handbook.
Fig. 1

Four methods to design for values

The Vision in Product Design Method for Design for Values

How then do designers deal with values and design for values with current methods? For taking up this question we describe in some detail how the design process is structured by the Vision in Product and Social Implication Design methods; both these methods make designers explicitly think about and formulate the values they incorporate in products. In this section we describe a case of design for values with the ViP design method, and in the next section we consider the Social Implication Design approach, again by using a case.

In 2009, Anna Noyons graduated at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering of Delft University of Technology on a project for HEMA, a popular, low-end Dutch department store for basic home products, such as stationary, kitchenware, care products, and food. Surfing on the trend of sustainability with their new brand “naturally HEMA,” Anna’s assignment was to design a new sustainable product (line) with a focus on bio-based plastics. In this way, HEMA aimed at positioning itself as a company that cares for the environment and our ecosystem.

In order to avoid “simply” turning an existing product line into a sustainable, bio-based version, Anna decided to apply the Vision in Product (ViP) design method (Hekkert and Van Dijk 2011) to force her to take a step back and define a holistic vision on a sustainable future. This ViP design method explicitly forces the designer to take such a holistic perspective by first building a future context to which the final design must form an appropriate response. This context is built around a set of insights and observations – called “factors” – that together define how the designer sees the world of the domain chosen. Whereas the selection of factors is (partly) ruled by the values the designer holds, the factors themselves are mere observations and do not include value judgments. This judgment is postponed to a later stage at which the designer defines a statement that covers his or her position towards the context. This statement has the form of “what do I as designer want to offer people given this world?,” and the propositional nature of this statement expresses three core values that in the ViP design method are claimed for the designer: the designer needs freedom to act, to act responsibly, and to make an appeal to his true, authentic self.2

In order to develop her context, Anna took a second look at her brief. The initial brief of the client is often too narrowly defined and based on a set of constraints that may appear invalid on second thought. In her case, the brief was too open and needed refinement. To restate the brief, Anna analyzed the concept of sustainability and carefully examined the HEMA brand. Instead of (only) seeing sustainability in terms of product qualities, such as the use of bio-based plastics, Anna adopted the more holistic approach from Ehrenfeld (2008). According to Ehrenfeld, sustainability is the possibility for human and other lives to flourish on this planet forever; we need to think global and act local. This local focus guided Anna from sustainability to a second value, which she took as a starting point for her context research: HEMA is at the center of local community life and could foster local communities and social cohesion. Finally, Anna argued that HEMA should depend less on base materials and gradually focus itself more on service design, reducing waste, and environmental costs in production.

The initial findings and observations of Anna concerning the brief were put aside as constraints. Whenever appropriate, these constraints could affect various subsequent decisions and thus reenter the design process. Values are often implicit in a design assignment, and the ViP design method forces you to make these explicit and/or redefine them. Anna’s interpretation of the brief reveals her “truth,” her vision on what is good or bad for the company given the direction (of sustainable design) chosen.

Both from a strategic, company perspective and a user perspective, Anna chose to refine the brief and focus on baby-hardware products, keeping the sustainability goals in mind. More specifically, she decided to define her domain as “the maternity period.” For this domain she selected factors she considered relevant and personally interesting, among others, by interviewing young mothers and exploring their world, often perceived as “narrow.” Some of the factors she selected were:
  • (Pregnant) women expect (and are expected) to be the happiest person in the world, feeling guilt when experiencing doubt or other negative emotions.

  • Within society and relationships, men and women are becoming more equal.

  • People are becoming more aware of the effects of industrialization.

  • Pregnancy = immobility.

  • Fathers feel left out during maternity.

Note that some of these factors concern principles, more or less fixed patterns of nature or psychology; others refer to things that are changing, such as trends or developments. These two types typically constitute the building blocks of any context. As said, these factors do not indicate what (according to the designer) should happen, but reveal how he/she looks at the world around the domain.

After all factors have been brought together into a single, unified view of the world, a process that requires time and a range of design skills, the designer can start to formulate how he/she wants to respond to this world. In Anna’s project this statement was “I want (future) parents to feel encouraged to surrender to the smaller world associated with the maternity period, to build a trustworthy base together with, and for their child to be raised in.” Clearly, the designer must consider his or her own value system to come to such a position; the ViP design method deliberately forces designers to take a stand and play out their value systems. The dominant (and related) values/beliefs of Anna that made her take this particular position were:
  1. 1.

