Value Sensitive Design

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

= Value Sensitive Design refers to an approach to the design of technology that accounts for human values in a principled and systematic manner throughout the design process.

It can be a strategy against hidden Protocollary Power, or as Social Architecture, a conscious way to influence online behaviour.


"Value-Sensitive Design is primarily concerned with values that center on human well being, human dignity, justice, welfare, and human rights. Value-Sensitive Design connects the people who design systems and interfaces with the people who think about and understand the values of the stakeholders who are affected by the systems. Ultimately, Value-Sensitive Design requires that we broaden the goals and criteria for judging the quality of technological systems to include those that advance human flourishing." (


Desirable values:

- privacy , - ownership and property, - freedom from bias, - universal usability, - autonomy, - informed consent, - trust

excerpted from this pdf :


Design for Values as a method

L. Jean Camp [1]:

"How is it that values such as privacy and autonomy become embedded in technical designs? How do cultural concepts of privacy, property, and propriety become assumptions about trust embedded in the coded infrastructure? Design for values theory, method, bibliography, and practitioners are described at

Design for values is a methodological approach based on a soft technological determinism, based on itterative evaluation of technology using the tools of the social science and detailed technical examination.

Above all design for values is design of technology in its social, economic, and political context. An understanding of design for values begins with the major strands of theoretical work and must include methodological approaches. on the interactions of technological development and social values.

First is technological determinism: what is technologically possible will inevitably be developed and the characteristics of the newly developed technologies will alter society as the technology is adopted. The second view is social constructed: technologies are constructed by the stakeholders, including inventors and governments, on the basis of social values. Some proponents of this view hold that users are the only critical stakeholders, that adoption is innovation and thus technology is defined by the users. The third view is that values emerge in a dynamic fashion -- while technologies have biases the way in which technologies are adopted alters the values in the technology, and thus the future design of the technology in a interactive, almost evolutionary, manner. All three theoretical frameworks support the argument that values can be embedded at any stage in the development process: invention, adoption, diffusion, and iterative improvement.

Thus design for values includes the evaluation of past designs with a critical eye on the initial design, improvement of specific designs, and the development of guidelines for designs. There is a specific design focus distinct from those methods that are focused on critique rather than design. As opposed to traditional technical approaches to socially responsible design, there is a focus on iteration and the use of legal and social scholarship to refine or correct designs that builds upon computer supported cooperative work.

Design for values is technological design with explicit recognition of the economic and political context. It is inherently interdisciplinary. " (

Design for sustainability is inherently participatory

Daniel Christian Wahl and Seaton Baxter:

"Sustainability is rapidly becoming an issue of critical importance for designers and society as a whole. A complexity of dynamically interrelated ecological, social, cultural economic and psychological (awareness) problems interact and converge in the current crisis of our unsustainable civilization. However, in a constantly changing environment, sustainability is not some ultimate endpoint but is better conceived as a continuous process of learning and adaptation. Designing for sustainability not only requires the re-design of our habits, lifestyles and practices, but also, the way we think about design. Sustainability is a process of co-evolution and co-design that involves diverse communities in making flexible and adaptable design decisions at local, regional and global scales. The transition towards sustainability is about co-creating a human civilization that flourishes within the ecological limits of the planetary life support system.

Design is fundamental to all human activity. At the nexus of values, attitudes, needs and actions, designers have the potential to act as a transdisciplinary integrators and facilitators. The map of value systems and perspectives described by Beck and Cowan as ‘Spiral Dynamics’, can serve as a tool in the facilitation of ‘transdisciplinary design dialogue’. Such dialogue will help to integrate the multiple perspectives and diverse knowledge base of different disciplines, value systems and stakeholders. Further expansion of the ‘integral vision’ by Wilber consolidates a framework for understanding, acknowledging and weaving together different perspectives and worldviews. Esbjörn-Hargens and Brown describe the application of this framework to solving complex problems of local and global relevance and to sustainable development. When applied to design this kind of framework can help us to conceptualise how different value systems and different onto-epistemological assumptions change our experience of reality and therefore intentionality behind design. This change in why we design things and processes, in turn, affects what and how we design.

