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Meet Design Ethics SIG, the DRS's Newest Special Interest Group

Meet Design Ethics SIG, the DRS's Newest Special Interest Group

The Design Ethics SIG is the newest DRS Special Interest Group. We spoke with DE SIG's convenors to learn more about them and the SIG's origins, aims and upcoming events. 

Please introduce yourself and your work. Why did you decide to start the SIG and how does the SIG relate to your own research?

Design Ethics (DE) SIG is an interdisciplinary group with a range of research expertise and interests, from design to philosophy of technology to international law. From the beginning, it was important for us to form an interdisciplinary platform that weaves together the critically reflective core of the humanities with the creative capacities of design. We believe that we can find the most fruitful opportunities to advance knowledge where disciplines merge and interdisciplinary tensions and dilemmas emerge. What we all have in common is that we embrace a critical stance towards our own disciplinary perspectives (critical researchers) and practices (critical practitioners), and feel committed to bridging theory and practice to achieve both societal and scientific change.

DE SIG started with the simple observation that design ethics was not yet represented as a SIG. We thought that this was a gap and a missed  opportunity to engage all fields of design associated with DRS. Since design has its own responsibilities in being a challenge, but also a solution to some of the most pressing societal and environmental challenges, we believed it was important to create a SIG on design and ethics to create a space of reflection for designers and associated disciplines to support being sensitive to the historical, cultural, economic and political roots of these challenges. We aim for DE SIG to be a platform where such attitudes originate and develop by means of interdisciplinary conversations.


What is your SIG about? What are your aims and goals?

Design ethics is a broad, complex, and nuanced field. In a conversation that we hosted at the 2022 DRS conference in Bilbao, many ethical issues, moral dilemmas, and political questions were raised that academics and practitioners encounter in their daily practices – from doing research respectfully (i.e. research ethics), to accounting for the historical legacies of violence, to anticipating the future impact of emerging technologies. The variety and urgency of these challenges do not easily lend themselves to a single theory, checklist or a toolkit that can easily be copied and pasted from one project to the next. We require a systematic yet an organic way of thinking about ethical inquiry that originates from within the discipline. That’s why, as a result of that DRS22 Conversation, we felt most comfortable with framing design ethics as an invitation to care. What we mean by this is a practice informed by the feminist care literature that considers care as central to thinking about justice, but it also on a more methodological level means that ethics is not simply an  afterthought in design research and practice.

Our main goal is to learn from each other and advance both academic and experiential knowledge. We want to do this through critique and conversation, questioning and dialoguing, and sharing examples and experiences. To do this effectively, we aim for each SIG activity to focus on a specific theme, such as a specific societal challenge, application field or a technology, that is relevant for our three main pillars of interest:

●    Scholarly foundations (theories and methods)

●    Educational approaches (didactics)

●    Design practices (experiences and challenges)


Who are the SIG's convenors? 

We are eight people in the group, six conveners, Deger, Michael, Christine, Sanna, Laura, and Delfina, who meet regularly to ensure continuity and Nolen and Naga Nandini in the extended organizing group who advise on new directions for SIG activities and help plan and promote them. We are looking for two more people to join the organizing group which we will recruit as we grow.


Deger Ozkaramanli explores ethical inquiry in design from a methodological perspective, researching how to create room for critical-ethical reflection in design methodologies. For this, she focuses on moral dilemmas that arise in design processes.

Michael Nagenborg works on the intersection of cities and technologies. He is especially interested in value-sensitive design and other pro-active approaches to address ethical challenges in design. His current research projects have a strong focus on AI. He is also teaching Design Ethics and related courses.

Sanna Lehtinen works at the intersection of urban aesthetics, environmental philosophy, and philosophy of technology. She collaborates with a broad range of design professionals in interdisciplinary projects where ethical considerations are present at every step of the process.

Delfina Fantini van Ditmar is a design researcher and Senior Lecturer at the Royal College of Art, School of Design. Driven by her interest in ecological thinking, reflective practices and inter-relations as a systemic response to the environmental collapse, Delfina's critical practice examines material ethics of care and the necessary paradigm shift in design.

Christine Schwöbel-Patel is working (also in collaboration with D. Ozkaramanli) on design and international law, in particular to understand the framing and construction of stereotypes around migrants. She is also working on making visible and critiquing the international legal infrastructures of the green transition.

Laura Ferrarello explores the applicability of ethical principles to design practices through participatory and co-design methods. Laura’s approach to ethics is centred on dialogue, as a method to engage designers in understanding roles and responsibilities in generating ethical issues, but also creative solutions. Laura created and currently directs the Future Learn course “The Ethical Innovator”.

Advisory team:

Nolen Gertz works on the existential and political significance of technologies in everyday life. He is Assistant Professor Applied Philosophy at the University of Twente where he teaches various courses on the ethics and politics of design in the Industrial Design Engineering program.

Naga Nandini is a designer and educator working with curriculum and planning at Srishti, Bangalore. Her interests lie in traditional craft practices and artisan communities and their relevance to contemporary design processes. She also runs the Frugal Design lab to understand in different ways how frugality could play a larger role in design.


Do you have any upcoming programs, newsletters, or events you'd like to share with our members? Or any ideas for the SIG you would like to pursue? 

We have many ideas for our first event and will soon announce the date! We sense great interest in ethics and sustainability as an urgent topic to discuss and debate. Another one is to address ethical issues and political questions that arise in (design) practices outside of academia. Responding to such issues and questions as part of educational curricula is another pressing topic.

For now, we invite everyone who is interested to become a member through the online discussion forum, on which we will announce all future events and collaboration opportunities. We are also building a mailing list for a quarterly newsletter to keep members up to date and engaged with events and developments. 

We are particularly excited about organising a paper track dedicated to design ethics at each DRS conference, which will be the bloodline to build, advance and transfer new knowledge. We aim to complement the paper track with a workshop or a conversation session at each conference to amplify scholarly debate and discussion, but also support the application of principles, theories, norms and values to practice. 

We want to organise similar sessions at other conferences as well in order to contribute to the visibility of both DE SIG and DRS. Finally, we will organize smaller, independent events, such as seminars or book/conference reviews, to have relatively less formal means of knowledge exchange and engagement. 


How will being based with the Design Research Society benefit your SIG's work and research?

DRS is the longest established worldwide society for design research and we are proud to be launching DE SIG as part of DRS. In addition, DRS is decidedly interdisciplinary in its approach, which has given us confidence that we will attract like-minded academics and practitioners to our network. Over the past decade, the DRS community has been at the forefront of discussing and defining the role of design - as a discipline and a profession - in addressing societal issues while maintaining a reflexive attitude. We value ambition, reflexivity and creativity, and look forward to building on these values to deepen design’s ethical and political sensitivities.

 March 17, 2023