Creating a Code of Ethics for Designers Around the World

As designers, we feel an obligation to the people we design for and a moral responsibility to keep their needs at the center of what we design. That’s what motivated Mad*Pow to coordinate the Designer’s Oath project, binding designers to a code of ethics inspired by the Hippocratic Oath. The goal is to enlighten designers to the possibility of ethical guidelines and facilitate conversations to better protect and support the people who need it.

Project Highlights:

  • Collaborating with interdisciplinary designers from across the country to highlight the importance of ethical considerations
  • Exhibiting 15 Designer’s Oaths at HxR, our Design, Technology & Health Conference, to showcase the responsibility we share for those we design for
  • Crafting a social media outreach strategy and implementation to continue to connect with designers around the world

Designing the Oath

Though designers in the past have created manifestos and pledges to “doing good,” these were all static oaths. Mad*Pow’s designers Ciara Taylor and Samantha Dempsey wanted to curate a project that could evolve collaboratively. To that end, they reached out to fifteen well-known designers in the service, product, experience, graphic, and social design fields from across the US, and asked them to create and contribute personal oaths. The work inspired the designers, and provided a structure for others to use when creating their own individual oaths.

Creating a Systematic Tool

Designers hold an amazing amount of power when they design. That power can be used for good, to support and represent the people they design for, but it can also be used to manipulate people into purchasing unnecessary items or signing up for unwanted information. With this in mind, Taylor and Dempsey determined that the Oath should be a tool to initiate conversations between stakeholders, designers, and users, who will then create their own Designer’s Oaths. The key is for each oath to be uniquely aligned to the goals and needs of the group at hand.

A Growing Community

In April 2015, the duo revealed the original 15 Designer’s Oaths from across the US at the Design, Technology & Health Conference in Boston, MA. Clinicians and designers collaboratively created their own Designer’s Oaths, based on a template derived from the Hippocratic Oath. At the conference, the Oath sparked numerous interdisciplinary conversation, and encouraged personal reflection into the many ways designers can positively impact the lives of those they design for.

An Ever-Changing Oath

The reveal at HxR was only the beginning! Just as design is not a static practice, the Designer’s Oath project will continue to evolve and grow as the design community continues to create their own personal oaths. Though their oaths may differ, they are alike in that they all go well beyond merely “do no harm.” It’s an overwhelming, yet exciting responsibility.

Best of all, you can continue the Oath’s journey. Download the Designer’s Oath template, and facilitate ethical conversations with your own design team!

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Designers Oath
Creating a Code of Ethics for Designers Around the World


Designer's Oath
Samantha Dempsey Senior Behavior Change & Experience Designer
Ciara Taylor Managing Director, Behavior Change Design

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