Should Designers and Researchers Sign Their Own Hippocratic Oath?

By Roz Hillenbrand

Screen Shot 2019-11-27 at 6.28.27 AM     In this era, designers and researchers with all types of backgrounds are becoming strategic leaders and specialists in creating new products, businesses, and services. While these leaders from all walks are coming into positions of power in which we have breathtaking technological capabilities, should we not feel an obligation to do no harm? Healers agree to a Hippocratic oath- upholding them to maintain ethical standards in the work they do. Detrimental and questionable products and features have been created when power and feasibility can turn honest intentions into design decisions that alienate and do harm to the very people that the product was created to protect.

        The  Hippocratic Oath was written in the 5th century B.C.; it is one of the oldest documents in history. Original authors of the document intended it to form a binding covenant but modern doctors have interpreted as a promise to uphold the art of medicine and act in patients’ interests. They promise to stay true with the authentic values of the medical practice of yesteryear as we continue forward with new innovative methodologies, it is a promise to one’s self that they will do no harm. Medical students at the end of their 4 years of medical school use this moment to acknowledge their growth and swear to this next chapter by whatever they hold most sacred, making it agnostic to all who undertake it. In this modern world, it often means to see the patient as a whole instead of just their disease, to show respect in every situation, and to protect the patient’s privacy from anyone who would use their information to influence decisions. As designers and researchers are playing a larger role in creating an impact on people’s lives, we should too have an obligation to protect and respect our fellow man. 

      If we knew in 2004 that one of the largest multinational technology corporations was being founded- which only 12 years later would have been used as a tool by rogue agents working against the clarity of information leading up to exercising our civic duty and selecting our next leaders- would we have designed and researched differently? The answer should be a resounding "yes!" Similarly to our national freedoms, if we knew that the information we give to companies is being sold and used against us for financial gain, would we have designed and researched differently? When starting any business, product, or service, the goal is almost always to make someone’s life easier or better. Within the design and research lifecycle, a lot can happen from the conception of that original idea through the first version and into various next generations and iterations. 

        With more concentration on creating businesses, products, and services that align with strong brand purpose and responsibility, we are heading towards an answerable future. But living and working in a culture that values speed and instant gratification, it can be easy to lose sight of where that higher road is. To have the initiative and strength to step outside expectations is challenging for anyone at any level. The belief that we must not only allow but encourage and support each other to speak up when we see or feel something straying for our mission and our nature. We each hold the responsibility to maintain standards of behavior in our design and research practices to truly do no harm. 

        Coming from a fine arts background, I will say with definitive certainty that we should all have an ear to ethics from the very beginning and continues throughout our careers. As compliance training to avoid sharing client information through IT scams has become standard, ethics training for designers and researchers should be instituted across the board to consistently remind us of what is important and what is at stake if we fail. 

“Into whatsoever houses I enter (digitally or otherwise), I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain for all intentional wrong-doing and harm (digitally or otherwise), especially from abusing the bodies (digital or otherwise) of man or woman.”- Enduring Oaths, Journal of Ethics

 

 

READ MORE: Tips for More Effective Design Thinking Leadership, The Social Experience of Digital Reality Use, Interview with Jess Gamble, Facial Recognition Technology and Racial Biases

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