WHAT IS VALUES IN DESIGN?
If you stop to think about it, physical objects we use on a daily basis shape the way we act: driving cars means we walk less, the Internet means we use our digital devices more. However, the rules, habits and values of our daily lives also have an impact on the things we use: our parents might have restricted our television watching to push us to play more actively outside, and when we withdraw money from a bank, ATMs aren’t designed to recite our PIN numbers out loud . Values in Design (VID) is a way of considering human life that explores how the values we think of as societal may be expressed in technological designs, and how these designs in turn shape our social values. In other words, technology is never neutral: certain design decisions enable or restrict the ways in which material objects may be used, and those decisions feed back into the myths and symbols we think are meaningful.
For over twenty years, Values in Design has been developed as both a theory and a method. VID research has analyzed a diverse set of technologies including human-computer interaction, robotics, mobile technologies, and web technology, and an equally diverse set of values such as privacy, trust, security, safety, community, freedom from bias, autonomy, freedom of expression, identity, dignity, calmness, compassion, and respect. Perhaps more important, VID means taking values into consideration in design practice — making it equally relevant to academics, technologists, and everyday people.
VALUES IN DESIGN NITTY-GRITTY
VID incorporates scholarship, research, and experience in the systematic study of socio-technical systems, as well as methods for discovering, analyzing, and operationalizing values in the context of particular projects. One basic feature of the VID approach is that architecture and design features may be systematically related to political, social, ethical values, such as security, privacy, freedom, etc. Accordingly, an important part of VID work is to identify, define and analyze these relationships, along with pointing out ways in which law and policy interact with material technologies. VID focuses attention on values from the ground up, instead of retroactively.
A second key feature of VID work is its pragmatism. It is not enough to demonstrate that values are expressed through design decisions. Thinking about values should be included among the set of aspirations that guide and constrain the designs of all technology. If we accept that technology can embody values, let those who design and produce systems take values into consideration as they engineer these system components. The VID framework therefore places ethical and political values on the same plane of importance alongside technical and functional specifications and constraints.
This website is for researchers, practitioners, and public interest advocates who understand that information and communications technologies are a crucial medium for asserting social, political, and moral values such as freedom, autonomy, justice, privacy, and democracy; it’s also for interested members of the public who want to think more about how technologies express values and the ways values are shaped by technology. As you explore this site, remember: matter matters, and matters matter!
The Values in Design site is administered by webmasters Emily Goldsher-Diamond, Luke Stark and PI Helen Nissenbaum.