    People should live in the here and now and cherish the moment.

  2. 2.

    One must submit to the situation and accept that things are as they are.


This statement is the first part of the vision and sets the goal for the final design.

Products get their meaning in interaction. In order to see how design can fulfill the goal stated, the ViP design method demands the designer to first conceptualize this interaction. These interaction qualities also carry implicit values, but these are goal-directed values. In Anna’s case, two of these were “conscious devotedness,” as present in knitting a vest, and “modest,” the interaction should not ask too much, just enough. The important thing to see here is how these interaction qualities – as abstract as they are – allow you to surrender to a smaller world. Subsequently, after the interaction has been defined that can realize the goal, product qualities can be defined that should bring about the interaction. Anna argued that her “product” (note that at this stage it could still be any solution), for instance, should “invite to act consciously” and “be naturally safe.”

With this vision in mind, Anna designed a product-service system consisting of various building blocks (e.g., biodegradable containers for paint, yoga pillow; see Fig. 2) and a website to share experiences with women in the same situation in their neighborhood. Again, some personal values can be identified that brought Anna to this solution:
  1. 1.

    Products (should) have a story: products should not be overly defined, but people need to find out themselves what they mean and how they could be used.

  2. 2.

    Product longevity: things must have a permanent, long-lasting value.

Fig. 2

The final product concept

Summarizing, the ViP design method not only allows designers to demonstrate values in the process, it actually demands them to do so. Designing is (always) about making choices and setting a future belief that people (users) must eventually embrace. This simply cannot be done without including certain values and abhorring others. This insight resulted in an approach that requires the designer to explicitly define and execute (personal) values, reason about these values, turn them into design decisions, and maybe most importantly, take responsibility for the result and what it brings to people.

The Social Implication Design Approach to Design for Values

In 2011, Sacha Carina van Ginhoven graduated at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering of Delft University of Technology on a project for Stichting Boog, a foundation that develops social projects in neighborhoods in the city of The Hague. In these neighborhoods youth is dominating the streets by hanging around and committing crimes such as burglary and vandalism. Stichting Boog is concerned about the tensions that this behavior induces in the neighborhood but experiences difficulties in getting into contact with these youngsters, let alone, realizing any change in their behavior. A design student was invited to examine the situation and develop a product or service which would improve the situation.

In her project, Sacha applied the Social Implication Design approach (Tromp and Hekkert 2014). This approach supports designers to develop products and services based on their intended implications for society. In addition to explicitly stating what the designer wants to offer the future users of the design, like in the ViP design method, the designer needs to explicate what social values he or she considers important. Given the fact that products and services influence people’s behavior and thereby cause implications for society, the Social Implication Design approach supports the designer in reversing this causality. To induce an intended, desired implication for society, what behavior needs to be stimulated and by means of what product can this best be achieved? In the Social Implication Design approach, the designer is asked to study social values to understand which implications are desirable and to study individual user values to understand through what type of product this can best be achieved (see Fig. 3).
Fig. 3

The role of values in the Social Implication Design approach

To understand and explore the situation at hand, Sacha spoke to youngsters in the streets, made observations with police officers, and carried out literature research. She found that the youth resemble what is called a “street culture,” representing a set of norms and values and fashion styles and using typical “slang.” Youth often feel distrusted and rejected by society, and their street culture is an expression of their nonconformism to the standards of society. Within a street culture like in The Hague, having money or expensive clothing and goods is highly valued. These youngsters, often raised in poor families, care a lot about expressing their wealth. As a consequence, this makes them vulnerable to the temptation of criminal activities. Yet in the interviews, Sacha found that when she asked them about their desired future, they all mentioned very conventional aspirations like having a family, a house, and a nice job. The paradox of how society reacts to these youngsters is that, on the one hand, governments put in a lot of effort to keep them “on board,” preventing them to slide into criminal circuits, while, on the other hand, many people have prejudices against these youngsters, and employers often feel hesitant to hire them.

