Questions of value - Ethics in the design curriculum
Paper in proceeding, 2015

The decisions made by designers multiply in their consequences, as products are mass-produced. With changing designer roles addressing systems, services and symbols the questions of value a designer faces also grow. The Ethics of Design is gaining new importance, and is again frequently discussed in literature. Nevertheless, while much has happened since Papanek encouraged designers to contribute to the true societal and moral needs of society by developing products with real benefits for people, it is still unclear on what basis designers are trained to deal with questions of ethics. Following these traces, this article introduces some key distinctions between different ways of engaging with questions of values, including some major perspectives on ethics e.g. Teleology vs. Deontology. The authors further argue for the difference between ethical judgement (as the ability to provide reasoned arguments for or against a certain position) and moral disposition (ones inclination to act in line with a certain position). The arguments are used to illustrate tacit and overt ethical questions in some contemporary design discourses on sustainability, stakeholder involvement, critical design etc. The questions raised within design research pose some challenges to the education of tomorrow’s designers and to the design of curricula. It hence becomes important to look at: How is ethics dealt with in design education? To elucidate ‘How ethics is dealt with in overall curriculum design & intended learning outcomes’ we reviewed curricula from a number of higher education design programs, reflecting the extent to which questions of ethics are explicitly guiding education. To capture attitudes towards ethics in design and their consequences for curricula we also conducted six semi-structured interviews with programme directors. These reveal that ethic approaches in design education can be seen within three domains: Ontological (e.g. designers as moral beings), Epistemological/methodological (e.g. processes, tools and or methods that are ethically correct or not), and practical (e.g. the design of ‘ethical’ products). Furthermore, drawing experiences from staging educational sessions we reflect on: ‘What are some challenges and possibilities creating teaching and learning activities focused on ethics? In courses and workshops students manage to take a perspective in relation to questions of right and wrong, justice and injustice and etc. but faced with dilemmas they seem to have problems arguing a position. The final section discusses educational challenges and opportunities equipping design students with knowledge and skills in exercising informed judgement about questions of value.


Viktor Hjort af Ornäs

Chalmers, Product and Production Development, Design and Human Factors

Martina Keitsch

Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education: Great Expectations: Design Teaching, Research and Enterprise, E and PDE 2015

978-1-904670-62-9 (ISBN)

Subject Categories


Interaction Technologies

Learning and teaching

Pedagogical work



More information

Latest update