Article InformationEdit

Title: Design Theory and Ethics: Affinities and Connections

Author(s): Nassim Jafarinaimi

Affiliation: Carnegie Mellon University

Presented At: STiS 2008

Primary Topic Area: S&T Studies


Design is a deliberate and purposeful activity concerned with the identification of possible courses of action and judgment about the appropriate ones. Designers are responsible for the artifacts, systems, and environments that make up the physical world and influence the everyday experiences of the public. Principles such as comfort, efficiency, and beauty enter design activities from the convictions of designers and social and cultural values. As beginnings they might be deliberate or accidental, consciously pursued or unconsciously present. For example, ideals of economy and efficiency are cited as the guiding principle of design in the works of architect LeCorbusier. He contends that products should demonstrate the precision and efficiency that are characteristic of engineering works. He writes: “The engineer, inspired by the law of Economy and governed by mathematical calculation, puts us in accord with universal law. He achieves harmony.” The conviction that efficient buildings and cities are the kind of environment that are best for people governs his works and is embodied in the simple and modular forms, geometric patterns and elimination of ornamentation of his designs. These principles are in sharp contrast to postmodernist theories where freedom is cited as the ultimate principle defined as the self expression of the designer leading to radically different works.

In this paper, I develop a framework for understanding the relationship of principles and products’ form and argue that this understanding reveals the close affinity of design and ethics as they are both concerned with the selection of future courses of action guided by principles. Based on this framework, I will also argue that the criticism of products should go beyond their physical form to consider the actions and experiences that people have with products.

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