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  • Writer's picturekristensunny

Books That Tackle the Ethics of Design

A introductory list of books to help you start those difficult conversations about implementing ethical design frameworks

As a designer, I try to be mindful of the intentions behind my designs and the implications they might have for users. If you're like me, it might be difficult to know where to look to gain a deeper understanding of ethical design principles and considerations, so I wanted to share a list of books that cover a variety of topics within ethical design.

Here are some of the books I'd love to read in 2021.

Mindful Design

by Scott Riley


Design is a responsibility, but not enough designers understand the human mind or the process of thought. This book explores the key factors involved and shows you how to make the right design choices.

Learn how human behavior can be used to integrate your product design into lifestyle, rather than interrupt it, and make decisions for the good of those that are using your product. Explore the neurological aspects and limitations of human vision and perception; about our attachment to harmony and dissonance, such as visual harmony, musical harmony; and about our brain’s propensity towards pattern recognition and how we perceive the world cognitively.

The second half of he book focuses on the practical application of what you have learned, specific to interaction and interface design. Real-world examples are used throughout so that you can really see how design is impacting our everyday digital experience.

- Apress

Mindful Design Book Image

"Our work is an infusion of emotion and craft an idea and giving a damn." - Scott Riley

The Little Book of Design Research Ethics



Respect, responsibility, and honesty sound great. But they’re big abstract ideas that seem completely clear until we’re asked to define and apply them in the complicated, messy, human situations of real life. The Little Book of Design Research Ethics aims to provide practical guidance we can use in the work we do every day. This book is a guide on how to seek and share insights about people’s lives in an ethical way. Though it was originally created for IDEO designers, we realized it offers practical guidance to a wide range of situations where people’s trust and respect are at stake. We hope you’ll find it useful.


The Little Book of Design Research Ethics Book Image

"If there's a simple, easy design principle that binds everything together, it's probably about starting with the people." - Bill Moggridge, IDEO

Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability

by Aimi Hamraie


Building Access investigates twentieth-century strategies for designing the world with disability in mind. Commonly understood in terms of curb cuts, automatic doors, Braille signs, and flexible kitchens, Universal Design purported to create a built environment for everyone, not only the average citizen. But who counts as “everyone,” Aimi Hamraie asks, and how can designers know? Blending technoscience studies and design history with critical disability, race, and feminist theories, Building Access interrogates the historical, cultural, and theoretical contexts for these questions, offering a groundbreaking critical history of Universal Design.

Illustrated with a wealth of rare archival materials, this book brings together scientific, social, and political histories in what is not only the pioneering critical account of Universal Design but also a deep engagement with the politics of knowing, making, and belonging in twentieth-century United States.

- The University of Minnesota Press

Building Access Book Image

"Disabled people have used their embodied knowledge and self-directed design practices not only to hack their everyday environments but also to use design as an act of political protest and direct action." - Aimi Hamraie

Design as an Attitude

by Alice Rawsthorn


Design as an Attitude explains how design is responding to an age of intense economic, political, and ecological instability. It shows how resourceful designers are using new digital tools to help to tackle the environmental and refugee crises, and to reinvent dysfunctional social services.

The book charts different aspects of contemporary design: from its role in interpreting new technologies and the emergence of a new wave of digitally empowered designers in Africa, to the craft revival, design’s gender politics, design’s contribution to tackling the environmental crisis and climate change, and its use in expressing our increasingly fluid personal identities.

- Cornerhouse Publications

Design as an Attitude Book Image

"Design is one of the most powerful forces in our lives, whether or not we are aware of it, and can also be inspiring, empowering, and enlightening." - Alice Rawsthorn

Designing for Sustainability

by Tim Frick


Pixels use electricity, and a lot of it. If the Internet were a country, it would be the sixth largest in terms of electricity use. That’s because today’s average web page has surpassed two megabytes in size, leading to slow load times, frustrated users, and a lot of wasted energy. With this practical guide, your web design team will learn how to apply sustainability principles for creating speedy, user-friendly, and energy-efficient digital products and services.

Author Tim Frick introduces a web design framework that focuses on four key areas where these principles can make a difference: content strategy, performance optimization, design and user experience, and green hosting. You’ll discover how to provide users with a streamlined experience, while reducing the environmental impact of your products and services.

- O'Reilly

Designing for Sustainability Book Image

"When you apply sustainability principles to the entire life cycle of a digital product or service—from its initial creation to its use and end-of-life—you begin to see how design and technology choices contribute, often unintentionally, to the internet’s massive environmental impact." - Tim Frick

Final Thoughts

What are some of the books you've read that tackle ethical challenges in design?


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