Since sustainability requires widespread participation, communities everywhere need to begin to shape local, regional and global visions of sustainability and to offer strategies to engage humanity collectively in cooperative processes that will turn visions (designs) into reality. However, rather, than believing that we can design universally applicable blueprints to bring about sustainability by prediction and control-based top-down engineering, it may be more useful and appropriate to think of the outcome(s) as an emergent property of the complex dynamic system in which we all participate, co-create and adapt to interdependent bio-physical and psycho-social processes. Such a view has enormous consequences for the way we view design. As an integrative and transdisciplinary process, design thinking can inform more integral/holistic solutions that promote the emergence of systemic health and sustainability as properties of the complex dynamic system that contains culture and nature and of which we are integral participants."

Source: Designers as Transdisciplinary Integrators and Facilitators of Sustainable Solutions Daniel Christian Wahl and Seaton Baxter. Design Issues, 2008

The importance of Meta-design as awareness of intentionality

Daniel Christian Wahl and Seaton Baxter:

"Design can most broadly be defined as the expression of intentionality through interactions and relationships. At the downstream end of this process our cultural artefacts, institutions and patterns of production and consumption express intentionality materially. Upstream, in the immaterial dimension, the ‘metadesign’ of our conscious awareness, value systems, worldviews, and aspirations defines the intentionality behind materialized design. Here the term ‘metadesign’ refers to the concepts, and onto-epistemological assumptions we employ to define ourselves and to make sense of experiencing our participatory involvement in complex ecological, cultural, and social processes. The perspectives of different cultural worldviews and of different academic and professional disciplines are all shaped by the metadesign of the intentions, aspirations, and basic assumptions that inform them. Each of these different perspectives generates different specialized knowledge about certain aspects of perceived reality.

Appropriate decision-making, within complex eco-social dynamics, requires us to consider insights generated by a diverse range of perspectives and disciplines. Richard Buchanan writes: There is no area of contemporary life where design – the plan, project or working hypothesis which constitutes the ‘intention’ in intentional operations – is not a significant factor in shaping human experience. Design even extends into the core of traditional scientific activities, where it is employed to cultivate the subject matters that are the focus of scientific curiosity.

Materially, the intentionality behind design is expressed through the interactions and relationships formed by consumer products, transport systems, economies, systems of governance, settlement patterns, and resource and energy use, with the complexity of social and ecological processes. Immaterially, our organizing ideas, worldviews, and value systems express how we make sense of our experience of reality through metadesign. Transdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration can encourage researchers and practitioners to contextualise and situate their specialist knowledge within a larger holistic/integral metaperspective that acknowledges the validity and contributions of multiple points of view. Changes in the culturally dominant worldview, value system, and aspirations will lead to fundamental changes in intentionality and lifestyle. Such metadesign-induced changes will be catalytic in the transition towards a sustainable human civilization.

In general, sustainable decision-making and design processes must be open to contributions from diverse disciplines and perspectives and, at the same time, they must remain aware of the epistemological and ontological metadesign assumptions that define the perspective of each discipline. There is an important visionary element to design that affects how we experience and shape our environment. “Designers deal with possible worlds and with opinions about what the parts and the whole of the human environment should be.”

The transformation towards a more sustainable human civilization requires a process of inclusive and participatory dialogue that will ultimately turn visions of sustainability into reality. This will require the individual and collective participation of everybody. In the face of climate change, national and international inequity, social and ecological disintegration and rapid resource depletion, nothing less than a societal and civilizational change - without precedence in scale and profundity in the history of our species - is urgently required. It has to occur during the next few decades if humanity wants to avoid ecological and social meltdown.

David Orr argues:

The very idea that we need to build a sustainable civilization needs to be invented or rediscovered, then widely disseminated, and put into practice quickly.” Design plays a central role in this, both in the material dimensions of product design, architecture, industrial design, and town and regional planning, as well as in the immaterial dimension of the metadesign of concepts and inclusive multi-perspectives from which a holistic/integral worldview can emerge.