From a social perspective, Sacha stated that she wanted to integrate the street culture better in our society, stressing inclusion, and she regarded work mediation as the way to do so. From a social perspective “work participation” of youngsters is desired in both a social and an economic sense. It decreases the chance that youngsters will employ criminal activities. From the perspective of the youngsters, work leads to money to spend and therefore offers a way to gain individual status and respect. But this only holds when the job as such does not exclude them from their peers in the streets. Currently, the reason not to apply for a job is the chance of getting rejected both by society and by their peers. Therefore, Sacha did not want to stimulate youngsters to adjust to society, but wanted society to move a bit closer to the streets.

The ultimate behavior Sacha aimed to influence is the youngsters’ criminal activities. However, instead of discouraging youngsters by pointing to the downsides of engaging in criminal activities, she set out to stimulate desired behavior by offering competitive benefits for youngsters to the ones that arise from criminal activities. She decided that the activity of applying for jobs was the most fruitful to stimulate. To understand how to do so, Sacha disentangled the job application process and the concerns of youngsters within this process. An important part of a successful job application is making a good first impression. However, youngsters often experience difficulties in communicating the right image. On the one hand, youngsters often lack the knowledge of social norms in application procedures. On the other hand, recruiters may be negatively biased in judging these youngsters. Youngsters therefore experience fear to apply for a job. To overcome this, Sacha wanted to enable youngsters to give this first impression in a way that they would feel comfortable with and which would reveal an honest reflection of their identity to recruiters.

The WorkTag is a sticker with a QR code. The idea is that employers can apply this tag to the place where work is available, e.g., near a bus stop when there is a vacancy for a bus driver, in a park to recruit gardeners, or near a construction site when there is a need for construction workers (see Fig. 4). When screening the tag with their smart phones, more information about the job is given. Not only can these tags lead to permanent work but also to instant and short-term chores, like helping somebody in the neighborhood with painting their window frames. When youngsters are interested in the job, they are invited to record a small video to express their interest. The application supports them in doing so. The recruiter invites job applicants on the basis of this video. The idea is that by integrating these videos into the job application process, recruiters receive a more honest image of the youngsters. On the basis of these videos, recruiters select whom to invite for a meeting.
Fig. 4

The WorkTag (“Ik heb werk voor je” means “I have a job for you”; “Ik heb een stage voor” means “I have an apprenticeship for you”; “Ik heb 50 euro voor je” means “I have 50 euros for you”)

Bringing a job application’s first impression literally to the streets and by providing youngsters the means to apply for a job in a way that suits them, Sacha aimed to seduce youngsters to start working and society to accept youngsters as they are.

Sacha’s project approach forced her to question the conventional ideas about criminal youth. She critically examined the relationship between youngsters in the street and society and questioned the assumption that youngsters, i.e., the “misfits,” need to adjust to societal standards. In contrast, she aimed to challenge society to judge youngsters differently. Although this statement is a personal statement and therefore evidently includes personal values, she examined the values we have as society and agreed with the fact that “participation” is desired from a social perspective. However, in her attempt to lead youngsters to work, she related as much as possible to the concerns and values of youngsters. The Social Implication Design approach explicitly requires a dual perspective from the designer: a social perspective and a user perspective. In taking these two perspectives, the designer is asked to consider both social and user values and to explicitly reason about them. However, it is up to the designer how to address these values. It is by taking this position that personal values unavoidably enter the design process. Simply by openly stating one’s position, this position can be questioned and discussed and thereby increases responsibility with the designer.

Towards Methods for Design for Moral Values

The examples of the Vision in Product and Social Implication Design methods show that designers have methods that support them in design for user and social values. These methods contain stages in which designers explicitly identify the values inherent to design assignments or formulate the values by which they plan to address the assignments. These values are in general user and social values but can in specific cases also be moral values. For instance, the design cases discussed above concern the moral values of sustainability and of participation. And the user and social values for which designers design include the moral values of safety, privacy, and equality. Hence, the Vision in Product and Social Implication Design methods can be used to design for at least some moral values.

