My cellphone dictionary doesn’t contain any profanity. Whenever I want to send a text message which contains swearing, I need to laboriously enter in the word letter by letter and it’s a pain in the ass. Once I get over the brief annoyance though, I can’t help my smile a little every time I do it because it’s just all so… quaint.

I’m sure the reason for that decision had more to do with potentially offending parents buying them for their children or some other similar ass covering approach but it does hearken back to the bygone era where designers actually had the conviction that design could be used to improve society and that people need to be lead to the promised land by the enlightened elite.

As designers and builders, what is our role in imposing our own moral convictions and values on the artifacts that we make? Do we have a right or even a duty or ensure that our designs cannot be used in unethical ways or should be leave such moral judgements to the users?

It’s a question I’ve ask to quite a few designers and the responses I get have always been interesting. It seems, in my highly unscientific and subjective opinion that just a few years ago, the prevailing view was that the designer was in general ethically neutral and that people were free to use technology however they wanted and if they wanted to use it for evil purposes, that was their perogative. However, in the last few years, especially with the rise of large social software systems which are radically challenging our notions of society and sociability, designers are starting to shift to the view that they have some sort of responsibility to build systems with purpose and a much more sensitive view on the potential negative impact. I don’t think I’ve yet met anyone who’s stopped working on a project or radically changed it’s direction after a consideration of how it could be used but ethical considerations are definately creeping into the day to day design decisions.

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