Interview with Patrick by Daniela Healey

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This post was taken from a fun interview with Daniela Healey who is investigating ethical design, the dilemmas faced in the industry and how to make design students more aware of these issues. The project's aim is not to persuade designers to become more ethical but to make them more conscious of their decisions.

By Patrick, 21 March 2016

What does ethical design mean to you personally?

To me personally, ethical design is not something that we distinguish from any other design. To us, ethical means helping people who are having a positive effect on the world, rather than even just neutral. So any design that contributes to that is, in my definition, ethical design. But I wouldn’t want to get into a philosophical discussion about what is ethical, it’s very much something that we feel rather than define strictly, but it tends to be relatively easy.

Where did your interest in ethical design start?

I’ve always been interested in what’s called liberation ecology, which is the idea of helping people to be free through working with the environment and for the environment. And because I moved away from the UK to Italy, I was looking for something to do and websites cropped up. I ended up teaming up with a close friend of mine, the other director, and so that’s how it started and I guess.

I think I can probably guess the answer to this from your website, but do you have a set of key ethical boundaries that you work to? So are there certain projects that you wouldn’t take on?

Yes, there’s definitely projects we wouldn’t take on. We wouldn’t work with anyone, as I said before. Certainly not anyone who’s actually harming the world… So polluting industries, or anything to do with the meanies like war, tobacco, and banks,  or most banks let’s say, not that they’d ask us to do a site anyway, but those kind of industries are obviously the ones we’d stay away from. 

Have you ever had a client come to you that you’ve had to turn away?

Yes sure, you mean for ethical reasons?


Yes we have, normal businesses will ask us, but to be honest it’s actually not been a difficult problem for us because we’ve just said, you know normally our platform tends to be off the shelf for NGO’s so it has like document libraries and stuff like that that the NGO’s need. Our platform doesn’t tend to be that relevant to people who aren’t NGO’s for instance, so it’s not a problem we meet very often to be honest. 

Have you ever had to take on a project that goes against your values?


What’s one of the toughest ethical dilemmas that you’ve faced?

Actually I tell you what, I can answer that for Andrew actually, the last question and this question. With freelancing work that he used to do, he’d find himself working for the military with agencies for instance, or other companies, Orange or whatever, the companies that can’t really be classed as ethical even if they’re not unethical. So, that’s a dilemma that he’s faced, and one of the reasons why he’s happy doing this work even if sometimes it can be less profitable. 

When I was researching for this project, I found a quote that said that sustainable processes and materials can limit creativity. What do you think about that?


And only working for ethical companies…

It depends what he means by that, I mean if he thinks that for whatever reason some software wasn’t ethical, and he couldn’t use them because he decided that then sure. But to be honest we’re a lot more pragmatic than that, so we’ll accept that the computer might be made in a qay that doesn’t make it very easy to recycle very well but we wouldn’t get pernickety about it, the idea is just in general as a guideline to work towards helping people as much as possible that are going to have a positive effect. So I wouldn’t see any limits personally, and I’d also say that sometimes, artistically, limits are actually positive things. Like constraints actually stimulate creativity. 

What do you think is one of the most important ethical considerations for designers nowadays?

I think just what message they’re promoting, when someone reads their work or sees their work, what action does it prompt them to take. It’s not just designers it’s every single thing you do I guess, it can even be things you don’t do. So if someone is chatting in a group of 5 people about how it would be great if Italy goes off to war in Libya, for instance, which is a current thing now, and you don’t say anything I guess that’s in some way unethical. Not doing anything is a decision. 

Do you think exploring ethical design dilemmas and how to be an ethical designer should be a bigger part of design education?

I think it should be a part of all education. I think that we should all be thinking about the consequences of our actions and there’s a great book that you might be interested in called ‘Doing Good Better’.

Do you do any pro bono work at the studio?

No we don’t because our prices are already such that we just need to be working. I could say yes if I wanted to market this in the sense that when we create some functionality for one NGO and the next NGO needs it, we reduce its cost in that we supply it to them at time and cost. For example, if we develop a document library we’ll only supply it at time and cost to the next client, which means that they effectively get value. So it is pro bono I guess in some ways. 

What real life advice about ethics would you give to someone that’s just about to graduate?

I would say just listen to your heart. Literally, if it makes you feel weird then don’t do it. It’s that simple. I think that’s it to be honest. I think we all have that inner voice and if we stop using it then we lose it. And it’s very easy to do because when you haven’t got anything you’ve got nothing to lose and it’s easy to be ethical. The tricky bit comes when you do have something to lose, or you do get offered something, and you think well I could just do it this once. And it’s a long slippery slope I guess…