As this shows that contemporary design methods can support design for moral values, we can take up our next task of exploring more generally what methodological problems and challenge design for moral values possess. In this exploration we focus on the role of the designers in design for moral values, who become actors who can actively introduce moral values in the design of products, who become responsible for the moral values the resulting products have, and who, as we argue, should make these values transparent. For this exploration we use a simple model of how moral values are introduced and emerging in design for values, as depicted in Fig. 5, and again draw from experiences with the ViP and Social Implication Design methods.
Fig. 5

A simple model of how moral values are introduced and emerging in design for values

Let VC be the moral values that are specified by the client in the initial design description. Let VP be the moral values that are added during the design process. Let VR be the moral values that the designed product eventually holds. The moral values VP added during the design process may be divided in four categories:
  • Moral values VT that are required by technical regulation and legislation (say, safety and, increasingly, sustainability).

  • Moral values VU that are brought in by users through their active role in the design process or through user feedback as organized by the designer.

  • Moral values VOS that are brought in by or for other stakeholders in the design process, as people who are not using or ordering the design product but are affected by their existence or operation.

  • Moral values VD that the designer brings in personally.

(It may be argued that the last set VD includes much of the first three; most moral values are brought in in the design process by the designer, as it is the designer who decides that specific technical values VT apply or that specific values VU and VOS of users or other stakeholders are to be included or not. This argument makes sense and gives rise to questions about the responsibility of designers to regulate the inclusion of moral values in design (see section “Moral Responsibility of Designers”), yet in the model VD is meant to refer to those moral values the designer brings in on the basis of personal considerations or preferences.)

One can now discern three types of issues related to design for moral values: methodological issues about design for moral values, issues about the moral responsibility designers acquire as initiators and regulators of moral values in design, and issues about the transparency of design for moral values.

Methodological Issues

A first methodological issue that can be raised for design for moral values is that it assumes that designers have all kinds of new design abilities. Regular engineering design, when taken as design for functions and structural properties, is supported by a broad set of tools for creating products with specific functions and structural properties and by clear criteria for determining and arguing that the resulting products have these functions and properties (e.g., Pahl et al. 2007). The idea of design for moral values extrapolates this engineering model of design to the moral domain, suggesting that designers have also the tools and criteria for letting products have specific moral values: in terms of the model depicted in Fig. 5, designers are assumed to be able to deliver products that have as their moral values VR precisely the values {VC, VT, VU, VOS, VD}. One can however question whether designers have these tools and criteria. The Cradle to Cradle design method (McDonough and Braungart 2002) may be taken as one that spells out tools and criteria for designing for the value of sustainability (see also the chapter “Design for the Value of Sustainability” in this handbook). But contemporary design methods do not give such means for all possible moral values; methods such as ViP and Social Implication Design provide merely general guidelines for when and how to identify and reason about (moral) values in design. Criteria for determining whether products have specific moral values are, moreover, not up front fixed. Moral values are typically initially formulated in generic terms, and designers should give meaning to them and embody them, as is illustrated by the two design cases that were given above. Designers should explore what users consider important moral values, as in the Participatory and Transformation Design methods, or designers should analyze future contexts for the products and then specify what moral values are at stake, possible with the help of the social sciences, as in ViP and Social Implication Design methods. The question how to design for specific moral values is taken up in other contributions to this handbook. The operationalization of moral values is discussed in the chapter “Design for Values and the Definition, Specification and Operationalization of Values.”

A second methodological issue is that the values VC, VT, VU, VOS, and VD for which is designed may draw in opposite directions, leading to the moral problem of reconciling conflicting values or of finding acceptable trade-offs between them. A simple example may be the over-dimensioning of products and components. This over-dimensioning may be a design solution to meet the values of robustness, safety, and reliability but can easily be in conflict with the technical value of efficiency or the moral value of sustainability. The issue of conflicting values is often present when designing for social problems, as social problems arise when many people act in ways that may benefit themselves (contributing to personal values) but which causes drawbacks for society (conflicting with social values). For instance, taking the car to work is something that contributes to personal values of freedom, independence, and comfort but conflicts with social values like sustainability. Interestingly though, design may offer unique solutions to such conflicting concerns. Just like the designer’s integrative thinking is an important and unique skill in overcoming clashes between, for instance, the aesthetics and ergonomics of a design (Dorst 2007), so can they employ this skill to realize designs to overcome these conflicting concerns (Tromp and Hekkert 2010). Conflicting concerns in design for values is discussed in more detail in the “Conflicting values in Design for Values” chapter.

