A 5by5 conversation with April Starr, Director of Product Design at Narrative Science about the interplay of design and ethics
Interview by Twisha Shah-Brandenburg & Thomas Brandenburg
“HIPAA was created to protect people’s privacy, but it is a barrier for those that need to share medical information in a health crisis. The role of design is to help facilitate and foresee inevitable tradeoffs in any solution.” —April Starr
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?
The needs of users and having a competitive edge are not always in conflict with each other. Ideally, design functions as a facilitator to find a middle ground between the needs of users and the needs of business.
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?
Designers absolutely have a responsibility in questioning everything, especially any inherent biases that may exist. It’s impossible to produce any kind of human-centered design without deeply understanding the organization’s culture, capabilities, processes, biases, beliefs, structure, etc. Designers always have to adapt their approach to the way the organization functions.
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?
The social sciences have existing rules and approaches to the ethics of studying people. When looking at other solutions, we need to acknowledge that some solutions in other fields were “designed” for a particular purpose and are not always easily adaptable to our work. For example, HIPAA was created to protect people’s privacy, but it is a barrier for those that need to share medical information in a health crisis. The role of design is to help facilitate and foresee inevitable tradeoffs in any solution.
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?
Designers have always been inspired by extreme users–diversity is critical to coming up with robust solutions. Early in the process, diversity can help broaden perspectives on what the problem actually is and amplifying any behavior patterns.
Later in the design process, it’s important to “break” your design by getting feedback from a diverse group of people. This is why design research exists–market research is often too homogenous to inspire design.
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?
Designers are already forming points of view on ethical issues in design and creating principles to adhere to. I’d like to see more time in the design process dedicated to exploring the unintentional impact designs to help address any ethical issues before the solution is out in the world.