Source: Designers as Transdisciplinary Integrators and Facilitators of Sustainable Solutions Daniel Christian Wahl and Seaton Baxter. Design Issues, 2008

The responsibility of the design team


"The behavior you’re seeing is the behavior you’ve designed for.

It’s a simple statement, really. All it means is that what is happening on your web site or in your web application is a result of the current design you’ve created. If people are gaming the system, then your design allows for that. If people aren’t returning, then your design hasn’t given them reason to (or reminded them to). If people are signing up but aren’t getting started, then your design isn’t communicating the value of doing so or the way to do it.

The idea also subversively leads to a much closer monitoring of the behavior in question. If you start thinking in this way, you’ll find yourself asking “what, exactly, is the behavior we’re seeing?”. This alone is worth the price of admission…anything that gets designers more focused on the actual behaviors of their users is a good thing.

This idea can also change the mindset of design teams:

  • It sharpens focus on the design of the product, not some other distracting thing

So many teams suffer from political infighting, unclear design goals, no vision for success, and many other things that simply stating that behavior is a result of current efforts really helps to bring focus to the situation. Instead of seeing design as something that certain people in the company do, we might recognize design as a response to the market and the behaviors that are happening there.

  • It puts responsibility on the design team

This idea puts the responsibility of what happens on a site squarely on the shoulders of design teams. This produces changes in the design team: they start investigating behavior to make sure that things are going well. Unfortunately, many designers don’t do this yet, usually because they are judged not by what’s happening but by one of two other ways: by how beautiful their work is or by how much they get done. Neither of these criteria is good from an interaction-design standpoint. The only thing that matters is what’s happening on the web site!

  • It elevates design in the discussion

Because this idea places responsibility square on the shoulders of the design team, it also elevates design in the discussion. All of a sudden we know where to go when the behavior isn’t what we want: the design team. Who do you call when things aren’t working right? The design team. Designers always seem to want a place at the table. By accepting that the behavior you’re seeing is the behavior you’ve designed for you might just get that seat…" (

More Information

  2. Michael Zimmer writes about Values in Design, at
  3. Design for Cognitive Justice

Key Essay

Value Sensitive Design and Information Systems. By BATYA FRIEDMAN, PETER H. KAHN, JR., AND ALAN BORNING. University of Washington

Forthcoming in P. Zhang & D. Galletta (Eds.), Human-Computer Interaction in Management Information Systems: Foundations. M.E. Sharpe, Inc: NY.


There is a longstanding interest in designing information and computational systems that support enduring human values. Researchers have focused, for example, on the value of privacy [Ackerman and Cranor 1999; Agre and Rotenberg 1998; Fuchs 1999; Jancke et al. 2001; Palen and Grudin 2003; Tang 1997], ownership and property [Lipinski and Britz 2000], physical welfare [Leveson 1991], freedom from bias [Friedman and Nissenbaum 1996], universal usability [Shneiderman 1999, 2000; Thomas 1997], autonomy [Suchman 1994; Winograd 1994], informed consent [Millett et al. 2001], and trust [Fogg and Tseng 1999; Palen and Grudin 2003; Riegelsberger and Sasse 2002; Rocco 1998; Zheng et al. 2001].



Winner, L. (1986). Do artifacts have politics? In L. Winner, The whale and the reactor (pp. 19-39). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Friedman, B. & Nissenbaum, H. (1996) Bias in Computer Systems. ACM Transactions on Information Systems, 14 (3), 330-347.

Pfaffenberger, B. (1992). Technological dramas. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 17 (3), 282-312.

Woolgar, S. & Pawluch, D. (1985) Ontological Gerrymandering: The Anatomy of Social Problems Explanations. Social Problems, 32(2), 214-227.

Joerges, B. (1999) Do Politics Have Artefacts? Social Studies of Science, 29 (3), 411-431.

Latour, B. (2004). Which politics for which artifacts? Domus, June 04.

Mumford, L. (1964). Authoritarian and democratic technics. Technology and Culture, 5 (1), 1-8.

Sclove, R. (1995) Technology and democracy. New York: Guilford Press.