Effective design for moral values means, finally, that the values VR a product eventually has are exactly the values for which it was designed, which implies that the product should not embody moral values that are not included in {VC, VT, VU, VOS, VD}. In the description of the responsibility of the designer as given by the ViP design method, section “Design for User Values,” it was already noted that this effectiveness requires that future contexts of products are well thought through by designers. Yet, a product can still start to embody new moral values when it is in use. In analyses in philosophy of technology, it is, for instance, argued that products sometimes act as moral agents themselves and by mediation pick up new moral meanings (Verbeek 2011). In principle this adoption of additional and unintended moral values is not a new phenomenon in design, since also on the functional level products may acquire unintended new functions in their use. Yet, by this phenomenon design for moral values may be less effective than expected, defining a third methodological issue. This issue is analyzed in more detail in this handbook in the chapter “Mediation in Design for Values.”

Moral Responsibility of Designers

When design methods for moral values become increasingly available, and designers do acquire the tools to effectively let products have moral values, then the role of designers changes substantially. Designers then not only can solve practical problems for clients, users, or society by creating products with specific functions and structural properties but also address moral issues by creating products that embody moral values. Moreover, designers become agents that help clients, users, and society to include their moral values in products, and designers become agents that may themselves include moral values in these products. These new abilities will lead to additional responsibilities of designers and put engineering ethics in a new perspective. Designers are then not only responsible for possible physical consequences of the use and misuse of the products they create but become also directly responsible for the moral values products have. The instrumental view that designers merely create products and that clients and users are morally responsible for the way they employ these products becomes with design for moral values even more untenable as it already is (Vermaas et al. 2011), for now designers do know what moral values they design for and not design for. Guns, to return to the classical example, become with the possibility of design for moral values, products explicitly designed for the (moral) values of public safety and policing, or may be designed for the (moral) values of self-defense or even random attack. This responsibility of designers for the moral values products have has different forms. First, there is a responsibility for the moral values designed for. In terms of the values VR = {VC, VT, VU, VOS, VD} discerned in the model, one may assume that design for technical values VT like safety and sustainability does not raise moral questions. But design for client values VC and user values VU raises moral issues about what values designers can design for, as clients and users may also have morally bad values they want products for. Second, designers become responsible for the inclusion or exclusion of the moral values VC, VU, and VOS of clients, users, and other stakeholders. Third, designers are morally responsible for the values VD they introduce themselves. And finally, when products pick up unintended moral values other than those in {VC, VT, VU, VOS, VD} for which they are designed, the designers may be held responsible for delivering morally faulty products. Hence, with the rise of methods for moral values and the moral responsibility it brings, it may be argued that also new professional codes of conduct and additional legislation are called for that regulate these new responsibilities.

That designers themselves can introduce moral values VD in design was shown by the cases described in the previous sections. In the case described in section “The Vision in Product Method for Design for Values,” the client HEMA had defined “sustainability” as the leading value, yet it was the designer who chose a particular reading of this moral value and added the value of local social cohesion. In the Stichting Boog case, described in section “The Social Implication Design Approach to Design for Values,” the assignment of the client was merely to change specific behavior, and it was the designer who introduced the moral value of participation. Finally, in design for social values, as discussed in section “Design for Social Values,” designers explicitly chose themselves societal values to design for because they want to “do good.” This introduction of moral values VD in design is related to the designer-driven nature of the ViP and Social Implication Design methods used in these cases yet may become a standard part of design methods for moral values. In current design methodology the role of designers is already acknowledged to be an active one. All methods promote designers to co-determine the requirements a product has to meet: design then starts with a client who gives a first description of the product to be designed, after which the designer helps to further specify this description by analyzing the client’s goals and descriptions. The designer knows what is technologically feasible, what is required by regulations and law, and what makes the product usable and safe. Moreover, the designer may add technical or aesthetic elements. Finally, the designer may even propose to change the initial description of the client. If a set of requirements derived from the initial description of the client defines a design task which proves impossible to carry out or which leads to unattractive solutions, the designer may propose to reframe the design task (Schön 1983; Cross 2006). This implies that the client’s goals are attempted to be realized by products that are different from the ones initially described by the client. In product design this active role of the designer to co-determine or reframe the requirements of the products to be designed is considered to be a positive one: it leads to efficient, user-friendly, and safe products and, in the case of reframing, to innovative products. In design for moral values, designers may be expected to also take this methodological role of actively co-determining or reframing the moral values that products are supposed to have to arrive at innovative solutions, as was illustrated by the Stichting Boog case. Again this possibility of design for moral values leads to moral issues about what values designers may introduce, for also these values VD may be morally wrong. This possibility also leads to moral issues among designers and clients, users, and other stakeholders, which is a final topic we explore.

