Principles of Ethical Design

Design holds prime importance in the current digital era. However, this has a dark side too. Many designers and companies work solely for personal benefits and revenues and pay less attention to the user’s benefits. 

It is therefore high time we talk about design ethics. The definition lies in the term itself; It means to design things ethically. Ethics is the moral standard of what is right and what is wrong. Design ethics is a separate realm for the designers to understand the ethical standards to follow. 

Designers must recognize the impact they have on people’s lives. They have a duty towards the users and the society alongside the commitment to clients. In this article, we will dive into the main principles of ethical design.

What is Ethical Design?

The ethical design keeps the moral standards of good, bad, and evil in mind. It focuses on designing products that uphold your morals and beliefs. It is undertaking the responsibility that whatever you design affects people, and those effects can also turn into adverse effects if not taken seriously. In this ever-changing world, how can designers keep ethics in mind? That’s why we need to discuss the principles of ethical design.

The Principles of Ethical Design

The principles of ethical design are based on moral qualities like respect, honesty, and human rights. These principles can be explained by the Ethical hierarchy of needs pyramid designed by Aral Balkan and Laura Kalbag. It strives to explain the importance of ethical design and how it supports human experience, human effort, and human rights.

In this pyramid-shaped structure, the layers on top need to rest on the layer below it. If any layer is broken or missed, the layers resting on top of it will collapse. A practical explanation would be that products and services which misuse the user data and only focus on money-making practices paying no heed to human experience are unethical. Now, let’s go over the basic principles of ethics to avoid the ever prevalent unethical design.


A design should be accessible to everyone. Designers usually design products for a target audience; however, numerous people are left out in this process. A design should be inclusive and should easily approachable for people of all capabilities. 

Accessibility should be incorporated into the design first and not as an afterthought. For example, many assistive softwares help blind people access websites, but some websites don’t make the design easily readable for the screen reader. A designer should think about the less privileged people as well. 


What is the point of a design if it is not usable? Usability is the essential requirement for a design. Usability is more than being functional; it enables the user to do so pleasantly. A good designer creates a design for the users’ utility; an unusable design, on the other hand, is a failure on the designer’s part. 

Design should have the consumer needs in mind, including efficiency, ease of use, understanding, and satisfaction. Good usability enhances the user experience. An example of a functional design with good usability would be Starbucks App. It uses intelligent personalization in its mobile app. It keeps track of users’ purchase histories and patterns. It gives them their most favorable options instead of bombarding them with the entire menu. This helps them pick easily from a list of your previously ordered or related items.


Privacy scandals are all over the internet. Digital design has invaded our private space; with google monitoring our search histories, Facebook reading our private messages, our privacy is always at stake. The most ethical practice would be to have access to only essential details from the user. The information collected should be for a better user experience rather than personal benefit. 

An example of a design ensuring privacy would be the messaging app Viber. It was developed by the Japanese company Rakuten. This application not only has end-to-end encrypted individual and group chats but the voice and video chats are also end-to-end encrypted.


A design should be transparent about its terms and conditions and any hidden features or agenda. Numerous designs benefit from the users’ simplicity and display information that is not transparent. You might have come across several sites that offer a free trial for some days. However, later, the subscription charges are deducted without informing the consumer. Many sites show low price rates on the labels, but when we see the same product in the shopping cart, the sale price and shipping are almost 2x higher. The best practice for an ethical design is to be transparent so that users can make well-informed choices.


The sustainability of a design cannot be emphasized enough. A design should be sustainable for the environment and should not exploit our already limited resources. We’re in a state to devise reliable digital solutions that facilitate sustainable user behavior. This sustainability helps to minimize overconsumption. 

The best ethical design is the one that embraces sustainability; an example will be the circular design which uses a closed-loop strategy. In this type of design, resources are continuously repurposed. For example, apps such as Too Good To Go allow people to order leftover food that would typically be thrown. There are also numerous other examples of sustainable design all around us.

How to Practice Ethical Design? 

The best way to incorporate ethical design in our work is to ingrain the principles into routine practice rather than keeping them for the end. You should start your design with clear intention and understanding of the principles. At Creativesware, these principles are already in practice. We pay attention to all aspects of the consumers and our clients’ satisfaction.


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