Getting started with design ethics: A curated resource list

Image credit: Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

The fields of ethical design and tech ethics are growing. We regularly hear news stories about companies developing products that inadvertently cause harm to users.

In response to these very real issues, the discourse around these topics has exploded in the last few years. Formats range from short articles to full books, from single podcast episodes to feature-length documentaries. Discussions are held by academics in fields as diverse as data science, digital sociology, African American studies, and communications and media. Human-centred design and technology practitioners, who work on these problems on a daily basis, are also actively involved in the conversation.

There is just so much to absorb. To help myself — and others — wade through the literature, I have curated a list of resources.

Why I’ve created the resource list

When I became interested in the ethics of technology and design a few years ago, it was through conversations, podcasts and articles that serendipitously popped up in different areas of my life. Note to Self’s discussions of discriminatory AI and dodgy data usage were particularly enlightening to me (they covered Cambridge Analytica’s illicit practices 6 months before it hit the mainstream news). I was also blown away by Joy Buolamwini’s work on facial recognition bias.

At the time, I hadn’t really made the connection to “design” and how these failed technology projects were all designed. Mike Monteiro’s Ruined by Design was really influential in creating that link in my mind. It was from his book that I came across the term “design ethics” and an understanding of the significant role design has to play in introducing harm into the world. As Monteiro says:

The world is working exactly as designed. And it’s not working very well. Which means we need to do a better job of designing it.

Over time, I started to bookmark anything that informed my thinking or that I might want to share with others. Over time this became… unwieldy. As I said, this area of discourse is being discussed with increasing frequency. No longer just within academic circles or on nerdy podcasts, but now in the mainstream news and media too. Even Netflix and BBC iPlayer have documentaries that touch on these topics! (Coded Bias — Netflix, The Social Dilemma — Netflix, The Great Hack — Netflix, The Instagram Effect — BBC iPlayer)

It’s an exciting time. But if you’re dipping your toe in for the first time, it can be slightly overwhelming. Where to get started?

I recently ran an Intro to Design Ethics for our Academy trainees at Hippo Digital. Following the session, I was inundated with requests for more resources from our keen cohort of trainees. It’s really exciting that people who are moving into our field are so passionate about inclusive and ethical design. They’re a talented and dedicated bunch and I’m proud to count them as colleagues. Anyway, I digress.

It was at this point I thought my scrappy list of bookmarks — ranging from 2-minute videos to book-length academic theses — could do with a bit of pruning. So I pulled my socks up and spent many hours plugging these resources into an online database. I added (hopefully) useful tags to each entry on the list. This list is the result of my efforts.

How to use it

Views

Perhaps the most important feature is the pre-set Views (these can be found on the left-hand side of the database by selecting the Views sidebar). What I set out to do was create a resource list that was accessible. But as you can see from the full list, it’s over 100 entries long at this point. This clearly defeats my purpose of creating a way to engage that is not overwhelming!

To help guide you through, I have created Views that split the content out based on what you’re looking for. Try the Getting started view if you’re totally new to thinking about design ethics. If you’re wanting to explore further, there’s a view for Digging deeper.

I’ve also added some views based on interaction style to suit different kinds of learning: video, book, article, or podcast.

Case studies are news stories that show real-life examples of the harms perpetuated by badly designed tech.

Finally, if you’re looking for something more practical, the Toolkits view is a curated list of tools that have been created by practitioners. You might want to experiment with using some of these in your own work.

A screengrab from the Design Ethics resource list in Airtable

Sort, search, and filter

The resource list is built-in Airtable. As it is a database, rather than just a list, the attributes associated with each entry are searchable and can be filtered or sorted. This means you can filter by the type of resource which interests you: video, article, book, podcast etc. Or you can search by specific topic areas in the “tags” field. Some example topics are algorithmic bias, dark patterns, discrimination, ethical frameworks, mental health, and participatory design.

Each entry has a short description and a direct link to the resource. It also includes the date of publication to help situate the content in the context in which it was written. The “time to read or watch” field will help you to find resources that suit the amount of time you have to engage.

Help me iterate

In a true human-centred design style, this is very much a prototype. If you use it, I would love to hear about what would make a better experience for you. It would be great to understand about the usability and accessibility of the format, as well as the quality of the content.

Another area I’d like to learn about is the categorisation system I’ve used. The Getting started and Digging deeper labels have been applied based on my own assumptions. I need to validate those with people who are both very new to the field and those with a bit of knowledge who want to learn more. Are the resources tagged in those areas useful and appropriate for you?

Finally, I would love this to be a crowd-sourced list with some way for people to submit their own recommended resources. If there is an appetite for that, it is something I’d love to work on. In the meantime, if there’s a killer piece of content you think I’ve missed out — please do send it over to me. You can reach me by email (kate.every@hippodigital.co.uk) or on LinkedIn.

Get in touch

If this is a useful resource for you, please get in touch. I’d love to hear what works for you, and what could be improved. It is a work in progress and I hope we can continue to develop it collaboratively.

Email me at kate.every@hippodigital.co.uk or find me on LinkedIn

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Service Designer working on public services and excited about design ethics

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Kate Every

Kate Every

Service Designer working on public services and excited about design ethics

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