Moral Transparency of Designers

When designers actively introduce moral values VD in their designs, moral conflicts with the clients, users, and other stakeholders may emerge. For exploring such conflicts one can discern two separate reasons designers may have for introducing moral values VD in their designs. These two reasons are not exhaustive

The first reason for a designer to personally introduce moral values may be that they are goals of the designer himself. A designer may be carrying out a design task set by a client and add moral values to the product to be designed which are neither wished for by the client nor instrumental to the realization of the client’s wishes. A case that would illustrate this first possibility is one that is well known in philosophy of technology, namely, the case of the Long Island overpasses. In the design of the Long Island’s parkway system, the designer Robert Moses chose allegedly low overhang bridges for racist reasons; the low overhang bridges would effectively obstruct poorer minorities from traveling through the parkway system, assuming that they travel by public buses (Winner 1980). This would mean that Moses added the value of racism to his design.3

From a moral point of view, one could argue that designers should not bring in morally bad values like racism. But even if these values would be morally acceptable, one could argue that designers should not unconditionally bring in moral values for their own goals. In this case, designers breach the trust clients put in designers and are violating the moral autonomy of the client and of the users of the resulting products. Yet, in design methodology designers have an active role of co-determining or reframing the requirements a product has to meet, and by the design methods discussed in this chapter, designers are actually stimulated to bring in their own moral values. A more subtle response would be to require that when designers do bring in their own moral values, it should have the nature of a proposition to clients, users, and other stakeholders, allowing their acceptance of or informed consent with regard to the introduced values VD. Informed consent means in this context that people are informed that the designer of a product added moral values and that people are put in the situation that they can make up their minds about whether they accept these products with these values (assuming that people can chose alternative products). In fact, in the discussed ViP and Social Implication Design methods, designers are actually stimulated to explicitly and clearly argue for the moral values they introduce.

The second reason a designer may have for introducing moral values VD in design is to let them serve as means for realizing the purposes of the client. A designer may be faced with a specific design task by the client, which may or may not contain other values VC, VT, VOS, and VU, and decide to find a solution to it by designing a product that has also moral values VD. The Stichting Boog case of section “The Social Implication Design Approach to Design for Values” may serve as an example. The client wanted a product to change the behavior of youngsters, and the designer introduced the moral value of participation to realize this goal. Using moral values as a means in design may be innovative in design and broaden the spectrum of tools designers have for realizing the goals of their clients. Yet this second possibility again raises the issue of whether the clients, users, and other stakeholders could agree with these values. In the Stichting Boog case, the use of moral values as a means seems morally acceptable towards the client, since the value of participation may have been one that is held by the client. Yet, when considering the youngsters involved, one can raise worries against carrying out the design for moral values in this way. If these youngsters start using the service without being aware of the inherent goal of realizing their participation, then ethically speaking their autonomy is violated; no informed consent has been given by these youngsters, ignoring the possibility that they may not endorse participation. Hence, when designers introduce values VD in design, even if merely as a means, then morally speaking this requires transparency regarding the inclusion of these values to all parties concerned.

One could argue that this requirement of moral transparency will become in part incorporated in design methods for moral values. Given current design methodology this transparency is easily achieved towards clients. In current design methods the interactions between the client and designer are already one of informed consent due to a constant conversation between the two: clients present their initial design assignments to designers, and designers discuss with clients the ways in which they develop these assignments and eventually resolved them in design. Design methods for moral values may therefore be expected to include ample interaction with the client to also reach agreement about the moral values introduced by the designer during the design process. Still, additional work has to be done to add this interaction between designers and clients to design methods for moral values. Conceptualizations of moral values are often essentially contested. These need not be thorough philosophical disputes between the clients and designers, but rather minor differences of opinion which may nevertheless gradually influence design choices (including different ways of taking a certain product into use). Designers are now required to guide the process of capturing moral values in concrete design decisions.

