At the Delft Design for Values Institute we use ‘Design for Values’ as an umbrella term that encompasses a diversity of design approaches, theoretical backgrounds, considered values, and application domains. We are interested in a range of values (such as accountability, sustainability and happiness) and in a range of application domains (such as architecture, computing and energy technologies).

Design for Values1 is based on the following three assumptions:

  1. Values can be expressed and embedded in products / services / technologies / systems / spaces;
  2. Conscious and explicit thinking about the values in our designs is socially and morally significant;
  3. Such reflection needs to take place early on in the design process, when it can still make a difference.

However, beyond these three points there is no unified field. Rather, Design for Values is characterized by diversity.

Different values

For some values – like safety and more recently sustainability – Design for Values is now well established. Ample experience has been accumulated and approaches are available that have proven themselves. For other values – like responsibility and democracy – work on taking them into account in design has only just begun. New technological developments, such as artificial intelligence and big data, have given a new urgency to explicitly and properly addressing these values in design processes.

Different application domains

Also for the various application domains it varies to what degree Design for Values is common practice. In information and communication technology Design for Values is now relatively well established, not in the least thanks to the Value Sensitive Design (VSD) approach that Batya Friedman and others developed in this area of application. In other domains – like water management, military technology, or nuclear energy technology – values may already have played a role for quite some time, but they often do so implicitly. A well established, generally accepted Design for Values approach is still lacking in these domains.

Different design approaches

Under the broad heading of Design for Values we also count various design approaches which have developed over the past decades or only in recent years, such as

Diversity in design for values….

While there are approaches like Value Sensitive Design (VSD) that have become influential for several values and application domains, design practices, methods and approaches for different values and application domains are somewhat disconnected. To some extent, this diversity is a healthy sign reflecting the diverse challenges that different values and different application domains pose to Design for Values. A tool like life-cycle analysis that has proven its usefulness in design for sustainability may not be applicable to a value like responsibility. The military domain raises challenges for Design for Values that do not arise in other domains, like the fact that certain users or stakeholders may counteract the attempt to realize certain values.

… but also shared challenges

Despite the diversity in Design for Values approaches, we believe that there are common concerns and challenges, namely

  • Value operationalization
  • Value assessment
  • Value dynamics
  • Value conflicts

With respect to these four themes the field can profit from more exchange between different values, different application domains and different approaches. The Delft Design for Values Institute contributes to that exchange.

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  1. This introduction to design for values is very loosely based on the following more extensive publication:

    Jeroen van den Hoven, Pieter E. Vermaas, and Ibo van de Poel (2015). “Design for Values: An Introduction” In: Handbook of Ethics, Values, and Technological Design, DOI 10.1007/978-94-007-6970-0_40