UX is Responsible Design

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“In this age of mass production when everything must be planned and designed, design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself). This demands high social and moral responsibility from the designer.”

Victor Papanek (p. ix, Papanek, 1985)

Responsible Design

The idea around responsible design was ignited when I was in a Bible study about love and it’s responsibilities. At the same time, I had been working on a responsive design piece for the web and I thought to myself, to design responsively well, we need to be responsible designers first. And just like love, design should not merely be responsive (firefighting approach), it should be pro-active, given to ‘take care of’ concerned about others, finding out real problems and trying to solve them.

I read Victor Papanek’s book, Design for the Real World (highly recommended) a few weeks later and the ideas began to really gell.

Responsible design takes into account a number of things; Culture, Accessibility, Sustainability, Empathy, Ethics. Responsible design is holistic, accountable, creative, caring, visionary, quality conscious and forward thinking.

The relationship with User Experience

I read an article recently that attempted to split UX and design, it drew me back to Papanek’s words that we are all designers, but how we design is another story, UX is how I design, for example. We are all teachers in the same vein, whether we teach professionally or teach using a particular method, is something different.

A friend of mine had a stint teaching maths to children at a secondary school in Lagos. Many of the children appeared to be dull and didn’t seem able to grasp what he was teaching. My friend had been using the prescribed textbooks and examples, to describe percentages, additions, distance etc. and he got frustrated. The children were frustrated as well and they turned to buying and selling of items in class.

One day, it hit him, he describes it as an epiphany. He quickly changed all the textbook examples into things the children could relate to and see in their neighbourhood and the class began to liven. The children were happy and learning, he was happy and wondered how blind he had been.

I told him it was the same with design, any attempt to leave behind the people we are designing for will end up in frustration, for one party at least.

Can you design without UX?, sure! But UX is a better, responsible way to design, whether in visual, technical or development.

UX is a combination of skills that derive from the responsibilities we have as designers.

If we care, have empathy for people, we will involve them in our design process through co-creation, user research, usability studies etc. These skills must be applied to take an idea from pure fiction safely into the hands of users.

If you are in the business of design, you need to decide which way you fall, take up the responsibility and consider the above, build the necessary skills, it’s a daily struggle! Don’t think you will be able to master all skills, so better to ‘know thy self’.


Next Post: The Responsible Designer & Culture

I gave a little speech about Responsible Design and Culture at work, which went down quite well. Culture falls into 3 categories, Culture Within, Culture Without, Culture Transpositions (from/to)

Culture Within is about the character, values and experiences that are allowed to flourish or wither within a design team/org. It is foundational to how one designs.

The next post on Responsible design will explore ‘The Responsible Designer’, how the designer contributes to culture within, and it’s effects on the designer/designer’s work in turn.

For now, stay bright.


Essays on Responsible Design

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7 thoughts on “UX is Responsible Design

  1. Funny Toni, as a fellow designer (Des the designer) it requires us to try an idea or design concept to see how it goes. “suck it and see” approach, well this is at least my approach to design. And it is also my approach to life, try it and see.

    Some might call this an experiment I call it iteration or trial and error and reiteration.
    Maybe a romantic believes that something perfect will or should just appear out of nowhere.
    I don’t think that happens in design and I don’t that that happens in life either.

    Designing for life, as you say, requires us to bring along the people we are designing for, willingly, of course.

    • Hello Des!

      Thanks for your POV!
      Funny that’s my approach to *religion* as well, try it and see! And that’s true with a lot of things as you have pointed out. It’s also great to have the wealth of experience from others past.

      Now, the goal is different from the process. The romantic is idealistic and that forms their goal, which enables them push through the process of iteration to try to attain it.
      The romantic is also realistic, knowing that ideal situations may never happen because we all are fundamentally flawed, However, this doesn’t mean we cannot try and see.

      • Ok, I will share my experience from my past Toni with regards religion. I guess my goal was to get instant gratification from it. Well anyway after 2 years I was asked to leave because my questions were undermining the organisation or so I was told.

        See I found a scripture in Mat 18, 15 that seems to point to a process of dispute resolution and that no organisation that I know of today uses.

        If used correctly, I believe could take away power from the top and distribute it to the people at the bottom of the pile. But it was still dogma, or my dogma.

        So i was using my dogma to fight this organisation’s dogma. At that point it dawned upon me that I could be wrong. So I stopped everything I was doing based on dogma and started on a quest of uncertainty or of “I could be wrong”. A very simple thought but one that has led me to this point in my life.So for 30 years I have been trying to understand this with a goal that it would be instant but a process that I realise will probably take the rest of my life. So I agree we probably all have a romantic goal of instant gratification but usually but not always the process is a lot different.

        Maybe some romantic will get lucky but hey! I have enjoyed the journey so far and what else would I do if I did not have my process of sharing and gleaning feedback. All part of the process in my view.

        So I guess what you are saying is that the romantic is destined for eternal misery. ie from the poem
        “hope breeds eternal misery” https://onepoemshy.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/hope-breeds-eternal-misery/ I reckon this poem was written by a romantic.

        Anyway I don’t want to put labels on it or on others. I am striving for understanding and I get a bit of pleasure every now and then in the form of understanding that allows me to keep going. And I ahve my brother to share the moments.

        If I don’t achieve any more out of life than this then I am prepared for that.
        And I am very weary about any man made organisations (is there any other on this planet?), unless they have a process to deal with power hungry leaders that resort to abuse of their powers in order to remain in their positions and push ahead to the top. I am also aware that I too am part of this power hungry or ego problem. And I am not aware of an ideal solution yet.

  2. Matt 18:15 yes, I’ve been thinking of that quite a lot, given a recent circumstance and as you say, if it is followed it will rebalance power. Also, it forces us to think about when we find fault with people, the people involved, do we want them to learn?, get better? do well next time? do we want them humiliated? or condemned altogether.

    Now, I did not mean to imply that the romantic is destined for eternal misery. Can they be eternally miserable? of course! but that’s only because of what one chooses to believe and take action on at any given time. We all have a degree of romanticism, manifesting in different ways, we all suspect that life can get better, (we’ve seen some things get better, ourselves, the way we see things) ‘design can change the world!’ and as far as one is able, we work/walk towards it, getting sunshine and joy along the way spurring us on.

  3. Nice that you know it Toni, most christians don’t or don’t live (funny, I misspelled live and used love) or love by it. When I tell them about it they say “…yeah and go to the oversight or pastors” etc.
    But the scripture specifically does not mention anything about gong to hierarchy only to go
    before the church after the first two steps, or in my case it would be before a team or business section, family, etc.

    Imagine, it would allow us to take so called leaders before everyone, similar to a court only
    without any legal jargon or costs. Very radical for this day and age and the only thing I have taken away with me from the bible and of course the golden rule of treating people the way I want to be treated or more so not treating others the way I don’t want to be treated. Funny though it can take a life time to learn how one does not want to be treated.

    And I agree with you that we all seem to have a degree of intellect and romanticism and ego in us. In fact we seem to have a degree of everything that we label others as having, ha!
    Finding a level to suit each other is the quest I guess, though the mating cycle, unfortunately, did not come with a manual. Funny, I guess that is why I have written mine.
    Ultimately by using Mat 18,15 I think, like you say, we can help each other adjust our levels for the better. I think that is waht my brother and i do with each other.

    I think penguins are better at choosing their partner than us humans are.

  4. Pingback: Design and UX in your kitchen | Antonia

  5. Pingback: How to become Responsible. | Antonia

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