Moral transparency is harder to achieve towards the users. In section “Design for Social Values” we made a distinction between user-driven and designer-driven design methods. The Participatory and Transformation design methods were taken as user driven since by these methods designers become facilitators and coordinators of the design process. The ViP and Social Implication Design methods were designer driven since in these methods designers are taking responsibility to take decisions for users. One could argue that in user-driven methods, in contrast to designer-driven methods, any moral value introduced by the facilitator designer is introduced in a transparent manner, since it are the users participating in the design who eventually adopt or reject the introduced values. Yet, this argument fails since the users participating in the design process are just a few and cannot represent all the prospective users of the designed product. Hence, even if the users participating in a design process give their informed consent, the future users have not yet done so. This limitation that designer can interact only with a few users is in fact the motivation behind designer-driven methods to lay the responsibility for introducing values in designs with the designers involved. Still, also for these methods the conclusion is that designers then introduce moral values without having informed consent by all possible and future users of the designed products. Moral transparency of design for moral values towards users can then at most be achieved by requiring that designers deliver their products with a clear specification of the moral values they are designed for, such that future users have at least the possibility to inform themselves about these values.

Consider, as a final example, the design of a baby stroller – the Bugaboo – developed by the professional designer Max Barenbrug. At the time of its inception, baby strollers were mainly foldable buggies under the assumption that parents wanted baby strollers cheap, instrumental, and easy in use. Analyses similar to those that are part of the ViP design method revealed that there was a new group of parents which had little time to spend with their children – e.g., couples where both partners have jobs – and who felt guilty for this. Partly due to these guilt feelings, these customers were ready to spend more money on products for their children and were susceptible for strollers providing comfortable and protective environments for their babies. The result of the design by Barenbrug was a stroller that was more luxurious and five times more expensive than regular buggies (Hekkert and Van Dijk 2011, pp. 136–137). When seen as a product designed for the values of comfort and protection, the Bugaboo may be taken as one in which transparency with respect to the embodied (moral) values has been achieved, since these values were communicated and the identified group of users shared them. But when seen as a stroller designed for the values of extensive parental care and of relieving the guilt of parents with double jobs, a different perspective emerges. The identified group of parents may also have had these values, but it can be doubted whether these values were also made explicit to the parents and whether these parents would accept the stroller as embodying them: the Bugaboo did not buy these parents more time with their children, as, say, washing machines did.


Current design methods can already be taken as enabling design for moral values, and although they cannot be taken as full-fledged design methods for moral values, they show that such methods exist and may become increasingly available.

We presented two design methods in detail – the Vision in Product and Social Implication Design methods – in which designers reason explicitly about moral values and in which they introduce moral values themselves. Drawing from these two example methods, we explored the methodological and moral issues that emerge when arriving at full-fledged design methods for moral values. The methodological issues are the development of tools for design for moral values, the operationalization of moral values, the resolution of conflicts between moral values, and the emergence of unintended moral values the designed products may acquire in future use. The moral issues included the responsibilities designers acquire for regulating the moral values clients, users, and other stakeholders propose for the products to be designed and the moral values designers may introduce themselves in designing. Current design methods already presuppose and stimulate that designers actively co-determine or reframe the design assignments they take up, and design methods for moral values will equally give designers such an active role in moral designing, as was illustrated by our examples.

Finally it was argued that designers should be transparent about the moral values they introduce in design and should aim at informed consent towards clients and users. Design methods for moral values will have to support designers in conceptualizing moral values in their interaction with clients and users partaking in the design processes and to provide the tools to communicate the moral values products have to future users not partaking in the design processes.



  1. 1. Retrieved 12 November 2012.

  2. 2.

    These three values of freedom, responsibility, and authenticity are values for the designer; by embracing these values for the designer, the products designed with the ViP method do not necessarily also embody these values.

  3. 3.

    This account of the design of the Long Island overpasses is contested (Joerges 1999).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pieter E. Vermaas
    • 1
    Email author
  • Paul Hekkert
    • 2
  • Noëmi Manders-Huits
    • 1
  • Nynke Tromp
    • 2
  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentTU DelftDelftNetherlands
  2. 2.Department of Industrial Design, Design AestheticsTU DelftDelftNetherlands

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