We live in an age where technology has become an essential and ubiquitous presence in our daily lives. As we move forward into the future, it only stands to reason that our reliance and eager assimilation of technology will only increase, with our phones, gadgets and devices taking on an ever-increasing role in our interactions, and in our society as a whole. For this reason, it is essential that we design systems that account for human values in a meaningful way.

Technology provides us with invaluable opportunities to connect, communicate, access vital services and resources, conduct business, participate in government, and many other functions vital to a prosperous and healthy society. When technology is so intimately intertwined in our lives, it is essential we take an ethical approach to the design of these systems, ensuring we create products that our customers can and want to live with.

One way we can assure an ethical and human-centred design process is through the adoption of Value Sensitive Design. Value Sensitive Design is a framework developed by Batya Friedman, a pioneer of the Human-Computer Interaction movement of the 1980s and proponent of human values in technology. The framework proposes a principled approach to design with deep consideration for ethics and human values and can be considered throughout the design process to ensure human values are paramount in the designer’s mind. These values are inherent in the creation of the product.

As the human population continues to expand, there is increasing concern about the impacts of technology on society. Sustainability, community impact, pollution and resource consumption are all tied directly to the adoption of technology. To help guide decision-making in this realm, Paul Waddel designed UrbanSim, a large-scale urban simulation platform that models development of urban areas over periods of 20 or more years.

To navigate the complexity of designing the UrbanSim platform, the team undertook a Value-Sensitive Design approach. This included engagement with direct and indirect shareholders to identify the values of their customers, which were often conflicting and divergent. These conflicts were addressed and resolved through the establishment of inherent and explicitly supported values of fairness and accountability, implemented in the software under the guidance of Value Sensitive Design. The designers postulated that by empowering users with a simple and accessible program, they can be active visionaries of their own urban future.

When it comes to designing an experience, product or system for your customers, it is worth considering incorporating a framework like Value Sensitive Design. The result will not only be built upon a foundation of strong ethical and moral value, it will also be meaningful, useful and welcome, and will delight your customers.