Cowan, R. S. (1985). The Industrial Revolution in the Home. In D. MacKenzie & J. Wajcman, (Eds.), The Social Shaping Of Technology: How The Refrigerator Got Its Hum (181-201). Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Cowan, R. S. (1985). How the Refrigerator Got Its Hum. In D. MacKenzie & J. Wajcman, (Eds.), The Social Shaping Of Technology: How The Refrigerator Got Its Hum (202-218). Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Doorly, M. (1985) A Woman's Place: Dolores Haydenon the `Grand Domestic Revolution'. In D. MacKenzie & J. Wajcman, (Eds.), The Social Shaping Of Technology: How The Refrigerator Got Its Hum (219-222). Philadelphia: Open University Press.

The Internet Fridge. Caslon Analytics, version January 2005.

Bijker, W.E. (1995). Of bicycles, bakelites, and bulbs: Toward a theory of sociotechnical change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Ch. 1: Introduction (1-19) and Ch 5: The Politics of Sociotechnical Change (269-290).

Wacjman, J. (2004). Technofeminism. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. Ch. 2 Technosicence Reconfigured (32-55) and Ch. 5 Metaphor and Materiality (102-130).

MacKenzie, D. (1990). Inventing Accuracy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Ch. 1: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance (1-26) and Epilogue: Uninventing the Bomb (424-426).

Winner, L. (1993) Upon opening the black box and finding it empty: Social constructivism and philosophy of technology. Science, Technology and Human Values, 18(3), 362-378.

Bowker, G. & Star, S. L. (1999). Sorting things out: Classification and its consequences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Ch.7: What a Difference a Name Makes – the Classification of Nursing Work (229-252) and Ch.10: Why Classifications Matter (319-326).

Suchman, L. (1997). Do categories have politics? The language/action perspective reconsidered. In B. Friedman, (Ed.), Human values and the design of computer technology (pp. 91-105). Oxford, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lansing, J.S. (1991). Priests and programmers: technologies of power in the engineered landscape of Bali. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Introduction: The Gods of the Countryside (3-17), Ch 2: The Powers of Water (37-49) and Ch. 3: The Waters of Power (50-73).

Friedman, B., Kahn, P. and Borning, A. Value Sensitive Design and Information Systems. Forthcoming in P. Zhang & D. Galletta (Eds.), Human-Computer Interaction in Management Information Systems: Foundations. New York: M.E. Sharpe.

Flanagan, M., Howe, D. and Nissenbaum, H. (2005). Values in Design: Theory and Practice. (draft).

Vinck, D., (Ed.). (2003) Everyday Engineering: An Ethnography of Design and Innovation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Introduction (1-10), Ch.1: Socio-Technical Complexity: Redesigning a Shielding Wall (13-27) and Epilogue: Approaches to the Ethnography of Technologies (203-226).

Brand, S. (1994) How Buildings Learn: What happens after they’re built. New York: Viking. File 1: Ch.1: Flow (2-11), Ch. 2: Shearing Layers (12-24) File 2: Ch. 9: The Romance of Maintenance (110-131), Ch.12 Built for Change (190-209)

Weber, R. C. (1999). Manufacturing gender in military cockpit design. In D. MacKenzie and J. Wajeman, (Eds.), The social shaping of technology (2nd ed). Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Pinch, T. and Bijker, W. (1992) The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other. In W. Bijker and J. Law (Eds.), Shaping Technology/Building Society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992,

Norman, D. (1989) The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books.

  • Cowan, R. S. (1983). More Work For Mother: The Ironies Of Household

Technology From The Open Hearth To The Microwave. New York: Basic Books.

Mitcham, C. (1995) Ethics Into Design. In R. Buchanan and V. Margolin (Eds.). Discovering Design: Explorations in Design Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mitcham, C. (2003) In Memoriam: Ivan Illich: Critic of Professionalized Design. Design Issues 19 (4), 26-30.

Diaz, A. (2005) Through the Google Goggles: Sociopolitical Bias in Search Engine Design. Thesis, Stanford University.

Introna. L. & Nissenbaum, H. (2000). Shaping the web: Why the politics of search engines matter. The Information Society, 16(3), 1-17.