A 5by5 conversation with Chris Rudd, Fonder of ChiByDesign about the interplay of design and ethics
Interview by Twisha Shah-Brandenburg & Thomas Brandenburg
“It is our responsibility as humans to check bias and oppression inside and outside of organizations, regardless of title. As humans (and designers) we have to understand that everyone is a HUMAN, that’s it. Understanding that fact opens us up to value, interact with and understand people from an asset perspective versus an ‘other’ perspective.” —Chris Rudd
How might organizations and designers balance their desire to increase competitive advantage with the needs of users themselves, who don’t always have a say in the terms of how they engage with services and products?
There is an organization that controls hundreds of millions of peoples lives, and no it’s not facebook. The U.S. government controls the fate of millions, domestically and abroad, who have very little input into what services they can access and/or how they can access those services. Consent of the governed is a political philosophy that assumes the power of the State (government organization) is based on consent by the people. The assumption is that people (the user) dictate the terms of engagement, at least in a democracy. The line between government and business is becoming ever blurred, which further muddy’s the development of products and services for the social good versus the desire to increase competitive advantage.
In Chicago, we have seen a massive decrease in the power of the governed to engage with services. In 2015, the City of Chicago sold the Chicago Skyway tollway to private companies for 99 years; the sale created the first-ever U.S. highway. The Skyway is a 7.8-mile (12.6-kilometer) toll road that forms a link between downtown Chicago and its south-eastern suburb. Following the sale of the Skyway, the City of Chicago sold four parking garages and the parking meter system. Since the government sold these city services, which were “cash cows” that provided revenue to sustain or develop new products and services for the user (Chicagoans), there have been 52 school closings and the closing of half of the City’s mental health clinics. I am not saying that all of this could have prevented just by maintaining ownership of the Skyway, parking garages and meters, but I am assuming the revenue from those properties could have financially supported the services the user (Chicagoans) need.
I think the government desperately needs an infusion of human-centeredness into its approaches and practices. Organizations and philanthropies are doing the work to bring human-centered design into the halls of government, but there desperately needs to be more financial support for that work and community involvement.
As designers, what is our responsibility in checking inherent biases that have existed in organizations as we evolve products and services, and what can we do to change them?
It is our responsibility as humans to check bias and oppression inside and outside of organizations, regardless of title. As humans (and designers) we have to understand that everyone is a HUMAN, that’s it. Recognizing that fact opens us up to value, interact with and understand people from an asset perspective versus an ‘other’ perspective.
As designers, I believe, it is our responsibility to create opportunities and experiences that integrate humans as much as possible. Bias is not inherent; we are not born with bias. The biases that we all have were taught to us at some point and reinforced by designed experiences, mainly segregation. Segregation robs us all of the opportunity to value, enjoy, and love one another. As designers, we can create experiences that teach the opposite lessons (unity, love, appreciation, etc.) Lunchrooms in organizations can be one of the most segregated spaces in an office. How might we create a lunch experience that increases integration? We should find as many opportunities as we can to break down the silos, physical and perceived, that keep us, or that keep certain people out.
What other fields should design be looking to learn from as we continue to create solutions and interactions that are ethically sound for all stakeholders?
I’m not sure what field is doing great in regards to this question. The #MeToo movement is exposing the historical and current weaknesses that exist in so many areas. All fields have first to recognize and admit their shortcomings, then get mentally prepared for the hard work that comes with changing. Some awesome people have been brave and are willing to lead the way for better practices inside and outside of their organizations.
What role should diversity and inclusion play in design, especially as we increasingly rely on data and algorithms to contribute to design inputs and activities?
Diversity and Inclusion are vital to the shared success of our species. The task of design and designers is to make things better for humanity. Unlike the design field, humanity is more than just white males. The design field can’t be arrogant enough to think that we can create the future without the inclusion of the rest of humanity.
Currently, I see the reproduction of colonialist processes for development. The designers of now and the future are overwhelmingly male, white, and from means. I am not saying that their input isn’t valuable, but how can they be the majority of architects for a shared world? How can half of the world’s population, women, be so vastly underrepresented in the field and leadership of organizations?
Without more diversity and inclusion in design, we will continue to get it wrong. Designers are supposed to empathize and synthesize information that users share with us, but how can one archetype understand all the nuances that exist in a community, or a city, or a country? We have to begin truly valuing the experiences and expertise that live in various skin tones, body types, and orientations.
How might the future of ethics in design as a practice evolve? What’s missing today that will be important as we design for tomorrow?
If the design field gets more diverse, I believe that better ethics will naturally evolve within the practice. As more varied perspectives and experiences are allowed into the universities and design studios unethical practices and viewpoints will be challenged. The field is currently as ethical as it can be based on the experience and outlook of the leaders of this field, but when the archetype of leadership is expanded so to will the ethics.
If you liked this interview join us for a live panel discussion during Chicago Design Week where you will hear Ruth and a group of design leaders discuss their views on the interplay of design and ethics. Tickets for the event can be found here.