Our Responsibility for Good Design

BDES 1201 — Week 10

This week’s article will be taking a look into the consumer voice and it’s concerns, the increasing pressures on manufacturing standards and what makes or breaks responsible design. The works of Johnathan Woodham in Twentieth-Century Design, Chapter 10 “The Design and Social Responsibility” helps discuss these areas as well as Jesse S. Tatum’s “The Challenge of Responsible Design”.

In Woodham’s Chapter 10, He focuses on the exploration of designs and consumer organizations that occurred throughout earlier years up to the post war era. Woodham also notes that after the Second World War, there was a formation of many groups that rejected the ideas of mainstream design, and cheered on the idea of “anti-design”. After the second war, there was much pressure on manufacturers due to consumers significantly increasing their interests in obtaining knowledge on their products. Post war era was highly focused on this idea of knowing.

This created consumer organizations and unions that would provide consumers the knowledge on best practices, good product options on market and more. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the consumer’s rights became important as well as individuality. There was more acknowledgment of “consumers’ rights and the responsibilities of large-scale producers.” (Woodham, 190). Woodham suggests in his text that there was also a factor that limited a designers ability to obtain a more responsible role in production due to their economic dependencies for the businesses that are employing them.

Moving on to the second text we will be looking over, Jesse S. Tatum’s “The Challenge of Responsible Design”. Tatum brings forth the idea of The process of joining the possible with the desirable and having a criteria to discern whether a design a responsible and how we can become better designers. There are seven areas presented within his criteria for designers to learn critical lessons from. Underdetermination, realm of possibility, consequentiality, political construction, competing ideas, ultimate ends, and embrace of patterns.

Underdetermination — Underdetermined by natural facts, technology and science itself inevitably arise from some process of choice.

Realm of Possibility — The realm of technological and socio-cultural possibility is overwhelmingly large in comparison with traditional conceptions of the domain of choice.

Consequentiality — The consequences of technological choices within the realm of the possible are profound in the lives of ordinary people.

Political Construction — The shaping (design) of a technological world is a quintessentially political process.

Competing Images — Designers need to have experienced the pull of competing, equally appealing, images of reality.

Ultimate Ends — Democratic choice in design necessitates open and direct consideration of ultimate ends.

Embrace of Patterns — Every design represents a selective embrace of one pattern at the relative expense of others.

(Tatum, 67)

Tatum states that educators should take parts of reality we as humans have already learnt and point towards it in order save students the trouble of having to relearn it themselves. As a new generation and as individuals they can create their own ideas of significant realities. That is where responsible design comes from, “responsible design is possible only where these realities are taken into account.” (Tatum, 79) Responsible design also must respond democratically to general populations, designers must bring society and design together and join the possible and the desirable.

Design is constantly along with the needs of society. I believe Digital Experience Design and other design branches such as UX are great examples of modern disciplines that heavily rely on this idea of responsible design. They must emphasize the needs of users and curate experiences to suit them ahead of concerns of aesthetics and beauty. Design has the ability to change societies, cultures, and politics, it can change lives. That is why designers have such an important role that must be taken with caution and responsibility.

Questions to Ponder:

  • What does responsible design mean to you?
  • Should design take a user centre approach or a societal centred approach?
  • What products come to mind when keeping responsible design in mind?

Works Cited:

Tatum, J.S. “The Challenge of Responsible Design.” Design Issues, vol. 20, no. 3, 2004, pp. 66–80.

Woodham, Jonathan M. Twentieth Century Design. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, Chapter 10.

Word Count: 610




Student of the DXD program at George Brown.

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Maya Sonya Sowinski

Maya Sonya Sowinski

Student of the DXD program at George Brown.

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